Fond farewell to Franklin paper mill

Published 9:27 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

Yesterday, I faced one of the most difficult days in my life.

I walked out of the Franklin paper mill as I’ve done at the end of every work day for the past 38 years. The difference is that this time, more than 300 of my fellow employees and I won’t be coming back either Monday morning or Wednesday night. We are “separated” from International Paper.

My ties that stretch back to Union Camp are severed.

I came to the mill in early 1972. I knew nothing about the place. I just wanted to work here to be close to Murfreesboro.

My bride-to-be, Brenda, was at Chowan. Because I had been working as a clerk at Smithfield Foods, Union Camp wanted me to take the clerical test.

So on March 6, 1972, I began working in data processing as a clerk. I kept the inventory on key punch cards and forms, and helped Andy Duck and Don Rogers.

After about a year I transferred to the mill in sheet finishing. I thought I was really “in the money” then, but I was also on shift work.

If you’ve never worked shift work, you probably don’t realize the toll it takes. It’s a physical drain on your body, and can harm you spiritually and emotionally. I once heard a preacher say that shift work was a tool of the devil.

In 1974 Union Camp decided to do away with some jobs in sheet finishing, so they moved me to the paper mill. I only weighed about 160 pounds. I remember Alan Bland asking me if I could work alongside a big man. I told him that I would outwork a big man.

I ended up making it permanent on No. 6 Paper Machine in 1975. For those who don’t know, No. 6 was the largest fine paper machine in the world. In fact it broke the record for the most paper ever made in a 24-hour period.

Several of the guys I worked with then have died. I will always remember John Brinkley, Spencer Davis, and of course, Sugar Babe.

But in 1978 I decided I wanted to get off shift work. I was missing so much of Rob, our first son, growing up. I wanted to go to the electric shop.

So at that time I accepted a transfer to No. 2 Paper Machine to get on days. That was probably the worst three years of my life. I didn’t like pulling paper and cleaning up.

But in 1979, Billy, our second son was born, and I got to be with him more as he grew than I had with Rob.

In 1981, I accepted a job in mechanical maintenance as a pipe-fitter helper. I learned so much from people such as Durwood Evans, John Babb, Sidney Brittle, Bill Fowler and other great mechanics.

I really enjoyed that work and I was still in the paper mill area. But I finally got in

the electric shop in August1982. And I’ve been there ever since.

As an electrician I’ve crawled in precipitators and worked on soot blowers on the boilers. I worked in the well fields in the freezing cold and rain.

I’ve worked as the shift electrician when there was only one per shift. That was pretty scary being the only electrician at the mill at night.

The last 19 years I’ve been in the cookroom/dyeroom area. I’ve seen that area go from mechanical timers, relays, chart recorders and push buttons to processors and computer screens. What a change for the operators going from 200 push buttons to a mouse and having the system pretty much run itself.

So I have worked in five departments. Some might say I can’t keep a job.

I’ve also been a member of all three local unions. I may be the only one to do that. I’m not sure.

But during my career at the mill I’ve been a salaried employee and a union officer. Most people have done that in the opposite order.

I’ve been in several negotiations, worked with the Team For Educational Excellence, and been really involved with the United Way.

I’ve also had a great life in no small part because of the opportunities and income provided by the Franklin mill.

I have no hard feelings against International Paper. They made the decision they felt was best for International Paper. I still hate that it has happened. It breaks my heart.

Since I was 19 years old this has been my second home. I have made so many friends and maybe a few enemies here.

To my friends I will never forget you or the times we have had. To my enemies I am truly sorry. And I wish you well in the future.

This has been an awesome blessing for me and my family. Where else could a young kid start out without a college education and live the American dream as I have?

Because of the mill my family has been able to go places and do things that I would have never dreamed of. I’m so glad that God ordered my steps and had them come to Franklin.

I am not bitter, only grateful. I will always cherish the 38 years at the Franklin mill. I just didn’t want to cry when I laid that hard hat down on Friday. That would’ve been embarrassing in front of the guys.

Oh, but I don’t have to work with them anymore. I almost forgot.