BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with William D. Butts, December 6, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with William D. Butts, December 6, 2002
December 6, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Butts, William D. Interviewer:  Warren, Harry Date of Interview:  12/6/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  62 minutes


Warren: This is Harry Warren. Our interviewer is Earnestine Keaton, a local historian for the Riegelwood area which includes Bladen and Columbus County and the town of East Arcadia and that’s where we are today with Mr. Douglas Butts.

Keaton: Mr. Butts, how are you doing today?

Butts: I’m doing fine. My name is William Douglas Butts. My address is 13573 Old Lake Road of Riegelwood, North Carolina.

Keaton: Mr. Butts, do you mind telling me, how old are you?

Butts: I’m 78.

Keaton: And of course you were born here in East Arcadia?

Butts: Yes, I was born right here in East Arcadia.

Keaton: How many sisters and brothers do you have?

Butts: I have five sisters and two brothers.

Keaton: And what was it like growing up around here in terms of the economy and how easy or difficult it was to make a living? Talk about your father and the kind of work he did.

Butts: My father, he mostly worked in the log woods and cut ties and hauled ties and worked the sawmills and so forth. The first that I remember the job that he really went on, he took me in the swamp one day and he cut off cypress logs and would put a stretch of stake and drive a rod into each end of them, take an ox and put them up on the hill. They would take ____ and wagons and bussed those cypress logs and ride boards with them. I was the one that separate the board different sizes and different thicknesses. That was my first knowledge of seeing work going on in the woods.

Keaton: So when you went out early in the morning like that, did you take food with you for the day or did you just stay out all day with your daddy?

Butts: Being blessed with parents who always had things to eat, we’ve always had things to eat. We had eggs and potatoes, cornbread and in the summertime we had other vegetables that go along with it. We had meat.

Keaton: So when you went out to work with your daddy, about what time did you all go out?

Butts: We would leave home a little after daylight real early in the morning.

Keaton: Where were some of the places you would go, do you remember the places?

Butts: This would be Indian Wells, the swamp in Indian Wells and the old Robertson place right where the Middle East Arcadia School is now, right down the hill from there. That’s where we could cut the logs from.

Keaton: Now did he sell them? Or what did he do?

Butts: This material they was using back in those times, they would have notched up barns and buildings and on those notched up barns if they didn't want the water to go in, they would weather board them with these cypress boards that we had wide. They’d put the wide ones down first and then they would split the crack with the second one and even the tops were made like that. It would surprise you to know little a leak would come between those boards. When it would start raining, it would leak a little bit. Soon as they swole and come back up, it would stop leaking. The roof would stop leaking.

INTERVIWER: So they used them for houses or barns or what?

Butts: Mostly for outer buildings, barns, and stables and so forth.

Keaton: Your father, was what his name?

Butts: William Butts, William M. Butts, William McKinley Butts.

Keaton: And you were…?

BUTTS: Not really, I am Douglas.

Keaton: Now what time would you come in at night?

Butts: Well we would start leaving about 4:00 and it would take us 45 minutes to drive from where we were. You’d be tired by this time.

Keaton: Did he sell them, did he sell them to people in the community that needed them or did he go somewhere?

Butts: Well my father didn't do this on a large scale. He was not in business. People in the community would get together and go and do this and they would have the material to build outer buildings, barns and what-not and sheds.

Keaton: This was a time when they were using the wood to start their homestead. They had a house and they would need a barn or crib or something. It was self-help. It was community going together in the woods and getting whatever wood they need to make outer buildings, like you said. Now what about later on after you became a man and you worked for your family.

Butts: Even in those days when I was 5 and 6 years old, my father would take me around with him a lot on Saturdays and to different places. I would visit shingle mill where he would work. I saw them in operation, but I don’t know too much about how they operated, but I know there were shingle mills in those days. They run some steam engines and they ran by steam engines and there’d be men firing the boilers with wood. They would be cutting them in short pieces and throwing them in the furnace. I can remember this.

They would also have a small unit on the side and they would grind meal. We called it the miller.

Keaton: So they had a miller? A grist mill?

Butts: They would grind corn into meal. I remember when we would go there at that time. Later in the years when I…

Keaton: Mr. Butts, where was the shingle mill? Do you remember where it was?

Butts: Yes, there was one shingle mill in Bolton about 7 miles from here. It was at Bolton. My father worked over there some. Me and my mother would take him lunch over there sometimes. When he’d leave early in the morning, we would drive the mule wagon to Bolton to take him lunch at the shingle mill. So it was quite an experience to get to see those kinds of things. Being born in 1924, I was 6 years old in 1930 and times were kind of hard in those days. The people that had farms, let their farms grow up because they weren’t able to buy fertilizer and seed to plant.

Keaton: So no one was a full-time farmer. You went out and got jobs in places like the shingle mill.

Butts: This was about in ’32, about ’32 or ‘33.

Keaton: Is there anything else you remember, any other kind of work your daddy did anywhere else that involved the timber industry?

Butts: Oh yes. He worked the sawmills and fertilizer mills.

Keaton: Well tell us about the sawmills, how you remember the sawmills from his days and then your days?

Butts: Okay, at the time my father was working the sawmills and a long time after all the sawmills that I knew about, they had a deck and they would roll the logs down and roll them onto the carriage and they would cut the large knots and slabs off and they’d be removed by labor and cut the lumber, the saw would cut the lumber and send it to the tripper. The tripper would take it and stack it in different piles of different widths and different sizes and put it in different piles.

When we got able to think to dig a hole or a pit and back the truck down in the pit and we’d stack the lumber back in. When they’d get a load of one kind, we would take a cable and put it around it and slide it over on the truck instead of taking it piece by piece. We did load it piece by piece for a long time after I was working there.

Keaton: What kind of saws? When you say the carriage, was that where the saw was?

Butts: Okay, you have a circle saw that cut the logs. You had to have something to carry it in to the logs and this carriage run by the sawer, he’d pull a lever and that would tighten the belt just like a lawnmower, when you knock it out of gear, it’ll continue to run. But you’d idle this belt when you got ready to stop and it wouldn’t go but so far, there was a stop there it wouldn’t go but so far. But when you bring it back fast, hit the brakes, then you could push it back. It would go backwards and forwards in other words. It would go into the log and the harder he’d pull on it, the saw would go through the log.

Keaton: Did anybody ever get hurt doing that?

Butts: Many times. People lost fingers. The most accidents that they had were a mashed finger and a cut finger. It was mostly fingers going into the saw or getting under the log turner, they call it a _____ I believe.

Keaton: Who do you remember being a being a sawer?

Butts: There was my grandfather, Clifford Graham, and a friend of my father’s, Alec Daniels. But Alec Daniels had a sawmill. Most of them worked for the people that had a sawmill. There was _____ Lescrow, Sidney Blanks.

Keaton: How was the pay? Did the sawer make more money than the person that was putting…what was the pay like? The highest paying job was…

Butts: A dollar a day, the sawer would get a dollar a day and maybe the tripper would get, the log turner would get 75 cents. The man that was toting and doing the heaviest work, he got 50 cents.

INTERVIEWER 2: You said the tripper? What role did the tripper have?

Butts: Okay, when the log is cut off…you would have a log, this was the saw and the carriage was a track and it would carry this log through that saw. When this went through there, it would drop on a roller ______ and that there, when it would fall like that, he had what you call a edger over there on the side. He’d take this piece and have a pivot point here and put it over there, line it up and set the pivot to just what this piece of lumber would meet to the rind, and it would make a 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 12, or 1 x 10 and this was the rind part of the log and when it came out, it would be a perfect board.

Keaton: So the tripper was responsible for that.

Butts: Yes and for taking the lumber off and pass it down to the man that was stacking the lumber. The tripper would take it and pass it down. You have a roller bench.

Keaton: He would decide by looking at it?

Butts: Yeah, he could look at a piece and would know this would make a 1 x 8, 1 x 6 or a 1 x 4.

Keaton: He should have gotten more money.

Butts: He did, that was my job.

INTERVIEWER 2: You were a tripper?

Butts: Yes.

INTERVIEWER 2: Now did they call you a tripper because you helped make…you got the log from one part to another, you were helping the log make its trip. Where did that term come from?

Butts: Okay, when this log here would go down through like that, see it just cut off one piece on that side and when it would go out on the edge, this log would be up like this and I would get this board from the bottom and put it like that and it would drop on to roller bench. After it would drop on there, I think that’s where the tripping came in from you pulling, tripping the board down on the steel.

Keaton: What was the other person you were talking about?

Butts: The log turner. He came before the tripper, but we got into that anyway. There was a deck back here and it would have a man what they call back rolling, he’d have another log ready to roll on that carriage. When it roll down on this carriage, he would set it up and they had something or other that would push the log and make it cut off enough slab on one end, when they cut one slab off, it would have a board.

The first one would be maybe a 1 x 4 and a 2 x 6, you know and so forth up. The further up it would reach on the log…this log turner back here, he would roll this caulk, he would dog it.

INTERVIEWER 2: So it couldn’t get away.

Butts: The sawer would also have to dog his front end of it and he’d pull his lever and set it off to where he wanted to be pulled that lever there and that would go right into that thing and it would cut it.

To tell you the truth about it, at the time I knew I won’t going to get the saw and wasn’t too interested in looking how they gauged that thing. But they had a gauge down there on the bottom. You could set it for 2 x 4’s, 2 x 6, whatever. This saw when they cut the outside of this log and when it squared up, that’s where you would get what they call ____(bills) material. The bill material would come from the center of the log, 2 x 6, 2 x 8, 4 x 6 and so forth, up to 12 x 12.

Keaton: What was the best lumber?

Butts: The best lumber would be on the side of the rind, and those days...

Keaton: Tell us what the rind is.

Butts: The rind would be before you got into the center, when you get into the center...

Keaton: It’s like the rind of an orange.

Butts: Okay, the bark would be the rind, but this lumber that you would get from out here on these dogs, especially the back cuts, it would be clear lumber, it wouldn’t have a knot in it. It wouldn’t have any limbs down there on the bottom. That’s where you get the clear lumber from. Well the limb was up in the tree, but they called in knots, knotty lumber, knotty pine and so forth. That lumber would sell for a little less than the clear lumber would.

INTERVIEWER 2: Mr. Butts, your father, you gave us his name, what was his birth date and when did he pass? What era are we talking about?

Butts: He was born July 6, 1897.

INTERVIEWER 2: I believe you said his middle name was McKinley. He was named after the president at the time.

Butts: Yes, yes.

Keaton: My grandfather was too. He was born in 1899.

INTERVIEWER 2: You were born in 1924, what’s your exact birthday?

Butts: May 20.

INTERVIEWER 2: What about your mother, what was her name?

Butts: Elva Graham was her maiden name.

INTERVIEWER 2: And your father, he was in the logging business and the saw business from the very beginning? Was he a farmer and logger?

Butts: Yes. Everybody did that in those days. It was very seldom, a person that didn’t. Got to have a garden or something at that time. My father worked on various jobs like there was this, mose Blanks, he used to work with him. He and his wife was some kin. He was a businessman, he was a contractor. When they cut ties and hauled ties, my daddy would go in there and bunch the ties so the truck could get to them, so much a tie. Cause in 1939, he didn't have another lick on a public job until … from ’39 to ’46, he didn't work on jobs all during the war.

Keaton: Maybe you can tell us a little about Mr. Mose Blanks. He had a logging business or sawmill?

Butts: If he had a sawmill, I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything about it. But he had trucks and he had four boys,____ , _____, Lewis, and Buddy. Those three boys were right close together you know. These men would be 80 or 90 some now, they were five or six years older than me, the youngest one, maybe 7 or 8. Those boys would drive those trucks and they had mules and horses. He would contract timber and put them boys to work driving the trucks and one thing and another. He would drive around and see how things were going on and looking out for the business.

He done real well, as well as our great-grandfather. He would take my daddy around and show him the ropes and one thing and another. They learned how to go in and instead of just cutting ties in a swamp somewhere, they’d get somebody and get them to bunch the ties for 3 cents a piece or 2 cents a piece or something and they’d be getting 5 cents for it. He would contract to work on the side, like that.

They had to furnish them mules or a horse or an ox or whatever it took to get the timber out. If a man bunched 100 ties in a day, in a day when you’re making a dollar a day, you know what I mean. There was a lot of difference making $3 a day from $1 a day.

INTERVIEWER 2: It sure is and that’s when money really meant something. Now you said when your father would go into the woods and put it on a truck, were they using trucks at that time in the 1920’s around here, gas powered vehicles?

Butts: Ever since I can remember, they were having trucks and cars.

INTERVIEWER 2: Even when you were riding around with your dad looking at the various sawmills, you all were in some kind of a truck or something.

Butts: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER 2: Do you remember what kind of trucks they were?

Butts: I remember they had a truck and this truck, it was so weak you could put a 2x4 in front of front wheel and a 2x4 in front of the rear wheels and load it down with lumber and it wouldn’t pull off, it wouldn’t pull over the 2 x 9. You moved those 2 x 4’s in front of it…

INTERVIEWER 2: And it just rolled on its own (laughter).

Butts: Well like I said, there wasn’t much power there, but that’s what they hauled that lumber with to the mills.

Keaton: Mr. Bill, that’s what I called him, now he would work with Mr. Mose. He’d go out and bunch his ties.

Butts: That’s a little ways from now, we grew up together. His wife ‘s family raised my father, partly raised my father, for a long time. Naturally he would favor him a little bit, you know what I mean.

Keaton: Oh, of course. So he would make sure he got work. He would contract and then pass it along. Were there other people that Mr. Mose provided work for?

Butts: He would have maybe 25 or 30 people working for him. More sometimes especially when they got into the tie cutting business. Those trees would be sawed down by a saw and hacked out a square tie of these trees. I know you remember seeing them on the railroad, some of the old ties on the railroad. They were cut with an axe. He was a good tie cutter. 20 ties in a day, getting 57 cents, 59 cents.

INTERVIEWER 2: By ties, you’re talking about railroad ties?

Butts: Yes.

Keaton: And my daddy wasn’t a big man either, no he wasn’t. I mean you know he wasn’t heavy, but he was strong, he had to work.

Butts: He was no larger than me, just a little taller.

Keaton: Daddy taught him to work early like your daddy. Men took their sons out in the woods and if they didn’t work they showed them what they were doing. And when the time came, that’s why you saw a lot of work before you were actually old enough to work.

Butts: I remember things that went on way back then, but don’t ask me what I had for breakfast (laughter). I can remember things that happened way back then. I was the oldest boy in the family and I would go with my mother fishing. We would walk up to Indian Wells where they cut the logwood. We would walk up there and go fishing and sometimes my daddy would take the mule wagon and carry us up there, and me and he would go fishing. Going backwards and forward up there and being in the river, I saw a lot of things.

I saw fellows that would go out in the swamp and cut down trees and drag them into the creek, put them in the creek.

Keaton: Tell us how that was done.

Butts: Okay, you have a big ______ surrounded by the creek come down from the outside and went into the river. These big creeks, they would go up there and cut the logs and be up and the water would be of deep down there. They would make a little launching pad and roll those things down the hill in the creek in the water. This water would just run and they’d just keep on floating down. They’d take ropes and tie them together. When they got to the mouth of the river, they would pull them out of the water and chain them with cables and put them together. They called that a raft and they’d float those logs to Wilmington and sell them. Now I remember this.

INTERVIEWER 2: And there were big log pins down in Wilmington, some big lumber companies like Corbett Lumber.

Butts: Yeah, I imagine so. But I didn't know who at that time. I was 11 years old before I went to Wilmington.

INTERVIEWER 2: Were there any people still involved in the turpentine business around here, Mr. Butts, when you were growing up? You know what I’m talking about, getting into the pine trees to get the resin out of it.

Butts: No, you see I was born in 1924. I saw where they had the trees facing…box the trees and the container on the bottom and dig a hole. You’d be surprised, in the summertime when it’s hot, how much resin turpentine will come off of a large tree 20 or 30 inches in diameter at the bottom. You’d be surprised. And they’d go back and harvest that.

Let me tell you about that though. This is what they call a boat trough. I did a study on this here. I didn't really experience boats coming down the river and stopping to order lanterns. People would catch the boats to town and they’d go to town and sell it. They’d take it down there and sell it for a profit. One man would put his stuff on the boat and walk to town and sell his stuff. Then come back up on the train and come right up here and get his mule cart and meet the boat down there. He was a little hustler. He would sell stuff.

Keaton: Who was it?

Butts: Jonah Dixon, that Stuart Dixon’s brother. You ought to remember Stuart.

INTERVIEWER 2: What was his operation again?

Butts: He had a place where he would cook every weekend and he’d harvest turpentine. This was about the time when I was born when this was going on. This was four or five years before I was born.

INTERVIEWER 2: The late teens.

Butts: Okay, but this was a fact. He would walk to town, meet the boat down there, see that boat went slow because it had to stop at all the stops. He’d get his stuff off and sell it and catch the train and buy some other stuff and put it on the boat and send it back up here.

Keaton: He was interested in cutting out the middle man. I heard someone talk about grandpa George’s father. He was a cooper and he used to do that. He would take his stuff and instead of selling it to the man down there, he would buy passage on the boat and ship it down there and sell it.

Butts: I don’t know whether you’d be interested in this or not. On the river over there, there was good land, plantations and they were owned by the plantation owners. During the time when the slaves was free, those slaves chose to stay on with their masters and work, a lot of them. They had a good relationship. They continued to work for ____.

They’d sell them some of this land back here. This land is not as good as the land down at the river. It’s lower land, but 90% of it is owned by blacks in this area.

INTERVIEWER 2: And that’s how they ended up with the land they have.

Butts: Yeah, it’s like people around here until trailers came into effect and the baby boom after World War II, 90% of the people that owned their homes in this area.

Keaton: This has always been an unusual area anyway. We always had the forest and the river. And we were between the river and the railroad. This was all forest. There were a lot of plantations around here. Plantations were at the river so you verified for me as a historian, what I thought, that the people here…people owned land away from the river.

Butts: I talked with people that knew what happened here like the DeVaughn’s.

Keaton: Dr. DeVaughn, he had a plantation over there, the Kings, Browns, Flowers. People moved out away from the plantations. Your family grew up along that railroad. Were there any places along there where they would load timber in the boxcars?

Butts: Sure, there used to be a station at Counsel, East Arcadia, the wood yard which is right down the road a mile, let’s say two miles from East Arcadia. Then you go to Armour and _____ and all these places, even after I came back from the service in 1946, the place where we lived, you know. A big storm came and it broke the tops out of trees and blowed things over, and the men decided to cut the logs, for logs and we’d cut the pulp wood. We’d bunch it and take mules and bunch it by the side of the river.

You could go down there and put down some stakes and brace them so they’d stand up. Put a cart down there, not two carts high because it was too high to throw up on. They’d do the ties and logs the same way, but not too many logs because they were long and hard to put on the boxcar.

Keaton: Would you have to load your own boxcar. When the train would stop, you would put your ties or whatever in the boxcar?

Butts: You’d go right side the track down by the ground, dig a hole and put a post down and start stacking wood up against it, put two posts down. When you got over here where a car was coming, you’d put another one. Then you’d go put two pieces on this side and you wouldn’t have to brace this piece. When they got ready to load, it was a distance from the road. The boxcars were flat and you could throw it on, just toss it right over like that. They would hire people to do that. They’d put you so much to put that wood on.

Let me tell you, his boys and my father, when they were boys, they’d play together. I can’t verify this, but this is what my father would tell me. Yes, he had a depot. You could ship anything. They used to go there and ship anything that you had large enough to crate up and ship it back there. I can remember that.

When he was doing this building and then he bought this place and that place was where we lived for about 12 years on 6 or 8 acres and 100 acres undeclared. We would tend that place when we were boys with three mules and an ox.

INTERVIEWER 2: That’s how you took care of that particular place, farmed it and all with three mules and an ox. Mr. Butts, you started seeing the lumber industry as a boy traveling around with your daddy, you said. When did you actually start working at a sawmill? Was it before World War II, before you went in the Army?

Butts: He kept me away from that stuff. I went after I came back out of the Army.

INTERVIEWER 2: So you started working in 1945-1946.

Butts: 1946-47. I worked with Green Brothers in the lumber company, those companies like that.

INTERVIEWER 2: Where is that company located? Is that company still in existence, the Green Brothers?

Butts: No, but the place is still there.

Keaton: Was that in Elizabethtown?

Butts: What’s the new eating place up there? They used to call it the barn, but that’s not the name of it. Green Brothers were so rich, they had bulls and heifers. They air-conditioned the barns for them. They were paying us 75 cents an hour.

INTERVIEWER 2: When was that? In the 1940’s?


INTERVIEWER 2: Did they have air-conditioned barns for the cows then?

Butts: That was coming along about ’47.

INTERVIEWER 2: So that was a pretty good paying company, Green Brothers?

Butts: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER 2: And you worked in a mill…

Butts: I didn't work in the mill. I worked in the woods.

INTERVIEWER 2: What did you do out in the woods?

Butts: I stumped trees and topped them. Just go in the woods and take a crosscut saw and stump the trees and had a power chainsaw.

INTERVIEWER 2: Pardon my ignorance, but when you say stumped the tree and topped the tree, what are you talking about there?

Butts: You cut it off from the ground.

INTERVIEWER 2: Level with the ground?

Butts: Not necessarily. We’d cut it the size they allow us to cut it. They’d let you use your judgment too. When you top the tree, okay, generally you try to throw it all one way. It can fall three ways. If it’s leaning this way, it’ll fall this way, that way or this way. The nearest way you could get that tree to fall so it would line up going back to the railroad tracks where the skidder was going to put it in there.

INTERVIEWER 2: So you wanted this tree to fall in the most convenient way possible.

Butts: Yes, yes. Some of the guys would saw 10 and 13,000 feet a day.

INTERVIEWER 2: You mean cut down that many?

Butts: Well there’d be 600 feet in one tree.

INTERVIEWER 2: So a man may cut down 10-13,000 feet a day. When you say stumping, you’re cutting down a tree basically.

Butts: I’d get about 8.

INTERVIEWER 2: And when you say topping, that was cutting off the tops of the trees?

Butts: Yeah, so the limbs wouldn’t pile up. There’s a railroad track. Okay on each side of this railroad track, there’s timber. You’ve got so many yards on this side and when you get to that railroad, you go down this way so many yards, I don’t remember now how many. The skidder, you take that line, it had a back line and on a big strong line, there was a rope. This rope would pull that back in the woods and you would hook the logs and they would go back and bring the logs up. They’d take the logs to the mill and cut them up and load them on a boxcar.

INTERVIEWER 2: And you were out in the woods, you were cutting down the trees?

Butts: Yes.

INTERVIEWER 2: So you would cut 8,000 feet a day just yourself?

Butts: Me and a partner.

INTERVIEWER 2: You and a partner using the crosscut saw. Now what’s the trick of using that crosscut saw? It wasn’t as easy as people think. From what I think, didn't you have to keep the teeth just right and keep that thing sharp.

Butts: That a man especially to do that. When your saw would get dull, you’d take it in and pick up a new one.

INTERVIEWER 2: So they had a man, Green Brothers had a man that just, all he did was gauge and sharpen…

Butts: Saws, he had to sharpen the other saws too.

INTERVIEWER 2: Now what did you think when you saw your first chainsaw?

Butts: Now that was a long time ago. I saw a chainsaw and it was a big one, but it ran by air just like a hand tool runs by air. That’s the first one that I ever saw. There were some that were run by gas at that time, but the first one I ever saw, this particular one, it had a truck. Like you were cleaning up an air field or a place like that. It would drive along the edges and you could cut the trees with this air saw. You could cut them up, the thing would pinch so bad, that was the straight blade.

Keaton: It would pinch you.

Butts: Okay, you’ve got a rail and the chain runs around on the rail just like the saws you see today, but you think about one this thick and you’re cutting a log this thick. You’ve got to cut it somewhere, we’d go to the top of it and cut some of the limbs off the top and let it drop down and put something in the middle to hold it up. Then you could take that saw and put it on there and that thing would go right on through.

INTERVIEWER 2: Now when you say run on air, I don’t understand.

Butts: An air compressor on the back of the truck.

INTERVIEWER 2: Well did you think the chainsaw was one of the best things you had ever seen when you first saw one? This was something that was going to save you a lot of work.

Butts: Let me tell you why it was a hold lot easier to take that saw because me and brother would saw all the logs the skidder would pull up there in a day and rest some. They’d give us a saw, like this other saw, a straight blade saw. You know what I mean, it had a handle on this end and a handle on that. That thing was hard to keep running,. You could cut logs with it. But I’d rather be cutting with that crosscut anytime than that thing.


Butts: Yes, but when the saws were made so they wouldn’t vibrate so much, they’re alright.

INTERVIEWER 2: So those early chainsaws were something to handle is what you’re saying. I’ve got one in the museum that looks like it has a handle on one end of it, that one man would hold the end…

Butts: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s the way the first one that I saw was. But it didn’t take long after that though.

INTERVIEWER 2: You worked from the mid-1940’s with Green Brothers. Who else did you work for?

Butts: I worked for Ritter Lumber Company, but they sold that to Georgia Pacific. They had two mills. They had a mill in Hallsboro and they had one this side of Hallsboro. Georgia Pacific bought it over before I left. I left there in 1954.

INTERVIEWER 2: Well Hallsboro was a lot different place than it is now, isn’t it?

Butts: Yes, it was all business around then and it’s dead now.

INTERVIEWER 2: There were some other lumber companies I think there.

Butts: North Carolina Lumber Company. Boulder, then there was Sledge. I’d see them make shingles and different things.

INTERVIEWER 2: Well there are a lot of shingle makers and just a lot of smaller mills around here, is that true?

Butts: Oh yeah, a lot of sawmills. One down there, one up here…

INTERVIEWER 2: So where in East Arcadia, you just pointed here, there and around. Were there half a dozen sawmills within three or four miles of where we are right now?

Butts: Probably 12 or 15, not at the same time.

INTERVIEWER 2: But at various times? Now you were with Ritter until 1954.

Butts: ’52 to ’54.

INTERVIEWER 2: Who did you work with after that?

Butts: Federal Paper Company.

INTERVIEWER 2: What did you do for Federal?

Butts: When I went there, we did utility work for a while. I moved to _______. Then they decided, they would _____. I had seniority. There were a lot of people weren’t satisfied. A bunch of us went into bank department from other departments. The other guys felt like they had been rolled a little bit.

INTERVIEWER 2: So you had paid your dues.

Keaton: A lot of the men in your generation were able to move from the lower paying jobs…

Butts: From utilities.

Keaton: To International Paper or Riegelwood as we used to call it.

Butts: Yeah, there are blacks in all departments.

Keaton: Yeah, but I’m just saying a lot of the men were the first generation to be hired down there and they went from working in the woods to actually making paper. So the timber industry has sustained them for a long time.

INTERVIEWER 2: You stayed with Riegelwood… Federal…

Butts: 34 years.

INTERVIEWER 2: And you retired there…

Butts: In ’89.

INTERVIEWER 2: Now let me ask you this since you’re from around here, what did you think when you heard they were going to build this big paper company down here? Do you remember what your first impressions were? Did you think this was going to be a big opportunity? Or?

Butts: There was one in South Carolina and there was one in New Bern I think. That scent from the paper mill…that is going to be a stinking thing in this community (laughter). That’s what most of the people thought.

INTERVIEWER 2: So they already knew what it was going to smell like before it got here.

Butts: Yeah, but you know one time it was real bad. When we’d have an east wind, it was real bad coming up here, but they had to clean up their act. Had to clean it up. After a while, they had to clean it up. Polluting place.

Keaton: It’s a tradeoff for Riegelwood coming here. You have to give up some clean air possibly. You know like you said a few years off your life, you never know.

INTERVIEWER 2: We’re almost at the end and I want to go back to your family a little bit. You said you had brothers and sisters, a couple of brothers and five sisters. Did your brothers go into the lumber business? Or anything like you did, logging or anything?

Butts: My brothers worked together, but after we had this farm down there, we really didn't do a lot of work outside.

INTERVIEWER 2: What were your brothers’ names?

Butts: I had two. Stacy and a younger brother named James.

INTERVIEWER 2: You and Stacy were the ones that worked in the woods together?

Butts: Jim Butts went to school and ended up a mediator for NASA or somewhere or other between the company and the union. My son is in Georgia, he has the same job there, at Robbins Air Force Base, the first black to ever hold that position.

INTERVIEWER 2: Wow! That’s very impressive. And I believe you were telling me earlier that you helped …we’re in a building that was originally built during World War II. This building was…

Butts: I’m 78 years old and I went to school here. When I came in this building it was new when I was 13.

INTERVIEWER 2: It was built in ’37 and you reconditioned it.

Butts: Yes. Not this right here. I came back here and I remodeled this building and in ’94 we finished up and when they brought the classes down here and asked me if I would consider taking the carpenter class. And I stayed for 5 or 6 years.

INTERVIEWER 2: Well we are in the holiday season here and I think a holiday question would be appropriate. When you were growing up, did you all have a Christmas tree and if you had a Christmas tree, how did you get it? Just go out in the woods and get it? Tell me about your Christmas.

Butts: Now or back then, I can remember we would go get a holly tree, a holly limb and we’d try to get one with berries on it. We would take that and my mother was a seamstress. She would make little stars for the windows in the house. We were fortunate enough to have glass windows in our house. A bunch of people had wooden ones to unhook them.

INTERVIEWER 2: Did you all have a Christmas tree?

Butts: Yes, we had a Christmas tree and Santa Claus would be so full, you could get one eye and one arm a handful of raisins and a handful of candy.

INTERVIEWER 2: He was a poor Santa Claus back in those days.

Butts: But some people didn't know who Santa Claus was.

INTERVIEWER 2: You all cut your own tree though?

Butts: Yeah. They didn’t sell them? (laughter).

Keaton: What was the reason why you chose a holly instead of a pine?

Butts: It had berries already on it, the decorations were already on it. We would even get two limbs and take a string and wind them together so they’d come up. We’d climb the tree and cut the limb off, me and my brothers. A lot of the berries would fall off, we’d go to another tree because there were plenty.

Keaton: And the pine tree only came into use for us after my Aunt Dot went to New York and I remember she started sending us ornaments and therefore we could get a pine tree and we had lights and stuff and balls to put on a tree. This was in the 50’s and early 60’s.

Butts: Good times.

Keaton: The holly tree, the reason we used that was because of the red berries and all, but the pine tree came later when we had ornaments to put on a tree.

INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you Mr. Butts. Well Mr. Butts is there anything you’d like to add before we turn the camera off here?

Butts: I would like to add that my life that I lived and the way I grew up and the things like hunting and fishing and going places and doing things, I wouldn’t live my life no other way. And being associated with the church, like I am, I wouldn’t live my life any other way.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign