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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 >>

Accidents at work, including a fatal explosion

Jones remembers two workplace accidents. The first happened to him, when a coworker started a machine he was working on and a moving part struck his wrist, breaking it. He was recuperating at home the next day when a plant exploded, killing five or six men.

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:
Let me ask you: when you were first coming on, most of the machines were run by steam engines, right?
JOHNNIE JONES:
That's right. Yes, a big old steam engine pulled it off. Then they switched off to electric motors. I was glad when all that was changed.
BRENT GLASS:
When would that happen? Do you remember when that was?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Oh, about twelve or fifteen years ago.
BRENT GLASS:
They had the steam engines running until then?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes.
BRENT GLASS:
After World War II?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, that's right. Let's see, the year when the plant blowed up they were running electric motors then.
BRENT GLASS:
I was going to ask you… I know that there was one accident there in 1962.
JOHNNIE JONES:
Oh yes. I was at home that day; I wasn't working then. I hurt my wrist. I'll tell you what happened. I went in there, I was right there at Number Six working on a press out there. I was going to make some pipe out there. Well, what it was, we were going to send the machine to the Gulf. They had a machine there to put it on the boards under the pipe. And I went out there to show the man if it would work. Well, I bent down to hook up there, and I looked in there and said, "My knife ain't right." It wasn't setting right. Well, I went back and changed my knife; then I stepped back again. And when I stepped back to put my hand in there to fix that, a fellow come up and stuck the air on it. And he seed me with my hand, he snatched it off right quick. If it had caught it, it would have cut my hand off right there. See, where that thing hits it locks up right dead.
BRENT GLASS:
What did he have in his hand?
JOHNNIE JONES:
An air hose. See, you slip on an air hose; then all you have to do is slip it on there and it's got it that quick. But it happened it didn't catch when he stuck it up there. It'd have cut my hand off if it hadn't smashed it off. It hit it and hurt it awful bad. The doctor said it cracked a bone, but I ain't never believed him because it didn't ever give me no trouble.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, that was the same time that the plant blew up?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, the plant blowed up the next day.
BRENT GLASS:
Now do you remember anything about that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
No, I wasn't there. Yes, I remember about it, but I wasn't there that day.
BRENT GLASS:
What happened? What was it like around here when that happened?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Oh boy, it was a pitiful time down there, I'm telling you the truth. Some men hurt (five or six of them got hurt), one got killed, and one man ain't right yet from it.
BRENT GLASS:
Really?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes. I didn't know who it was when I first seed him. I walked up and he said, "Oh, Cowboy." And I said, "No, it ain't Cowboy—" Cowboy was baldheaded. And I looked over there and there laid Newell Freedman, or Newell—what's his name? Let me see; we called him "Catboy."
BRENT GLASS:
"Catboy."
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, that's what we called him. Newell, Newell … what was his name now? I forgot his name now; I might think of it directly. Then I walked around and come on up through there around the kiln, and there lay another boy. He was dead with his hand knocked off at the end right up here. That was a pitiful time down there.
BRENT GLASS:
Did you hear the explosion?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, I was sitting right up there in a chair. Felt like the bottom was coming out of the chair. I told the fellow that fired the boiler (he was going in at three o'clock), I told him, I said, "There goes the boiler." Old Joe said, "Yes, it had to go; that's it."
BRENT GLASS:
What plant was that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
It wasn't but one plant then. One ; the other one just had an electric motor. It was the only plant down there.
BRENT GLASS:
Which plant was that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
That was Number Three.
BRENT GLASS:
Number Three.
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes. And I went down there and I looked at that thing. The doors on the building were knocked off. It drove a hole through two or three walls going back there. I never seed a mess in my life…
BRENT GLASS:
Were there ever any other accidents like that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
No, that's the only one like that.