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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Johnnie Jones, August 27, 1976. Interview H-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

An independent streak drives a long career

Jones describes his career making pipes at Pomona Terracotta Company, starting off minding drying pipes, performing maintenance work, and eventually supervising a crew of twenty-three men. He was fiercely independent and did not care to be told how to do his job, he remembers, but his independence and capability appeared to earn him the respect of his employers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Johnnie Jones, August 27, 1976. Interview H-0273. 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

BRENT GLASS:
Do you remember your first job that you had there?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, I worked with the trimming bunch. You know, they make the pipe, set them out on the floor. They set there so long, then you go turn them over. That's the first job I had. Then I got on up a little larger. I went up and went to feeding the press: that's running the mud in there to make the pipe out of. I left there and went down and went to tempering the clay: that's making it up.
BRENT GLASS:
You mixed the clay with what, with water?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Water. I left there and went to the setting bunch: where they set them in the kiln. I worked there awhile. Then I left there. I don't know, I just worked everywhere; I done everything. Ain't nothing that I haven't done. And then as time rolled on I went to making pipe.
BRENT GLASS:
Where? What do you mean by that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Pressing them out, with steam. Yes, press them out and run them out, run them out of the press.
BRENT GLASS:
So you did the job of putting them in the press, and then later on you took them… ?
JOHNNIE JONES:
No, you'd run the mud in there; a man upstairs run the mud in there. You had a lever to pull to make the pipe. I don't know what you were ever here when they made them with steam. I don't know what you've ever been by here. You ever been here before?
BRENT GLASS:
Yes.
JOHNNIE JONES:
Do you remember when they'd make pipe with steam? Had a steam press.
BRENT GLASS:
Oh, oh, yes, right.
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes. In fact you'd hear "chow, chow chow chow"; you heared it like that. But every time you'd hear that thing go "chow, chow, chow," that's a pipe made. That's right. I don't know what; I can't tell you what all I ain't done over there. Then I got smart enough to go to setting up the forms for the pipe: changing everything up to make a different pipe. And then I left there and got to be a maintenance man. I don't care what it was, they just called me. I remember once I was over there and my brother (I learned him how to run a machine, you know, over there), and he was over there. And the superintendent come by and told me, he said, "James is in trouble. Go around there and see what's the matter with him." Well I walked up there and stood and looked. I asked him—we called him Curly—I said, "Curly, what's the matter?" He said, "I can't get this thing to run here." I said, "If you put it on the track it'll run." He said, "Well I'll be damned." He said, "I've been here messing with this thing for hours. You just come right in here and showed it right off the bat." I can do most anything, I don't care what it is.
BRENT GLASS:
Now who taught you these jobs?
JOHNNIE JONES:
I just picked it up.
BRENT GLASS:
You just taught yourself?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, just picked it up.
BRENT GLASS:
Did anybody stand over you and say, "All right, now you do this and you do that"?
JOHNNIE JONES:
No. Now, you see, I'll tell you what I'll do; here's the way I am. If something happened over there you call me. And if you've got to go ahead and tell me, I'll tell you, "Fix it then. If you know what to do, do it. You fix it." See, I'd throw my things down and walk off. And some of them said, "Let him alone. He'll fix it when you all get away." Then I'd go in and go back and fix it when all of them leave. I remember one day they told me to take my men and go out there and unload that ring machine out of the truck. Well, I went out there and I got everything set up. Here come two of them out there telling me what to do. I stood there and listened to them. I said, "Y'all give me this job, didn't you?" They said "Yes." I said, "Well let me run it." Went right on off. Four o'clock come and I had that thing setting there in the plant, and they don't know how I done it.
BRENT GLASS:
How did you do it?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Well, I just had my way mapped out and told my boys what to do and how to do it, and we just done it all right.
BRENT GLASS:
So you had a group of men that you were sort of the leader of?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, I used to operate with twenty-three men.
BRENT GLASS:
On which job was this?
JOHNNIE JONES:
The pressing crew, making sewer pipe. See, I worked mostly at night. Nobody but me, see; I'd be there. Everybody wanted to work with me. But we'd always do a lot of work. We'd always do it, and nobody grumbling and fussing and fighting. Just whatever I told them, that's what went.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, what were your hours? How many hours a day would you work?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Well, I didn't have no certain time. I was supposed to work eight hours. But sometimes I'd leave here in the morning at seven o'clock; I may not be back home no more 'til tomorrow about two or three o'clock.
BRENT GLASS:
Why is that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Something'd break down, I'd stay there and fix it. And then at night I wouldn't go off and leave nothing so that when the day man came on he couldn't work. If I did I'd tag him and tell him what to do. I'd be back sometime tomorrow about ten or eleven o'clock to fix it. I never would go off and leave him in the hole. I'd always have something for him to do when he got there.
BRENT GLASS:
Were most of the people that you worked with black or white?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Black.
BRENT GLASS:
They all lived in this neighborhood?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Part of them did. Part of them lived in Reidsville and everywhere, just different places.
BRENT GLASS:
How much did they pay you? How much did you start out getting paid?
JOHNNIE JONES:
When I started out? I got ten cents an hour when I started out; I was about fourteen years old then. And it just kept a'going up. I never made two dollars and a half a day at that plant in my life. I went up and I got more all the time. If I didn't think it was enough, I'd go tell them, "I don't think it's enough." I wouldn't have no introduction; they'd pay me some more.