A string of jobs
Burt runs through his laboring history: he moved from packaging cigarettes, to digging clay for bricks, to hauling junk, to farm work, to a job on a streetcar line, to a job at a sawmill, to farming, to railroad work. While Burt's resume may not be of interest to researchers, the way he moved from job to job, often leveraging family connections or luck, might be of interest.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. 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
- THOMAS BURT:
After I come twenty-one, I went to Durham. I stayed in Durham some before
then. But I went back to the country on the farm and stayed on the farm
till I come twenty-one. I messed around, quit the farming and went off
The first job I got after I got in Durham, I went to work at the Bull
factory. I worked at the Bull factory, I reckon, six or eight months.
When I first went there and start to work, they put me down in the
shipping room where they put labels on the packs of cigarettes. I worked
down in there for a while. Then they wanted me to come up and help sweep
the floor every evening an hour or hour and a half before
quittin' time—sweep the floor so the floor would
be clean the next morning. I done that for a while, and it give me the
worst cold. I just got to coughin'. They all told me, if
they'd me, they'd quit cause that's
dangerous goin' into TB. I quit and walked around town and
messed around town three or four weeks before I found another job. I was
standing on the street one morning, and Eulis
Holloway—colored fellow I knowed there—he come up
from down where he was roomin' and come out there to catch
his way out to the brick yard. He asked me, "Boy, what you
doin'standin' here?" I said,
"Well, I'm just standin' around. Maybe I
might luck up on a job." He says, "I believe I can get
you a job." I said, "Well, if you can, good."
He said, "I believe I can get you a job out there on the brick
yard where I work." I said, "Well, if you do, look out
for me." He said, "I'll tell you,
I'll find out today, and we'll
get together tonight, and if I find out, you get ready and go on out
there and go to work in the morning." That was Thursday or
Friday morning. He say, "Or either you can work till Monday
morning to come in." He went on out there and asked old man
Cheeks about if he want another hand. He told him, yeah, he could use
another hand. He say, "Well, he wanted to know could he wait
and come in Monday, or any morning anytime." He say,
"Well, that's just up to him. I'll keep
the job open for him if he'll come Monday morning."
That Monday morning, I got up and met him up there and we caught the
truck. I went on out there and went to work. Out there
diggin' up clay. Had a clay hole. You dig the clay and carry
it on up where they made the bricks. I worked out there two years till
they went out of business.
The next job I got was drivin' wagons—old
Squat's junk shop, haulin' iron. I drove for them
two years. The man where was runnin' the shop was a police.
Luther Byrd was his name. Everybody call him "Police
Byrd." He had a butler boy stayed round the house all the time;
he raised hogs out there where he lived, and had some horses. This boy
just stayed out there to keep the stables all clean. When
we'd go in every evenin', he be done fed and had
water out there. We didn't have to do nothin' but
take them out. This boy what done that, home was in Winston-Salem. He
take sick and went home. Old man Luther then jumped at me to take his
job. I didn't want the job to start with, but they just
worried me so bad till I went on there and went to
work. I stayed there six months around the house. I'd milk
the cow and feed the hogs, and chickens. He stayed at the edge of town;
he's buried up in town. I stayed around there for about six
months, then I quit and come on back to the country. I helped my daddy
on the farm for about two years. They cut a sewage line out here from
Durham to Neuse River. I got a job on that. I worked on that until it
got up to the edge of Durham. That job went to the bad. I went back to
Durham and worked on the streetcar line—used to be a
streetcar line here in Durham. I worked on that for a while. I
didn't like that; I worked on that about three or four months
before I quit.
I went up in Lebanon township and went to work sawmillin' with
Will Markham and his brother Walter Markham—two brothers run
the sawmill up there. I went up there and went to work with them. I went
to turnin' logs. I stayed with them, I reckon, a year and a
half or more. They went busted and quit millin', so I come
back home again and worked a year or two on the farm with my daddy. Then
I strayed off and went to workin' with old man Will Connally.
I worked with him three or four years—sawmill. Finally, I
quit him and went to old man Justin Keason. I worked with him till he
got all messed up, and they sold him out. He just got so far in debt
with the company down in Durham furnishing him horsefeed and someplace
that he was gettin' all his equipment for the framing mill.
He just got so deep in debt till they just busted him down.
I walked around a month or two, hangin' around Durham,
playin' guitar, me and Minnis Cates.
Finally I come out of Durham and went to workin' for old man
J. T. Holman, sawmillin' with him. I stayed with him for four
or five years till he died. The boys give up the sawmill—he
had two boys—they run the mill a while after the old man
died, and they just finally sold out quit.
Finally, I come back home again and took over the farm. My daddy, he went
out and worked about two years on the sawmill. I done the
farmin' there at home. After he come back in and took over
the farmin', I sold out to the railroad, got me a job on the
railroad. I worked railroad work seven years straight. The first year I
worked over at Gorman with that man. I left him and come on over here at
Wilton and worked six years up there on that section. I quit that and
went to Richmond. Got a job at the bridge on the railroad; I worked on
the bridge eighteen months, probably longer than that. I put that down
and got tired of that. That was too hard a work and dangerous too,
workin' on the trestle, puttin' new seals under
it. I got kind of scared of that job; it's kind of dangerous
work. You're liable to slip and fall or somethin'
and hurt yourself. My mother kept on beggin' me, say,
"I'd quit that. That's
dangerous." I thought about it and it was right dangerous, so I
give up that job.
From that, I got married then, settled down and commenced
farmin'. I farmed for about fourteen years. My first wife,
she died, then I worked on the farm for wages for
six years. Finally, me and Pauline married, and I kept on
farmin'. I farmed on up till I retired and quit.
That's the way I started all that workin'.