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Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Riley, Robert, interviewee
Interview conducted by Stewart, Chris
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 156 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-07-09, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0106)
Author: Chris Stewart
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0106)
Author: Robert Riley
Description: 178 Mb
Description: 41 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 1, 1994, by Chris Stewart; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Jackie Gorman.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994.
Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Riley, Robert, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ROBERT RILEY, interviewee
    CHRIS STEWART, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
CHRIS STEWART:
This will be an interview with Robert Riley on February 1, 1994, Tuesday evening at 7:00. This interview is taking place at his home.
The question is, what department did you work in?
ROBERT RILEY:
In 1962 I started with White's on the yard. The yard is where we had an old saw mill. The trees came to us in ten or twelve foot logs. Then we cut the logs into boards. We cut them 1″ × 6″ × 12″. That was in the green stage. They had to be put on sticks, then they had to be carried and put in what they called a dry kiln. That lumber had to be dry kilned until it was seasoned properly before it could be cut and made into furniture. After that's done, it goes into what they call the rough-end of a machine room. That's when it's cut into certain lengths. Then it goes through a sander, it goes through a molder, it goes through a ripsaw, and the machine into certain parts and sizes.
Then it moves on from the rough end of the machine room on up to the other places for sanding. Then it moves on from there on in to the cabinet room. The cabinet room is where all the furniture comes together with each piece fitting its proper side and goes in to making a chest, a night stand, a dresser or a bed or whatever the case may be.
After that stage it moves on into what they call finishing. There it's totally made into a piece of furniture as it goes down the assembly line. It is in the raw and it has to be finished in a certain finish. Then we have our spray booths and our rubbers that takes that piece of furniture in the rough and carries it right through the finished product.
Then it leaves from that department and goes into what you call rubbing and packing. What they do in the rubbing department is that they shine this furniture up and make it look like it looks in the store. Then it comes on down to the packing department where they put the hardware on, the jiffy wrap around it, and get it properly ready to be

Page 2
shipped into the warehouse. From the warehouse it goes into the truck, into the stores and then into peoples' homes. That's basically the making of a piece of furniture. I may have missed a few things along the line.
CHRIS STEWART:
When you started you said you were at the very beginning.
ROBERT RILEY:
I was at the beginning. What my job was at that time, and anybody that knows anything about a saw mill, you've got your log just like you see a tree. If you go out in your back yard and cut a tree down then put a rule on it and say that you want a twelve foot length, you would go up that rule from the end until you get twelve feet. Then you cut that log and you have what you call a twelve foot log. Or you can have a ten foot log, eight foot log, or whatever the case may be.
When it comes into the saw mill the sawer has to go and take the log to the big old circle saw where it cuts the first slab off. My job was to take the slab and move it out of the way so as to be able to get the boards stacked properly with sticks between. My job was just basically to keep the slabs out of the way. The sawer and trimmer would be running the saw. As stuff moves down the conveyor I would keep everything out of the way so they could continue the flow. You cut one log and then time you cut that it'd be time to cut another one. It was called a saw mill and it took about eight to ten people to run it.
CHRIS STEWART:
Eight to ten people to do it?
ROBERT RILEY:
Right. You had your log trailer, you had your tripper, you had your sawer.
CHRIS STEWART:
Tripper did you say?
ROBERT RILEY:
A tripper. A tripper stands between the sawer who saws the log, and after the log goes up the conveyor the tripper has to catch this slab and keep the slab separated so that as the sawer is cutting it then when it gets on up the conveyor the slabs falls off on the elevator and moves on. Then the log comes back to the sawer. He in turn turns the log over again.

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Let me make an illustration. This is a twelve foot log, for instance, and we are going to use this. The circular saw is standing right here. The sawer has a big lever. He just pulls the lever. As he starts the round board up the saw it comes up just like this. It is cutting as it goes by here. The trip is over here and the saw is here. As it goes up here the tripper catches this slab and leaves the other part on it. As it goes on up when it gets to the end he drops the slab here. The slab goes on up and then it comes back. He then turns the log over. What he's doing is squaring this log up and getting it into lumber. As it turns over then he will go right back up this side and gets the slab so the tripper keeps it. He turns it over and what he's got is that he's taken a round log and squared it up. Now he can cut six inch boards to whatever thickness the log will allow him to cut. That's what he does.
After he cuts it everything goes on down the elevator. When it gets down to the end you have a man down there. He gets that board and he hands it to a man that stacks it. When they get a certain size stack they move it out of the way and start another stack. Then they take the lumber and stick it so that the air can go between them so when you put it in the dry kiln it can get properly dried.
CHRIS STEWART:
It that what you said you put something in between them?
ROBERT RILEY:
You put sticks. In other words, what you try to do is to put a stick every two feet apart all the way down the lumber. And when it goes in the dry kiln it will dry in the kiln uniformly. It doesn't have one end dry and the other end half dry because you can't make furniture with wet lumber. It stays in the dry kiln according to the thickness of the lumber. An inch and a half board will stay longer than a one inch thick board.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was this all part of the saw mill, the drying?
ROBERT RILEY:
No. The saw mill only cuts your logs and squared the lumber up. Then to dry kiln lumber you've got to put it in a special building, and it's got to be heated day and night for X number of days at a certain temperature all the time. There again it depends on what thickness your lumber was that you were drying as to how many days. I guess it

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took some of it anywhere from eight to maybe ten days to dry kiln it totally properly, and that's heating it twenty-four hours a day. It was still in the rough then.
CHRIS STEWART:
How did you find out about your job? How did you get your job originally?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, I used to work with another friend. And back in 1962 you had to know somebody to get a job at White's. I was riding with one of the supervisors that knew that I was looking to make a change. He in turn helped me to get my job at White's.
I believe one year there we didn't hire anybody in the entire year. The next year I think we had one person to die and they replaced that one person. The motto at that time was that if nobody from White's died, weren't no need to come by looking for a job.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was that in the early years?
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes, that was in the early years back in the 1960s when there weren't many jobs available.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you help people get jobs then as well? Was that still going on?
ROBERT RILEY:
Once I got in and got to know the people, there were some real nice people there and real helpful. As a matter of fact, both of my kids worked there during the summer. Sure, I helped seven people get on there during those thirty-one years. It was a real good experience even for my kids when they were in school to work during the summer months. They kind of enjoyed it, dusting, but they enjoyed it, and I enjoyed them working rather than having them playing in the summertime too.
CHRIS STEWART:
What job did you go to next after you changed—?
ROBERT RILEY:
After I left what they called the yard, I went into what we call the packing department where we packed the furniture. At the time I went there each piece that you packed had to be put on a cart and wheeled from the packing department out into the warehouse where we stored it. My job then was to truck it from the packing department into the warehouse and at the same time help load trucks when they would come in to pick up our furniture.

Page 5
I moved from the yard into the packing department and stayed in there for several years. During those years that I was in there our company did some rebuilding. They built a brand new packing department, finishing department, cabinet room, and as time passed on I became packing supervisor in that packing department. I stayed there until I started dwindling a little bit. I stayed there as long as the White's owned it. When the White's took over that was when I was asked to go to Mebane to take over their rubbing and packing which was much bigger. It was a promotion at the time so we went to Mebane.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you work in the Hillsborough plant?
ROBERT RILEY:
I worked in the Hillsborough plant I guess maybe twenty-five of the thirty-one years. I almost grew up there. I don't know exactly what day I went to Mebane, but I went in February of 1962 for my first day at White's.
CHRIS STEWART:
When the Hillsborough plant was sold out is that when you moved over to Mebane?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, the Hillsborough plant wasn't totally sold out, but I think it was in the makings. I didn't really know, but when I was asked to go to Mebane to that packing department they had some problems over there, so I went over in the packing department hoping to be able to help there and to try to make things run a little smoother.
I was over there, I guess, maybe a year and a half before they decided to phase the Hillsborough plant out. Hickory had taken over at that time, so when they phased out the Hillsborough plant he had about twenty to twenty-five of those employees go over to the Mebane plant. The others were just unemployed. But as things rocked on down I think it was October or November in 1993 when we were told that Mebane was closing. It was a real shocker to me because I had been there so long and I planned to retire there. We worked there and everybody stayed there until his or her job was completed. And the way they did it they phased out certain departments at a time. If you stayed there until your job was completed you got a two-week severance pay. Some did and some found other

Page 6
jobs and moved on. I guess that was the biggest shock of my entire life in the president saying that we're going to have to shut the doors.
CHRIS STEWART:
When did you find out?
ROBERT RILEY:
They gave us a sixty-day notice.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it in December?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think it was around November or December is when they told us that in ninety days they would start phasing men out. Actually I think the phasing part started sometime around January—the first phase of it. I didn't actually leave until the 15th day of April of 1993.
What happened was at that time I was driving a truck. Our furniture show is every April, we have two shows, October and April. They were getting ready for the April show and any furniture that they needed from the Mebane plant to the High Point showroom they needed somebody there to be able to bring it backwards and forwards. So I stayed with them until the day of the show. That's the reason I stayed as long as I did.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you hear talk? Were people talking about it before you actually heard?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, yeah, you could halfway see the handwriting on the wall.
CHRIS STEWART:
What were they saying?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, after Hickory took over and started bringing in management from different companies with different ideas and different opinions, and the economy was kind of weak too. You could put it all together and you could halfway see the handwriting on the wall. So what Hickory chose to do was—which I guess was a smart move for Hickory—was to move a few key pieces of furniture from the Mebane plant to the Hickory plant, and at a certain time take the production from the Mebane plant to the Hickory plant and made a strong base to the Hickory plant leaving the people at the Mebane plant.
CHRIS STEWART:
High and dry.
ROBERT RILEY:
High and dry, high and dry.

Page 7
CHRIS STEWART:
When you say that the Hickory people came in with different ideas and different ways of doing things can you explain more what you mean? How was it different from the time before that?
ROBERT RILEY:
The old White's were owners and founders and it's just like your home.
CHRIS STEWART:
Can you describe to me what it was like?
ROBERT RILEY:
At the time we believed in building the best furniture humans could build at that time. Furniture that you'd be proud of forever and a day. And when these people come in you see some change. In other words, they had different ideas and different opinions. Well, you can have all the ideas and opinions that you want, but it's certain things that you only do one way and that's the right way. With different ideas and different opinions sometime you might try something, but that may not be the way to go. At the time when the economy was a little soft you don't be trying a whole lot of things, you do what brought you here. Yes, we could see some change. When you've been around awhile with the economy like it is only the strong are going to survive anyhow.
CHRIS STEWART:
Were there particular departments that were more affected by this like cabinet making where the furniture was actually put together? Did different departments have different…
ROBERT RILEY:
When the plant was actually sold out it planted a lot of fear in people simply because here's a new kid on the block and how do we adjust to the new kid or how does the new kid adjust to us? It is just something that happens and if it happens to you I think it's going to affect you one way or the other. In my case I had been working for about twenty-five years with people that I knew. I knew the president. I knew who owned it, the family, and everything, and here comes some company that's buying it that was called Hickory Manufacturing. Who was Hickory Manufacturing? I don't know. John Doe is going to operate it. Well, who is John Doe? I don't know. It took some adjustments and let's face facts, some John Doe's just don't gee and haw like they are suppose to. So, a lot of folks start getting a little fearful when it was first sold out.

Page 8
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes, especially I imagine, after seeing the Hillsborough plant close down.
ROBERT RILEY:
Right. In other words, I think they realized when the Hillsborough plant went that it was just a matter of time before the Mebane plant was going to do the same thing.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did people prepare, I mean, were people thinking about getting another job?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, you can think about it, but with the economy the way it was you can't buy a job today. You were thinking, you knew what was happening and saying, "I hope it don't happen, but I know it's going to happen." What can you do? Certain things are just going to be.
CHRIS STEWART:
It's certainly tough to find a job when you're working full-time too.
ROBERT RILEY:
It is. You don't want to give up a day. You know that every time you give up a day that's a day that your check's short. Then too, there's a lot of jobs now where you don't just go out and get hired, you have to go through this temporary service and that's a lousy service. That service does no good at all. It's good for the company in the way that it will kind of prune out the dead brush. It let's you know who is strong and who will stay there, but for a person that's got to go out and give a percentage of his salary away, it's not good. This is the way the most of them chose to do it now. A lot of them can't even get in the front door if they go today looking for a job. You go to the unemployment or temporary service.
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes. I would like to go back to your earlier days and talk about wages and what your wages were back in 1962 and how it changed in the different departments that you worked and over time, I imagine.
ROBERT RILEY:
When I first went to White's you were lucky to bring home thirty-five dollars a week. That was a forty-one hour work week at that time and you were happy with that. Because nobody else was bringing nothing home in this area. You see, it was just White's and [inaudible] and [inaudible] Mill and that was about all your major factories that you

Page 9
had in that general area. Up in Burlington and Durham you had something, but then you had to drive way over there.
When you went to White's back in those days you could get anything you wanted uptown or at the bank or anywhere. All you had to say was that you worked at White's. They wouldn't let you have too much because they knew you couldn't pay for too much, but what little you could pay you could go to the bank and borrow money.
CHRIS STEWART:
Really? So White's was good collateral?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, yes, they were good collateral, their name stood for something. I think in 1881 when they started making furniture and they were the oldest furniture maker in the South. They make just as good a furniture as a man could make at that time too.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did White's pay better than other factories in the area?
ROBERT RILEY:
Like I said there wasn't too many factories in the area.
CHRIS STEWART:
But the ones that you mentioned.
ROBERT RILEY:
I think what happened and I couldn't prove this, but I think [inaudible] , and if I pay this, you pay this and we don't have no jumping the fence. They have to do what they have to do, but I think basically back in those days and probably still the same thing today…
CHRIS STEWART:
How were the wages different in each of the departments?
ROBERT RILEY:
It wasn't a tremendous amount of difference during those days. A machinist might have made fifteen cents more than somebody else, but at that time there wasn't anybody over paid. They had what they called pay grades and pay scales. If you were a top machinist, sure, you made a little bit more than somebody that was just rolling around a piece of furniture, or someone that was just pushing it down the assembly lines. They had wage scales, but from the top to the lowest I doubt if it was over twenty-five cents different an hour.
CHRIS STEWART:
Before you became a supervisor when you were working or say, for example, when a new person came on the job, when somebody new came on the job, did you have a

Page 10
designated person who would train them? Or did everybody sort of participate in the training? Were there special tricks that you would show them?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, if a young man came, say when I first started, to the yard department basically if he was going to do a job he was going to do a job that someone else was going to move on somewhere else and do. The new man would be put with the old man who was going to be moving away so he could show him how it was done. A lot of times— maybe he would want to move from the yard on into the packing department or the rubbing department—so they would let the person that was going to move on kind of halfway show the new man before he moved on how things were done. Then he was able to move on. When you come to something like a saw mill there's not a whole lot of things to do and if you are strong and willing to work you basically pick up lumber, slabs, and things of that nature. Basically, that's about all you had to do at the saw mill.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you do things to sort of pass the time? Obviously you had to be very aware with the saw and the wood.
ROBERT RILEY:
It was a busy job and you didn't have any time to do anything else but do your job. I was cutting slabs and when you are cutting slabs you had to take that twelve foot log and cut it in half. Then you had a six foot slab. We would in turn take that slab and burn it in our boiler. Once it got dried we would use the boiler to heat the factory. So what you had to do was to cut that slab in two and run way down away from your cutting table and lay that slab down and come back and another one was ready. You couldn't just throw it right where you were because if you did you soon would have slabs so high you couldn't walk. So you had a long line maybe a hundred and fifty to two hundred feet from where you were cutting. You would walk that slab there and stack it up. By the time you got back another one was ready. It was constantly moving all the time.
What they would do was they had a truck that was hauling lumber. We didn't have a dry kiln there at our Hillsborough plant. All of our lumber was dry kilned at our Mebane

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plant. So what we would do was he would take a load of green lumber to Mebane that we had cut at the saw mill and in turn bring back a load of dry kilned to make our furniture. In the afternoon when they got caught up they would take the dump truck and throw on a load of those slabs and take them around to the boiler and dump them so the man could burn them. It was one of those deals where you had to kind of stay on the move all the time.
CHRIS STEWART:
When did you start working? You said you started working in the stockroom.
ROBERT RILEY:
That was in Mebane. When I came to Mebane I went to rub and pack. I stayed there for three to four years. Things got kind of hectic to be honest with you and I just couldn't stand the pressure. So I asked to be moved from that department to another department, or I had made my mind up that I was going to do something else. Rather than do the something else I was offered a job in the stockroom. In the stockroom that's where all of our parts and things come in on trucks and then sent out from one department to another one. I had a little truck driving experience so they had a truck there so a lot of the supplies that they had to have and machines to be brought back in to around High Point and the Thomasville area. I could use that truck and go get it and when I got back I could take it and carry it back out into the stockroom. The stockroom is where we had all of our supplies. Whenever a department would come for supplies we would issue them out through the stockroom. That way when they got low you'd know to order more. We kind of half-way kept a tab on what was going out and to keep the stock built back up at the same time.
Over the years I learned how to drive a truck and a forklift and several different things just by being around them. It would kind of rub off on you. I was actually working in the stockroom and driving a truck at the end of my career there.
CHRIS STEWART:
Oh, right, to do the furniture show?

Page 12
ROBERT RILEY:
To do the furniture. See, I worked in the stockroom and we didn't have to have supplies everyday so I stayed in the stockroom. I issued out stock. We had a forklift there if someone needed something moved that was pretty heavy we could take the forklift and move it. Let's just say all of our carving—we didn't have a carving machine—was sent over to the carver in Thomasville. He did all of our carving. Rather than wait on a commercial truck that may take two days to pick it up and we had something ready by lunchtime I would take it after lunch directly to the carver.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was this after Hickory or was this also before Hickory that you had taken stuff?
ROBERT RILEY:
This was during Hickory's time once I moved to the Mebane plant. See, the Hillsborough plant was a small plant. It didn't have a dry kiln. All of our payroll and everything came from the Mebane plant. So at the time Mebane was our home base. A lot of things they could do at the Mebane plant we just weren't big enough to do at the Hillsborough plant.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was the Mebane plant equipped to do the carving before Hickory or did you even at Hillsborough have to send your stuff to Thomasville?
ROBERT RILEY:
What happened was that the Mebane plant never did while I was there have a carver. Everything that had to be carved had to be sent to Thomasville, but we had a company there that would do it just as soon as we could get it there. Basically, all that it amounted to was to get your product together and take it to Thomasville and they would start carving them pretty quick and get them back.
Everything was on a time table. You would plan your cutting ahead. In order to get everything in line you'd have to start the cutting of the furniture at a certain time. Everything kind of runs on schedule. The carver had to have a certain amount of time to carve it. Everybody had to have a certain amount of time, so what you try to do is to start you a schedule and hope that everything would kind of work in the schedule. You'd try to

Page 13
give each person ample time to do what he or she is suppose to do to get that piece of furniture all the way through the plant, into a box, and on out the door.
These carvers, whenever we would carry stuff to them, had time to carve it, but what I'm saying is to keep from wasting three and four days on a common carrier to come in and do it, we would just load it on our truck and get it on to the carvers as quick and as fast as we possibly could. And when he got our supplies ready he would let us know, and we then we would go and pick them up and bring them back. That way we would have them there much quicker. Then too, they felt like they could do it and do a better job than a commercial carrier could.
CHRIS STEWART:
It sounds like you were kind of doing double duty in this way.
ROBERT RILEY:
When I was on the truck I looked at it like this, when I'm on the truck I'm not on the forklift. When I'm on the forklift I'm not on the truck. It might have been that you were doing a lot of different jobs in one day, but you just took in stride and went around and did the best job you could do. We picked up a lot of stuff all through the High Point and Thomasville area. Some of our glue, staples, and all that goes into making furniture. We didn't get anything for other folks, everything we picked up was for White's.
CHRIS STEWART:
Can you tell me a little bit about the pluses and minuses of working at the Hillsborough plant as opposed to the Mebane plant? How was it different for you when you made the switch, and did you like one better than the other?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, I started at the Hillsborough plant, and I'm a little partial to the Hillsborough plant. The reason I liked the Hillsborough plant so much better is that it was a lot smaller. You knew everybody by name and you almost were able to see everybody even at lunch period. The Mebane plant was so big they would have two lunch periods. Everybody didn't take lunch at the same time. It was much, much bigger.
At the Mebane plant you had supervisors and one superintendent. Nobody else. The supervisors had to answer to the superintendent and he would answer to the Mebane boss. You knew who your boss was. You didn't have to go all over the plant to find out

Page 14
what was what you would go directly to your superintendent. At that time we had some real good key people back when I started.
CHRIS STEWART:
That's in Hillsborough.
ROBERT RILEY:
That was in the Hillsborough plant. You would go there and get your hours. You knew what to do. Our superintendent would make rounds everyday. He would speak, see what you could do, what he thought you could do that day, and at the end of that day he'd want all of his supervisors to come by and spend fifteen minutes with him after the work day was over to plan your next day's work. For instance, as I told you about the schedule, if one supervisor was a day or two ahead on his schedule and maybe another supervisor was running a little bit behind it might be that you could loan him a couple of your people tomorrow to catch him back up. It was kind of like one big family. The reason we got together every afternoon was to talk about things. Then the next morning we would know exactly which way we needed to go with our people.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it different in Mebane?
ROBERT RILEY:
Mebane was so much bigger. In the Hillsborough plant I knew every supervisor, his children, his wife. We sometimes would get together to have a meal just to be together. It was kind of like a family tie. When you went to the Mebane plant it was kind of like you knew you were still with the same company but it was so big, like I told you, that some of the supervisors you never did see. They would have one lunch period and one break period, and you were having another one and another break period. You probably didn't see one another because the building was so big and if you were up on this end and they were on that end you had no reason to see each other.
CHRIS STEWART:
And you didn't have these meetings like you had in the Hillsborough plant?
ROBERT RILEY:
What they did they had two superintendents at the Mebane plant. They got together and halfway got things together.
CHRIS STEWART:
The supervisors talked to the superintendents and the superintendents got together.

Page 15
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes, got together and worked things out. But, at the Hillsborough plant it was so small that you were in one department about all the time. It was much better. When I first started we had real good key people.
CHRIS STEWART:
What do you mean when you say key people? What does that mean to you?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, it meant, it's just like you, if you enjoy doing what you like to do or you enjoy going to work you are going to do your best work. Our superintendent was a man that believed in an honest day's work for whatever amount of pay that they promised. He didn't ask you to do it and he be over yonder on the golf course or somewhere fishing. He was right there to say, "Look, anytime you run into a problem, I'm somewhere within hollering distance and I can be there in just a minute or two." So, you felt like you were always protected, because if you had a problem or a decision that needed to be made in the next five or ten minutes you could put your hand on somebody that could do it. Not only that, he was steadily walking and he was steadily talking. You don't have to eat a whole cow to know you're eating beef, so you knew right then where the man was coming from. He was a good, solid, firm, and devoted man so it made you a better person because of his ties and his work. I can remember when nobody put in anymore time at our plant than our superintendent.
CHRIS STEWART:
Is he a member of the White family?
ROBERT RILEY:
He wasn't a member of the White family, but he came to White's… To be honest with you I don't remember when he came to White's. He was there when I went there in 1962, H. Ted Smith. He's still in the Hillsborough area. He's one of the greatest men, as far as working with a man, that I've ever worked with. I guess he's seventy years old now.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did he lose his job?
ROBERT RILEY:
No, see, he had retired and moved on off the scene a year before this came down the line. God bless him, I'm glad he did. Some of the key people were there and

Page 16
had been there so much longer than I had when I got there. They retired and moved on way before the change ever came about. So, he was one of them.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was there ever any kind of union organizing at either one of the plants?
ROBERT RILEY:
They voted a union in at one point in time and I don't know when that was, but it never was acted.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was that in Hillsborough?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, what happened is that they voted it in at both plants, but it never was any good. They wanted to be operated under rules and regulations so it never was any good.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it voted in when you were there?
ROBERT RILEY:
It was voted in during the time I first went there, but I think the White's let it be known that they weren't going to operate under any union rules and regulations, so what can you do?
CHRIS STEWART:
Do you remember hearing people who you worked with talk about it at all?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, they talked a little bit about it, but I don't know whether the union was too strong. In other words, say when a union and a company start bucking one another somebody's got to show their true colors, so to speak. I don't know whether the union had any money or what the case may be, but never anything much came out of it. I think it was voted in at one point in time.
CHRIS STEWART:
When you were working at Hillsborough—you can talk about Mebane if you want to—were there certain jobs that certain people did? Was it organized according to how old you were, the younger people do some kind of job and the older people do some kind of job? Or maybe the women would do one kind of job and men would do another?
ROBERT RILEY:
When I first went to White's there weren't any women in the Hillsborough plant at all. During the time after I went there they started talking about this. There was a lot of discussion about it. You see, there were no facilities for women like a bathroom. There was just one and she was the secretary, but she worked in the office and there was a

Page 17
bathroom in the office for her. But, out on the floor there was nothing but men's bathrooms. They talked about it and saw the day coming, and some were halfway resenting that day for different reasons. It wasn't too much that women could not do the job, but a lot of companies, when you have women and men, sometimes your productivity goes down. You might not agree, but it does. The reason, I think, is a lot of times men will talk to men, but they have a tendency to talk to a woman if she will stand a little bit longer. A lot of times things start happening in their jobs so a job is generated. It's a lot of things that they had talked about that kind of half way see coming if they ever started hiring women. Women came and they did a beautiful job. There are a lot of jobs in furniture plants that women can do, and I imagine in most plants now it is forty percent women.
CHRIS STEWART:
Do you think that productivity did decrease? Did you see some of that happening?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, let's just say, anytime you've got a new broom that sweeps clean or does a little bit better, what I'm saying is, here's a bunch of men that have been working ever since White's been started and all male, and I think they started with maybe one or two women and kind of gradually brought them in. In other words, let's just say there are attractive women and there are some not too attractive and all these kinds of things. Women were made from man, so as time passed on they would go by and stop, but I think after a period of time they all got to know each other and found out we're all here to try and make a living. If it went down some it might have dropped just a little bit getting adjusted. It's kind of like anything else, it takes adjustments and once you get the kinks worked out things went on and worked real good.
CHRIS STEWART:
What about according to age, were there certain jobs that were for young people?
ROBERT RILEY:
You take, for instance, when I first went to White's on the yard, you had to be kind of be young and pretty fast because everything evolved around speed. Our sawer

Page 18
and our tripper, all of those were experienced people. The sawer would just stand there and pull the lever, and the tripper would just stand there and catch the slabs as they came up the thing there, but he wouldn't handle the lumber. Certain jobs today you have to have young people. Certain jobs old people can do in furniture plants just as good as anybody. I think what most companies try to do is to take the old people and push them on up and try to take care of them because of the longevity they have built with the company.
Today I think they are admired so much more than they did when I first went there. Goodness gracious, they don't do things like… Well, they can't today. Back in those days, like I said, they weren't paying me but a dollar and fifteen cents an hour so they could do a lot of manual work. Remember when I first went to White's they didn't have what you call a forklift, but today they've got these big lifts that can do as much work in fifteen minutes as a half dozen men can do all day. It can pick up so much more. What you have to do is to modernize as time goes along. It's amazing to see how far… [text missing]
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ROBERT RILEY:
… and kind of halfway help you to grade your lumber while you are standing there and to put a ruler on each board every time. There's a lot of things that have modernized in the furniture business that were real good because it took away a lot of hard labor. A lot of knowledge went into making these changes. The forklift, I guess, was one of the greatest things that could happen to a furniture company because we could pick up a whole stack of lumber and just drive away with it, whereas a man can pick up just maybe a couple of boards.
CHRIS STEWART:
Right. What kinds of jobs did people do? Were jobs segregated according to white and black?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, when I went to White's everything was segregated.
CHRIS STEWART:
In '62, I imagine so.
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes, you had a different bathroom, a different drinking fountain.
CHRIS STEWART:
Were they labeled?
ROBERT RILEY:
Coloreds, sure they were labeled. A lot of prejudices simply because there were people there who were used to being there with all of one color and here come people of another color.
CHRIS STEWART:
When did black people start getting jobs?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, to be honest with you, I really don't know when there were the first blacks, but I believe as far as White's was concerned I was the first black supervisor they

Page 20
had. That tells you a little something about it. They had been in business since 1881. You may have to check the record on that, but I think I'm right.
CHRIS STEWART:
This is very interesting. First of all, was it difficult for you to get the supervisor job? Were there resentments to your getting the job?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think, to be honest with you, that White's saw something coming. You know, you just don't stay the same all the time. There are changes coming down the line. You either adjust or you have to answer a lot of questions as to why. They were smart people so I think they saw it. I tried to do them a real good job and I had pride in myself. They didn't give me anything. They opened up the door and I got in myself. I worked hard there with them and they were fair with me, I have no problem with that.
CHRIS STEWART:
What about the other employees, the workers?
ROBERT RILEY:
Now, some of the workers were in the same position when I went there as they were when I left. It had nothing to do with color. In the furniture business there are just very few key jobs available. In other words, if you run a machine and that machine machines our furniture then that machine is going to machine our furniture today, tomorrow, a year from now, ten years from now because this is what it is designed for to machine furniture. So if you are running that machine there's nowhere for you to go. That's a lot of the problem in the furniture industry there's just nowhere for the people to go.
CHRIS STEWART:
So you think that you were in a good position because you were in jobs that actually gave you the opportunity to get into supervisory?
ROBERT RILEY:
I went there as a young man and I was aggressive. My work record along with some other things got me in that position. I really do. I worked my fanny off.

Page 21
There's nothing wrong with that. I think they were looking for good, solid people. They had others there, you know, but…
CHRIS STEWART:
Did other white employees resent your getting a supervisor job?
ROBERT RILEY:
There again, I think, our superintendent was a strong, powerful man that I think I could bring you and say, "Mr. Smith, we've got to do certain things. This is the way it's going to go." In other words, he was strong enough to say, "Look, we're going to make this change and hope you like it, but if you don't like it you have to adjust to it and work with it here because this is the way we are going to do certain things." I think that he was such a strong and devoted man that he made it a lot easier for me.
CHRIS STEWART:
Do you think that he made a conscious choice choosing you because of who you were because of your hard-working nature, because of your attitude towards work?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think the only thing he could go with is on that record. Now, one thing that may have helped make his decision is that I've never had but two jobs—this is my third job. I worked at the old livestock market and the livestock market was generally whites. They were just as close of friends as I guess your best friend is. At the time I was planning on leaving to look for another job because the old stockyard was going to make a change. They were going to stop killing cattle so they had talked to us and told us that they were. They said anywhere else that we could find a job they would give us a recommendation. They were going to try and keep the old people if they could and ask the young people to look for something.
At the time I was a young man, maybe twenty-one years old. I went to see Mr. Smith and the first words he said to me, "I can't hire you. Those people over there are the best of friends." I said, "You call those people over there." So, he did.

Page 22
My superintendent that I had at the stockyard when it was time to go said, "Bob, Monday morning I want you to get you a pair of gloves and go up there and see Mr. Ted Smith and live up to the recommendation that I give him." He hadn't told me to this day what recommendation and I didn't ask. He said, "Just live up to the recommendations that I've given." I said, "Thank you, I will."
I think I had something when I went there. This man had given me enough recommendation that the other man said that he would at least take a look and see. I'm sure he could see of those traits of value that the other man had already told him about. He thought, "Now, you know, if we're going to build on something that's some of the things we can handle. I'm not trying to toot my own horn. I think if you'd find Mr. Smith he would tell you some of the same things.
CHRIS STEWART:
When you were working at either of the plants were there any differences between the two? Any special rules about work like how you were suppose to dress, if talking was allowed, or just special rules about work?
ROBERT RILEY:
They had real strict rules. They had a dress code, and most everybody had to wear pants, even ladies. At the Hillsborough plant when I first went there we went to work at 7:30 and had forty-five minutes for lunch. They had a whistle that would toot about two minutes before 7:30, and if you were sitting outside smoking or talking that would give you two minutes to walk from wherever you were to your place of work. Then when 7:30 came that whistle would blow again and the machines would start running. That machinery would run until break time. At break time the whistle would blow again.

Page 23
CHRIS STEWART:
Break time, lunch?
ROBERT RILEY:
No. Mid morning break around 9:30. That whistle would blow again and everybody would stop, get a drink of water or… Now, you could go to the bathroom or get a drink of water at any point in time, but you couldn't drink or smoke outdoors. You didn't smoke inside the plant, not in the furniture plant. Today they have designated areas fixed up for smoking, but at that time you went outdoors to smoke. You could get a drink at that time or you could eat. Eating, and sodas and smoking were not allowed during the work period.
They didn't want a lot of talking during the work period because they wanted you to do your job. They felt like if you were doing a lot of talking and running the machinery you could very easily mess up something - either yourself or a piece of furniture. They wanted you to keep your mind on what you were doing. The rules were pretty strict.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did people talk anyway?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, there are certain jobs that you might could talk, but a lot of those jobs you had to have earplugs in your ear to run the machinery, so you couldn't do much talking because it was so noisy in the plant with the machinery running. A lot of times your job kept you to the point to where you couldn't do much talking because you had to do your job.
CHRIS STEWART:
It sounds like the assembly line was moving pretty fast.
ROBERT RILEY:
Everything would come down the line and basically it was adjusted to keep everybody busy.

Page 24
CHRIS STEWART:
Were they speed ups?
ROBERT RILEY:
You had certain things you could speed up if you wanted to, and some things you couldn't speed up. Anytime there is an electric conveyor you can speed it up at any point in time you want to.
When I first went there we had a man who had to take a piece of lumber and lay it on the saw. As the saw comes up it would cut any length you wanted it. It went on up and it went through a planer and the ripsaw people would rip it. In his case he could cut it fast enough that the other two ripsaws could keep up. So turning it up a notch wasn't going to help too much because he couldn't cut it but so fast back there by himself.
Some jobs didn't work that way. Now, on the finishing line it could come down to the people in rubbing and packing a little faster. There again, it goes back to whether you want good quality stuff or do you want to just push it on through? People can only do so much so sometimes when it would get too full you'd have to take something and lay it off to the side and bring it back when you can.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was the speed different from when it was White's to when it was Hickory's? Did Hickory speed it up?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think what Hickory wanted to do or what Hickory planned, I really don't know. I really think deep down that Hickory had a plan when they bought White's. I think part of the plan was White's old, fine name. I'm sure they wanted to make the money back. I think what they probably wanted to do was to get it and get that name and get the money back and then they'd be sitting on top of the world. I think they really wanted White's name. I don't know that, but they've got it now.

Page 25
CHRIS STEWART:
They sure do.
ROBERT RILEY:
That's all they've got.
CHRIS STEWART:
That's true, that's true.
How do you think the town, this area—Efland's pretty close—changed since the Mebane plant closed? You've got the two plants closed now within five miles.
ROBERT RILEY:
Mebane is five miles this way and Hillsborough is five miles that way.
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes, and they closed within five or six years of each other. How did it affect you?
ROBERT RILEY:
A lot of people I don't think have jobs yet. What a lot of them chose to do was to go back to school. There is a technical school at Alamance. Some chose to go that route, and some are still looking for jobs, and some were at the age where they could go ahead and retire. This is why the closing of the plant affected most people in different ways. Those that were able to retire quite naturally it didn't bother them too much. But, those like me that had been there thirty-one years and had to start all over again… I wasn't able to retire. It was an adjustment that I never thought I would have to make.
CHRIS STEWART:
What's that like, Mr. Riley?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, it's something that I hope I never have to experience again. You have to be strong though, and there again, I've always felt like this, if there was something out there I would get a little of it. I found out one thing, the job market today is a lot different than what it was years ago. If you knew somebody years ago, they knew somebody so just come on to work. Today there are so many people out there looking for jobs.
Like I told you, a lot of the places I went looking for a job you don't any closer than the guard and they said they don't even take applications here. You have to go to the

Page 26
unemployment place up in Burlington or you have to go to temporary. If they need people they call temporary.
Temporary has a service and what that service does is if a John Doe needs ten people tomorrow and he's paying six dollars an hour they will probably sent you over there and work you for five dollars an hour. So the temp probably gets a dollar of your salary. If you are smart you will go over there and if it's the right place and continue to work regularly then it's possible that you could go ahead on and become a full-time employee.
We have G.E. right up the road here, but you don't go to G.E. you go to temporary. That's how you get in. They tell me that you have to work something like three to five hundred hours with that service before you can get a permanent job. Some people just get discouraged and tired after working so hard and so long and they take a percentage of your money for nothing.
CHRIS STEWART:
How close are you to retirement?
ROBERT RILEY:
I'm fifty-seven years old. Five years from now I can get social security and that's part of your retirement.
CHRIS STEWART:
Were you angry?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, disappointed. I had been with them for thirty-one years and I felt like that if anybody had worked as hard as I did White's would still have been there today. In other words, I hated to see the buy out because I felt like the buy out was going to be a change. There were a lot of things I could see coming but couldn't do a thing about. At the time it hit it some of the people just right, but it hit me just wrong. I was just five or six years from retirement and had been building on a retirement for years and years and

Page 27
years, and to find out five years before retiring that it was frozen, but the five years that I needed to build the most the company is no more so I've got to start all over again to try to build somewhere else and don't have building time. I was kind of disappointed, but what can do?
CHRIS STEWART:
How long did it take you to find a job?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, I left in April and I went to work in September. I will get my permanent job starting a week from Monday. I have been a temp for all this time.
CHRIS STEWART:
You're going to start permanently at the University?
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes, on the seventh of this month.
CHRIS STEWART:
You got it through a temp job?
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did Hickory White's offer any kind of help to people to find jobs or support people going to school?
ROBERT RILEY:
They brought in a lot. They brought in about everybody that would come in, but there again, I don't think but about one person came in. What I mean to say is that they invited all the companies around to come in and talk to the people and tell them if they had anything to offer. Well, if you didn't have anything to offer then there's no need to come in. A.O. Smith up here came in.
CHRIS STEWART:
What company?
ROBERT RILEY:
A.O. Smith Electric Motor, they came by and talked, but my wife is employed with them so they wouldn't have me. That's a rule. A lot of our people were able to get jobs there, but I couldn't get one there.

Page 28
They even had people from the school to come down and talk to them about taking some type of trade. They tried to do what they could to try to help them find jobs.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was there any kind of financial support towards finding a job or towards going to school?
ROBERT RILEY:
There was a little help if they would go to school. They would try to help them with their books and some of the finances. But as far as finding another job if you stayed to the end of your job, you had a two-week severance pay. I had two weeks severance pay when I finished with them which carried me through the month of April.
CHRIS STEWART:
What was it like working there? You were there until April and my understanding is that most of the people were gone around February.
ROBERT RILEY:
Right. In other words, I stayed there and saw the furniture move on out. I actually even helped put the machinery on skids and helped skid it out the back door.
CHRIS STEWART:
What was that like for you?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, it was kind of like a part of you dying, to be honest with you. You've been around so long you've become a part of it. It's kind of like a little story that a man and his son were having. He says to his son, "I'm going to put a nail at the barn for every good deed and I'm going to also put a nail on this side for every bad deed. At the end of thirty days I'm going to weigh your good deeds and your bad deeds." He carried the little fellow back to the barn after thirty days and he said, "You see, son, your good deeds way outweigh your bad deeds." So the son said, "Well, daddy, pull those nails out of the bad deed side." The daddy took his hammer and pulled all the nails out and he said, "Son, you see, the nails are now gone but the marks are still there."

Page 29
I think the marks will always be there for some of us simply because we stayed so long and the people that are struggling to try to find a job now the marks probably just register. The people that found a job that don't like the job that they are doing now the marks register. There are always certain things to make it register.
Like I said, some of them were happy because they were at the age where they could retire, no problem. There were others that had to pick up and move on and find another job.
CHRIS STEWART:
When we talk about the memories or the good things are your memories changing? Are you remembering good things and bad things?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, sure. I can remember, Lord have mercy, when I went to White's I didn't have anything and I ain't got nothing now, but I was able to pay for my home, and I was able to raise two beautiful children. What little we've got we got it through White's. Oh, yes, a lot of beautiful memories and I guess that's what makes it hurt so bad to see all those beautiful memories come to a screeching halt and they are no more. Some of the best people in the world that you worked with so, yeah, I guess, that's what make the memories. If they had all been bad sure you could have easily forgotten it, you know, but Lord, there were a lot of good times there. Oh, yeah.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you have any special good, close friends at the Mebane plant, people that you really trusted?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, sure. A lot of the twenty-five people that come from the Hillsborough up to the Mebane plant I had known down through the years. Some of the people that were working at the Mebane plant lives somewhere in the Efland area so I knew them

Page 30
too. There were a lot of friends there that I knew when I was there. Like I said, when these twenty-five came on up that was like part of your family coming on up.
CHRIS STEWART:
How are they doing?
ROBERT RILEY:
Some of them are doing just fine. I don't talk to them as much as I used to because my job keeps me from eight to five. By the time you get home you feel like everybody else is doing the same thing you're doing trying to get supper and get squared away.
From what I can understand some of them still haven't found jobs. But like I said, some of them are still in school so it will take awhile for them to get through school, come out, and then find a job. Once they come out of school for what they're going to school for if there's no job market…
I was hoping that they were going to bring this plant in here at Mebane, you know, the Mercedes-Benz.
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes, I actually wanted to ask you about that.
ROBERT RILEY:
I felt like that would have helped us a whole lot, but we missed out on that deal. So, there's no new industry coming in that I know anything about. The old industries kind of got the people.
CHRIS STEWART:
So you think the Mercedes-Benz thing coming in here would have been a good thing and those would have been good jobs?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think all would have been good jobs. I think if it had gotten in here the school probably would have been the first place they went either seeking people or asking people to get trained for what they wanted. It was going to take them probably a year or two to build the plant so you could have taken a person and almost trained him from the

Page 31
time they said they were going to come in until the time the assembly line started and been ready to go. I was really hoping and I was going to try to do that if they had come in. The first thing I was going to do was to find out what they were asking for and try to get trained in that. After I found out that they were not coming and me just five years from retirement, I thought I would try to find something to build on to the retirement that I've got frozen.
CHRIS STEWART:
I would like to take a couple of minutes—I know I'm jumping around a lot, I apologize, you're doing a great job—to talk about what you think the changes were from the White factory to when Hickory took over. Was there a change in the employee moral? How did people feel when they heard that Hickory was coming in to take over White's?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, I think for the most part, it started, I don't say planting fear, but it started a lot of speculations. Okay, who is Hickory-White's? What do they stand for? What do they mean? How is Hickory-White's going to fake robber? Or how is it going to fake John Doe?
Any company that comes in that buys out has got their own rules and regulations, an their way of doing things. Now, whether it is right or whether it's wrong that's usually the case, and they don't want nobody telling them how that their plant needs to be run.
So, it plants fear in people in that, "I've been doing something this way, well, is that going to be satisfactory? Or how are they going to accept me? Are they going to accept me for who I am? Or am I getting me old now?"

Page 32
The first thing they did they cut out about fifty some people. They said they had too many. So, you see, when that started happening then that put fear in everybody, "Am I next?"
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it managers or workers?
ROBERT RILEY:
It was some managers and see when they came in after a period of time anybody that was in any type of big management that was there with White's after Hickory got kind of their foot in the door they had to move on because they weren't wanted there.
CHRIS STEWART:
Were they fired or did they leave?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, to be honest with you I really don't know what happened up there. Out of sense they left, and some of them their heads were kind of hung down and pretty sad when they left. I don't know exactly how or what was said.
CHRIS STEWART:
You mentioned earlier that when you were working over in the Hillsborough plant it felt like a family, the people were real close. When Hickory took over did they treat employees differently than you think that the White family treated the employees?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, what you have to remember is when Hickory took over they hired a president to come in to run both the Mebane plant and the Hillsborough plant. He was somebody that nobody knew when he came in. You didn't know exactly what to expect. You knew a new man was coming in and you also knew, like I said, there were changes that were going to come.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was that Mr. Hart?
ROBERT RILEY:
No, no, this was Richard Hinkles. See, Mr. Hart came behind Richard Hinkles.

Page 33
CHRIS STEWART:
What happened to Mr. Hinkles?
ROBERT RILEY:
Mr. Hinkles, I think, resigned. I don't know the whole story there.
CHRIS STEWART:
He wasn't there for very long then?
ROBERT RILEY:
I guess Mr. Hinkles was there for three or four years and then came Mr. Hart.
CHRIS STEWART:
What did ya'll think of Mr. Hart? What did you think of the letter that Steve White wrote to the employees about the closing? I saw it printed in the newspaper. Do you remember or did you see it?
ROBERT RILEY:
It seems like I heard something about him saying that there was a little bit of inflation now and White's withstood the depression, withstood certain wars and came through all of that. There again, you remember me telling you that only the strong was going to survive?
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes.
ROBERT RILEY:
Okay, well, back in those days when Mr. White was talking about those days White's was a real strong company and they made furniture just as good as could be made. I feel like today that if you do that you're going to get your share of the market, but you can't just keep taking bits and pieces away and expect that quality to stay there.
CHRIS STEWART:
Do you think the quality of furniture went downhill?
ROBERT RILEY:
It went down some, sure it went down some. There again, there's a lot of different furniture makers in this country. There are some that make good quality furniture and some not quite as good and some quite inferior. White's was making as good as you can make. Maybe the other people came in with the idea that it's too good. I

Page 34
don't know, but the inflation, between that and certain other things we went out of business, and we went out in a hurry.
CHRIS STEWART:
What about benefits under Hickory-White? Did that change? Did your benefits change when Hickory took over?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, Hickory paid just a little more a quarter than the White's did. They were fair in their pay, retirement, and everything. A lot of the people that were there, say ten years, they got their retirement all in a lump sum. But the people that had been there like me for thirty years it is frozen until I become sixty-two.
CHRIS STEWART:
It's nice to have that retirement when you're sixty-two but that seems to benefit the people who have the least time than the people who have the most time.
ROBERT RILEY:
In my case it doesn't bother me to have it frozen if it will be there. The only thing that I'm saying is that I was building on a fine program and I think five years from now it would have been worth a lot more to me than it's going to be by having it frozen for the next five years and just starting with a new company to try to add to that. There again, that was out of my control.
CHRIS STEWART:
Is there anything that I haven't asked you about that you think somebody who wants to know about either what went on in the plant, or the history of White's, or when it was taken over by Hickory that you think is important?
ROBERT RILEY:
I don't know of too many things that you haven't asked. I'm sure there are a few key things down the line that we may have missed, but I think anybody that knows anything about furniture could take these pieces and kind of put them together and kind of halfway see from 1962 to 1993 that there were some changes in the White's coming up

Page 35
through the ranks. Like I said, there were some good ones and then there were some bad ones, and I guess the "baddest" of all was the closing of the plant.
The Whites' had gotten old, some of them, and some of the people kind of wanted to have a buy-out, but they said it would take too long to have an employee buy-out.
CHRIS STEWART:
Really? So people were talking about a buy-out?
ROBERT RILEY:
They wanted to do something to see if they could save it, but I really think the stockholders, what few of them there was, were kind of wanting to make a change. I don't think there was anybody in the organization—probably was getting kind of old—and maybe they thought just selling would be the better way of doing it. I don't know.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was there a particular department that was talking about the buy out?
ROBERT RILEY:
You couldn't have just a department. You'd have to have…
CHRIS STEWART:
I know, but was there a particular group of people who worked in a certain department?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think the older people, not in just a certain department but scattered out all over the plant, after they found out saw that it just couldn't be done with the amount of time that they had. They just forgot about it because once the people made their minds up they just wanted to go ahead and sell. I think there were several people almost ready to buy it because like I said, White's had a strong name, and I think there were a lot of folks that really wanted White's name because they were the oldest furniture maker in the South and they wanted to be part of it. Today it is not Hickory, it's Hickory-White's.
CHRIS STEWART:
I know. That's the interesting thing, isn't it?
ROBERT RILEY:
So you see that name didn't die when we died. It went on to Hickory.

Page 36
CHRIS STEWART:
So you think it was older employees that were talking about buy-out? It was people who had been around and had …
ROBERT RILEY:
I think it was people that were interested in their job and wanted to keep it, and to see what options were available to them. Not knowing and not having the time it didn't take long to find out that just wasn't enough time. So then they had to do just like the rest of us, just try to sink or swim.
CHRIS STEWART:
When I talked to Bill he was telling me that the job you had was the supervisor of the stock room.
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, when I went to Mebane, now I wasn't the supervisor when I was over here at the stock room. Fletcher Holmes was over the entire department. After I left supervising from rub and pack I never was a supervisor anymore. Fletcher Holmes was my supervisor then.
CHRIS STEWART:
Okay, but you were in the stock room?
ROBERT RILEY:
I was in the stock room, but I wasn't under Fletcher Holmes.
CHRIS STEWART:
You talked to a lot of people in different departments?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, I saw people moving stuff around, yes, I saw a lot of people.
CHRIS STEWART:
You were in a real interesting position because most people would just be in their own department, weren't they?
ROBERT RILEY:
Right.
CHRIS STEWART:
They would see each other during break, if that.
ROBERT RILEY:
But I had flexibility. I could move all over that plant at any point in time and nobody would even say a word simply because… Like I said, when I went there I came as a supervisor and when I asked to go back into the stock room they knew if I went

Page 37
to machine room I wasn't going down to the machine room just to shoot off some boogie-woogie.
CHRIS STEWART:
[Laughter]
ROBERT RILEY:
Say if I was going to take carvings to carve I knew where the man was that was getting my posts and things ready in the machine room. I would go all the way down there sometimes before I left to go to Thomasville to see if he was going to have any more that day. On my way down if I would see somebody I might speak and say something to them, but I had flexibility. When I went down I would go over and I'd check and he said, "No, I'm not going to have any more ready today. We may have some more tomorrow." Okay, well, then I would know then that I had them all, but if he said, "It's nine-thirty and I'm going to have another box at ten-thirty," then I wouldn't go until after I'd get that box at maybe ten-thirty or eleven o'clock.
I did walk through the plant either walking or with the forklift and nobody would even ask, "What you're doing?" or "Why are you out your department?" because I didn't have a department.
CHRIS STEWART:
What do you think the benefits were of that for you, and were there any negatives?
ROBERT RILEY:
I don't see any negatives. I think it was all benefits because I had proven myself to the point that I could go into that department and they knew I was going in to that department for business, not just to shoot the bull. Most of the time I was doing it for business because anybody that I wanted to see was basically right in the department. Then a lot of people come to the stock room to get the parts that I saw anyhow. I didn't have to move. Every time a person needed anything to work with he may not come but

Page 38
each department had a man that would come and get the supplies that they needed for his or her department, whichever the case may be. You would issue parts out to somebody all day long.
CHRIS STEWART:
It sounds like you got to know a lot of people even though the plant was really big.
ROBERT RILEY:
You got to know most of the people that was in your cycle except for a man that was running a machine over there that didn't have any ties. You might wave at him as you go by, but you didn't have any reason to go to him than to do just a lot of talking. You were basically were moving directly to the man that you needed to see.
Yes, I had flexibility. I've never been where I had to just stay on a machine. After I left the logs I just had to stay right here eight hours or until a whistle blows. When I was on the road I kind of did it my way. I didn't go out and take advantage of the people. I'd do my work, take my dinner or if I didn't want to take my dinner they would pay me for my dinner.
CHRIS STEWART:
It sounds like you liked being able to schedule your own time.
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, yes, I loved it. I enjoyed it. There was no pressure put on me whatsoever at any time. I loved my work. In other words, if my boss said we needed to make two loads in the High Point area today or tomorrow then what we would do was I'd get my truck gassed up this afternoon, get everything checked out, and I would leave at maybe six o'clock in the morning. I'd go around and unlock the gate and take my truck out and lock the gate back, and I'd take on off. I would be at High Point at seven o'clock to pick up a load. If they had two loads that day maybe by mid-morning I would be back. Maybe after I would get that off I would go back again and get the other load. There

Page 39
were very few times that we would have to make two loads on any one given day. One load a day would be fine so I could leave at nine-thirty and be back around two-thirty on almost any given day.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was that unusual for a person? It sounds like you had some sort of control over what you were doing. Is that unusual?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, I had been with the company long enough that I knew what it was all about. Commercial Carving did all of our carving. If we had to go to Commercial Carving to pick up carvings—very seldom we ever went to one place alone—If we had to go to Commercial we would usually go to Southern Bonding and get a couple of barrels of glue. We kind of made it worth our time to go because if we had to pay a common carrier he would charge so much a pound where the glue weighed about five hundred pounds per drum.
So what we'd do we'd make three to five stops in the area picking up whatever we needed to bring back even though we were carrying our supplies there too. It was one of those deals where a lot of our things instead of common carriers bringing them back I would bring them back, and they would save the price of paying a common carrier. It was kind of making money both ways, going and coming. I got a chance to see a lot of interesting people while I was on the road. It was enjoyable and I hated to really see it come to an end.
CHRIS STEWART:
Do you like driving?
ROBERT RILEY:
I enjoyed that driving because I knew exactly where I was going and there was no strain on me looking for new places. I had been there so many times just like basically leaving your job and coming home. The truck I was driving, I was real use to it

Page 40
and it was kind of use to me. I got the job done. In a way I really did enjoy it, but today it's getting kind of bad out there especially with this new stretch from Mebane to Greensboro. I was running back on through Greensboro and on into High Point—Thomasville—during that construction. It is still going on in there and it was horrible in there. You leave out of there Friday afternoons. I always tried to make my load. If I was going to get away I'd try to get away early Friday so I could get back by lunch time because sometimes Friday afternoon coming down through there you couldn't hardly move.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did you ever try to figure out any shortcuts or any detours?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, the detours when you hit the interstate, if you're not careful, is going to kill you because you've got to go through a lot of towns. It's better to get out and run interstate 40 and go straight than to be staring at a stoplight waiting and then go from here to another block with another stoplight, another block and another stoplight. It was pretty fast on the interstate. What we would try to do was to figure how we could get around some traffic especially on Friday afternoons. If we had to do anything let's make a load early Friday morning and let that do until maybe Monday. We didn't have to go that way everyday. Sometimes it was three days out of five, and some days it was four days out of five, and some days it was five days out of five.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it you and another guy?
ROBERT RILEY:
No, I did it by myself.
CHRIS STEWART:
You did it by yourself?
ROBERT RILEY:
Most of what I picked up was palletized. You put it on a forklift and it comes off of the forklift.

Page 41
CHRIS STEWART:
How did you pass the time while driving? You did a lot of driving.
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, when you're driving you have to kind of keep your mind on really what your doing. There's enough traffic and things out there to keep you …
CHRIS STEWART:
Especially during construction.
ROBERT RILEY:
Yes, and when you got to where you were going, basically most people knew I was coming so my stuff was either ready or within fifteen minutes of being ready so you just kind of back-up to the loading dock there. If it wasn't quite ready you would just hang around there and talk to the people until they do get it ready. Then sign your bills and move on to the next stop and do the same thing. Then the next stop the same thing and get your load and come on back down the road. You could kind of do it like you wanted to. No pressure whatsoever.
I very seldom stopped on the road for anything simply because whatever I wanted or needed I could always get when I got to my first stop, such as the bathroom, water, soda. I could get all of that when I got to my very first stop so I didn't have to stop on the road for too much.
CHRIS STEWART:
How's the driving you're doing now different?
ROBERT RILEY:
Oh, city driving in Chapel Hill is tough especially with all these students and those bicycles. You have to keep your mind on what you're doing all the time. It's a fun job. You meet interesting people. You see different people everyday.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
ROBERT RILEY:
… but right now it's just like it was when we left, nothing.
CHRIS STEWART:
Have you been inside since? Can you get inside or is it all locked up?
ROBERT RILEY:
I think it is totally locked. It's right in the town of Mebane and I went by there one day this week to just kind of look as you drive down the road. It's basically the same just four walls now.
CHRIS STEWART:
Big walls.
ROBERT RILEY:
Big walls, great big walls.
CHRIS STEWART:
I bet it looks a lot bigger now empty than it did.
ROBERT RILEY:
Of course I was there when it was all gone, but I haven't been back because I don't even know who has a key now. It's nothing but just four walls now.
CHRIS STEWART:
Mr. Riley, is there anybody else or do you have any suggestions for us for people to interview, people who you think might want to sit down and talk to us just like you and I have been sitting down and talking?
ROBERT RILEY:
Well, Bill… I thought he said he was going to talk to Carlos and McAdoo. Has he talked to her yet?
CHRIS STEWART:
I don't think so.
END OF INTERVIEW