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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering recreation in the early twentieth century, a management training course, and mill work in South America

Pharis touches on a number of subjects. He recalls an era toward the beginning of the twentieth century when there was little entertainment, and people in his area spent their free time drinking water and talking. He remembers his work life as well, in particular workshops held by a group called the Carolina Council that taught him management skills. The course served him when he took over the weaving room of plant in South America that until his arrival, had run on a punitive "vigilante system."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CLIFF KUHN:
Did people from different departments get to know people from other departments.
MRS. PHARIS:
Oh yes.
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh they were closer then than they are now.
CLIFF KUHN:
How's that?
JAMES PHARIS:
Because there wasn't nothing for people to do but congregate with each other. I think that was one of the greatest reasons—more socializing then than there is now-because there wasn't nothing else to do. We didn't even have electric lights in our house for a good many years…
MRS. PHARIS:
We married in nineteen and eleven.
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah, I believe nineteen and eleven.
CLIFF KUHN:
That would make sense because it's 1977 now. So people congregated around more, did more things with each other in those days?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yes, there was quite a difference then. The only entertainment people had up there in the summer time is a mineral spring about a mile from town. The road would get to be thick with people going to the mineral spring, trying to spend a bigger part of their Sunday's, with nothing to do but just drink water and talk. That's all.
CLIFF KUHN:
You continued to work at Spray? For how long?
JAMES PHARIS:
Until nineteen and thirty-three.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did you become a loom fixer?
JAMES PHARIS:
They put me first, promoted me first from weaving to what they call a smash hand. And then, with an opportunity to learn to fix looms. And in all the spare time I had on the smashing job, I'd be with some fixer learning to fix looms. Finally, I got a section of my own and I kept it for a good many years.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did you like doing that kind of work—loom fixing?
JAMES PHARIS:
No, I didn't particularly like loom fixing. I liked it for the first few years but then it got boring to me some way or another and I took all the training that I could in supervising. At that time, they had what they called Carolina Council which was composed of all supervisors from management down to prospect supervisors. If anybody was a prospect supervisor, they'd invite them to join the Council. Well, they invited me to join the Council and I joined and they give us, paid for, several courses in supervising and I taken them all.
CLIFF KUHN:
When was that—in the twenties?
JAMES PHARIS:
Yeah.
CLIFF KUHN:
What did this Carolina Council do?
JAMES PHARIS:
They'd have a meeting once a month and talk over business of the plant which all of it was interesting—what each plant was doing and how they were doing and so forth. That was about… and they'd have picnics in the summer and banquets at Christmas time.
CLIFF KUHN:
Was that all over the state?
JAMES PHARIS:
No, that was just in Spray. Just for Marshall Field mills and Spray.
CLIFF KUHN:
How many people were in the Carolina Council?
JAMES PHARIS:
I suppose it was about 200.
CLIFF KUHN:
And it ranged all the way from the owners down to…
JAMES PHARIS:
All the way from the top to the bottom.
CLIFF KUHN:
What kind of courses did you take?
JAMES PHARIS:
I taken one course in handling men, handling personnel.
CLIFF KUHN:
What kind of things would they teach in that course?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, they teach you how to get along with people and how to make a success as a supervisor. And, how to handle people as a supervisor. That done me more good in later years than anything I ever taken in my life.
CLIFF KUHN:
How's that?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, in learning me how to study people and how to treat them. I remember it even helped me up until the last days. I still remember things I learned in there in getting along with people and how to treat people, to be fair and square, firm. I know it done me more good in South America than anything I ever taken when I went over there they a system that the supervisor—in fact [Laughter] the supervisor, he was just in there. The administrator of the plant was what you called ‘boss.’ And he was a Puerto Rican. He had what you call a vigilante system, in the plant. You see, he couldn't be there all the time. In the vigilante system, somebody he'd pick—which was a secret to the rest of them, they didn't know that they was doing this—and every little thing that they'd see the employees doing, why they'd go and report it to the administrator of the plant. They could treat them like dogs over there and get by with it. Then he'd get them in and give them a working over. I had a contract when I went over there that nobody else was to have anything to do with the weaving. You see, they never had done nothing over there. Efficiency had been in the fifties and sixties. They had two kind of looms over there: the Draper and the Crompton-Knowles. They had never done never done anything. Efficiency had never been over fifty on the and in the sixties on the drapers. Well, when I went there I had a contract that nobody was to have anything to do with that weaving except me. I had full charge of it. Well, I didn't do anything. I just checked for about two or three weeks to find out which was the best way to handle those people. After about three weeks, I told the administrator of the plant, I asked him if he'd ever read my contract. He said, "Yes." I says Monday, I'm taking charge and I don't want you to have a thing in the world to do with anything, anybody in that weave room. If one of those employees in the weave room come to you for anything, I want you to send them to me." And he said, "Mr. Pharis, how are you going to run this place?" I said, "Well the first thing, I'm going to try to teach these people everything I know and I'm going to be as good to them as I possibly can to get them to do the work." And I says, "I'm doing away with the vigilante system." I says, "What I don't see myself, I don't want to know anything about without somebody's trying to destroy something or property." He said, "Why Mr. Pharis, you'll never run this job over here like that. You might run one in the United States like that but not here. You've got to treat these people like dogs over here. You've got to keep them under feet, under foot." He says, "You've got to keep them under foot all the time because if they ever one time get the upper hand, you've lost control. You've got to keep them down there and keep grinding on them to keep them down there." I says, "I won't run it that way. If I don't run it my way, if that ain't satisfactory, you give me a thirty days notice and I'll be ready to go. But, I'm running it my way." He says, "Well, I'll tell you you'll never get by with it." That was long about August, about the first of August. Things were coming together better. I explained it. I had an interpreter who stayed with me all the time and I explained it. I'd get the groups together and talk with them with my interpreter and tell them what all I was doing by doing away with the vigilante system. That just tickled them to death. The people got to working with me over there and I've never seen anybody work with anybody better than they worked with me. They'd do anything in the world I asked them to do without any fuss at all. I remember one time we started a third shift over there. You know there was a little trouble in them days getting people to go from another shift to first shift. We weren't planning on hiring anybody. We were just planning on taking employees. (We had too many anyway.) And start a third shift. Well, I was coming to worry about what was going to happen—if I was going to get into trouble—when I tried to get somebody to go to the third shift. Well I got them all together and had a talk with them, explained it to them. I asked for volunteers and one of the leaders of groups over there said, "Mr. Pharis, you don't have to ask for volunteers. You say who you want to go on the third shift and they'll go on the third shift." So I started the third shift without any trouble at all. That's just the way they worked with me the whole time. The efficiency went from the fifties and sixties and I worked with them people like that and get them to work with you and the efficiency advanced from fifties and sixties into the nineties. It was ninety-eight when I left over there on the Draper and the Crompton-Knowles looms was ninety-two. Now that was the difference in working somebody and having somebody work with you.