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Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill communities. Walter B. Helms of Mount Holly was born in 1904. He did several kinds of jobs over the years for the American Yarn & Processing Company (later American & Efird) at their various mills, including helping set up the Madora Mill in 1922. Helms’ father, though lacking in any formal education, taught briefly in a one-room school. The father became a carpenter foreman for the mills and for four years served as mayor of Monroe. As a boy Helms lived in a mill village with his parents, five brothers, and one sister. He learned basic carpentry from his father and was in charge of supplying the house with firewood for the stove and helping his mother with the fire in the yard for laundry (boiling clothes). His family attended the Methodist church. He attended a one-room schoolhouse which he estimated had about 60 students in it [this may not be accurate] all taught by one teacher. Eventually the mill village built a two-room school on mill property. Helms attended through the eighth grade. When his home mill shut down he moved to Concord, where his brother lived, and worked at the Roberta Mill for four months. Then his father moved to Mount Holly to help another of Helms’s brothers in a store at the mill. Helms worked at the American Mill at Mount Holly and was sent by the company to help set up the new Madora Mill. While there he got married. At Madora he set machinery up, and was engaged by Mr. Lowe, one of the owners, to give the latter’s son a six-month training. He worked there for seven years, then moved to the Woodlawn Mill. Helms started off earning $16.20 a week, but became an overseer at $35.00 a week. He says he had rapid promotions and raises. The company next sent him “another mill a little further up the creek” to act as Assistant Superintendent, putting new machinery in and supervising, for higher wages and 2% (profit-sharing?) incentive. After four years Helms was sent to “the thread plant” for two years, then to Whitnal to supervise transfer of machinery from an old mill to a newer one. His next move was back to the Rush for four more years. He says Mr. Doglin Clover offered him a job at $65,000 to “start up a pilot shop,” which took Helms six months to complete. He then returned to Mount Holly. In all Helms worked for 42 years at various American & Efird facilities. He says he doesn’t remember any mill workers getting seriously injured, though he was slapped once in the eye by a belt and someone else got a finger cut off. Helms talks in some detail about differences in machinery, products, and procedures over the years. He says he was able to work fairly steadily at American & Efird mills during the Depression. Helms and his wife had two daughters, both of whom worked in the mills. He says he worked hard and enjoyed his career. He seems to have little sympathy for the health concerns of mill workers (“A lot of them claimin’ to have . . . this, from dust [brown lung disease]”). He says chewing tobacco while you work helps keep you from swallowing dust. After he retired from mill work Helms worked for Duke Power at Marshall Steam Station for seven years.





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