Employment Then

Posted 7/7/19

Physical labor was what kept food on the table as I remember things kept growing up. There were obviously those who had reached a higher plateau than the pick and shovel level and who lived in …

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Employment Then


Physical labor was what kept food on the table as I remember things kept growing up. There were obviously those who had reached a higher plateau than the pick and shovel level and who lived in relative comfort, but the bulk of workers that I knew earned their living by the sweat of their brow. These were the ones who placed a biscuit and egg sandwich in their lunch pail at daybreak to return at nightfall to wash their dirty bodies clean as possible with a wet rag which had been soaked in a pan of water. Their clothes would be dirty but were worn again the next day to get even dirtier until wash day when they could be cleaned. A pair of overalls often comprised the entire selection available to the working man; two pairs were certainly a luxury, as it allowed a pair to be worn while the other one was in the washing. Long hours six days a week were expected from workers. Coal mining provided the bulk of available jobs in the area where I lived, but farming and logging also provided a source of income. Higher paying jobs such as one at a steam plant on the Black Warrior River or work on the Southern or Frisco railroads were available but limited to a fortunate few who secured them, usually those with connections. Other jobs in local cotton mills or a brick plant also provided limited employment. These jobs too were hard to get.

Back-breaking work was the order of the day. Coal was mined using picks and shovels, and in the same manner ditches were dug and dirt moved. Horses and mules were the beasts of burden pulling rail cars loaded with coal from the mines, loaded wagons filled with cargo, scoops to build and maintain roads, or plows used in farming. Horses were also used to ride on or pull wagons, buggies, and sleds for human transport. Most workers made minimal wages on which they could barely survive. The coal companies made it even more difficult by paying the worker in clacker which could only be used in their high priced commissaries. Many workers were forced to accrue debts that made them virtual servants to the company. They unwillingly did this because there were no other options.   

The woman’s place was in the home where she did the cooking, house cleaning, sewing, washing, and tending of children. There were often a great number of children in a household which provided a source of help as they grew up. Children were made to go to work doing chores around the home place as soon as they were able to functionally complete a task. There were always numerous things to do including the drawing and carrying of water, and cutting, stacking and carrying of stove and fire wood. Cows had to be milked and hogs and other animals fed. Milk had to be churned and vegetables picked and canned for later use. There were always an endless number of things that had to be done, and playtime did not often fit in that schedule.

On a national scale, it must be remembered that many of the young men were busy fighting to keep our country free from foreign nations who envision a Third Reich, with Germany to assume leadership. It was not until after 1945 when the survivors of the conflict returned and women who were busy doing jobs in the military effort could go back into the home. Production of domestic goods replaced that which was essential during wartime. During the war, the production of automobiles was halted and the factories converted to tank productions. The major aircraft factories worked around the clock to provide the needed military planes. As the able bodied men were away fighting the war, women took their place in the workforce.

Walker County was called upon to provide a critically needed resource. Much of the military equipment needed was transported by rail to points where they were shipped to the area of need. The steam engines required coal for fuel. Walker County harbored a basin of good steam coal. Consequently, Southern Railroad and Frisco Railroad had tracks through the county. Southern Railroad made Parrish a coal town, and mined coal in the county for their locomotives.  This provided jobs in the coal mines and Parrish prospered. Numerous places such as Corona, Coal Valley, Carbon Hill, Townley, and Gorgas also prospered. The steam plant at Gorgas not only provided jobs for plant workers, but also mining jobs to supply the necessary coal. There were other jobs in the county such as the Indian Head mills in Cordova and another cotton mill in Jasper in the Jones Village area. Natco, the brick plant in Cordova employed a number of workers. Vulcan Asphalt located at the mouth of Cone Creek and the Warrior River where a shipping dock was built. A railroad spur line was laid to the site. Allied Steel appeared for a while on the Gardners Gin road. It was not until later when Birmingham Forest Products built their mill in Dovertown. Burtons produced quality golf bags in Jasper. Businesses, companies, and institutions also provided jobs. Some might contend, however, that during that period of time, easy jobs were few and far between.   

Contact Wheeler Pounds at 3424 Kings Mill Rd, Oakman, AL 35579, or at wheelerpounds@gmail.com.