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Interview with W.A. Settelmeyer Jr., September 13, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with W.A. Settelmeyer Jr., September 13, 2002
September 13, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Settelmeyer, W.A., Jr. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  9/13/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  57 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, staff member with UNCW’s University library. Today we’re at the International Paper plant in Riegelwood, North Carolina. And it is the 13th of September in the year 2002. To the right of your screen is Mr. Harry Warren who is the Director of the North Carolina Museum of Forestryand to the left of us is W.A. Settlemeyer Jr.. Mr. Warren, take it away.

Zarbock: Thanks Paul. Bill, thanks for taking the time to be with us this morning. We sure appreciate it. I’m not going to get to a lot of your deep family background because we’ve covered that, but we will go specifically with you. You I assume were born and raised in Bladen County and saw your dad in the forestry lumbering business. Is that how you got started in all this?

Settelmeyer: Well my dad, when it went to work for Corbett Lumber Company, we moved to Wilmington back in the early 60’s. I graduated from New Hanover High School. I was leaning towards getting into forestry. I was thinking about going to State, North Carolina State with a degree in forestry. At that time, it was Wilmington College before it was UNCW, so it was still a two year school at that time. I said I would get some of the preliminaries out of the way there and then I’d transfer to State.

So I went one year to UNCW and then all my friends were getting out of high school and they were going to work. A lot of them were coming to work out here at Riegelwood at the mill and they were making this big money and buying new cars and all that. I got a chance to come to work out here so I came to work out here and didn't go back to college. Went one year and then came here. I came to work out here September 29, ‘66. I’ve worked here for 36 years.

Zarbock: You were born in Bladen, but you grew up in Wilmington.

Settelmeyer: I was born in Lumberton, grew up in Bladen County.

Zarbock: But you went to high school in Wilmington?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir. When my father, he left Tabor City Lumber Company in the early 60’s and we moved to Wilmington, to Wrightsville Beach really and that’s when I finished my schooling. I graduated from New Hanover High School, the class of ’65.

Zarbock: Well before you got here, you saw your dad and there was something appealing about forestry.

Settelmeyer: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being in the woods. I’ve always been that way. I like trees. I just enjoyed being in the woods. It was relaxing to me and I just like the smell of sawdust too. I don’t have it in my blood like my father has and some other family members, but I’m more game and wildlife. I’ve always been interested in things like that and I thought I could serve a useful purpose if I got into forestry. That’s the reason I was considering it then.

Since I didn't go that way and dropped out of school, I thought if I worked with a pulp and paper mill, I’d still be in forestry a little bit or pertaining to it and it was good to me, I’ll say that.

Zarbock: Right, and you started here in September of 1966. The mill at that time was called Riegelwood and in fact even though IP is here now, I mean I still refer to it as Riegelwood. I grew up in Wilmington. I think most people refer to it as Riegelwood. It hasn’t been Riegelwood for a long time, but it was Riegelwood then. What was the mill like in 1966?

It had been in operation about 15 years I think, when you came here.

Settelmeyer: Right, they built it in ’51 and I remember when I was about six or seven years old, when I stayed out with my grandfather, I could hear my grandfather driving pile. I’d be laying in bed and I could hear pile drivers driving the pile in. I remember coming in, my daddy and my uncle would bring me down to the construction site, seeing the steam locomotives going in and out taking materials and one thing or another. It was real interesting.

Zarbock: As far as the community, there was no community here, am I correct?

Settelmeyer: Right, it was like my mother-in-law says, a lot of people sometimes throw off on a mill and aggravate about it, but she remembers when there wasn’t a mill here. There weren’t any jobs and there wasn’t any money. Things were tight. What a big plus this mill and paper companies that owned this mill have been to our community, Columbus and Brunswick and Bladen, New Hanover County. As I say, back then jobs were tight and there wasn’t much money and then the mills come here and then union labor which was even better, you know.

Zarbock: Was the union from the get-go?

Settelmeyer: When I came here in ’66, it was a union. I don’t know when the union first came in, but when I came to work here in ’66, there was a union.

Zarbock: Now why did they call it Riegelwood? Mr. John Riegel?

Settelmeyer: Right, it was named after the Riegel family that owned the mill at that time.

Zarbock: They were still directly involved with it when you came to work here?

Settelmeyer: Yes.

Zarbock: The Riegel family, was the founder still alive and involved.

Settelmeyer: Yeah, John L. Riegel was still, he was the head man still when I came to work out here.

Zarbock: You saw him occasionally?

Settelmeyer: Occasionally, not very often. I didn't see him very often.

Zarbock: What was the general feeling about John Riegel among the employees?

Settelmeyer: Well everybody in this area was real appreciative. In fact, when they first built the mill here, they were real appreciative that there were good paying jobs coming in. They’ve done a lot of good things for the community. They have built a community center and they had places for recreation and all. They were really good about letting the employees liked to hunt, they let the employees have a hunting club on their land at no charge. They didn't charge anything, no lease or anything like that.

Plus the people that other clubs that hunted their land, they let them have the land at a real reasonable rate. They leased the land for hunting and recreation things. They even let the boys use their equipment. I know my uncle worked in the woodlands and he worked on heavy equipment, bulldozers drag lines. They would let the employees on the weekend use their big bulldozers and drag lines to do work on their hunting club land and stuff like that. All they had to do was pay the operator.

Zarbock: That was pretty generous.

Settelmeyer: It was, they were really good. The mill, when it first started, most of the people in the mill were family just about. They were all related. It was like one big family. The majority of the people were related some way or another.

Zarbock: The people that were actually working in the plant? Did you have any brothers or sisters or cousins or anything out here?

Settelmeyer: I had cousins and uncles and distant cousins. I had a lot of people like that.

Zarbock: So when people say it was like a family back in those days, it literally was a family and there whole extended family might be found out here. It must have been an incredibly amount of _____ to the plant and maybe even John Riegel personally.

Settelmeyer: It was. It was like you said more like a family. The people were real close. When they first built the mill here, they built the village too out here in Riegelwood and most of the people, the upper management lived here in the Riegelwood area and they lived out here in the village. They went to church with the people they worked with in the mill and socialized with them and it was like a family.

Zarbock: That had to bring people together. You wanted good relations with them on the job because you were going to see them in church that weekend. You’re going to see them playing baseball over there or socially. You lived with these folks.

Settelmeyer: Softball teams, baseball teams. They played ball. It was really tight, a lot of friendship, closeness from the upper management all the way to the hourly people.

Zarbock: What other source of things did the company provide to bring folks together? For instance, did you have a big Christmas party at the end of the year or other types of social events?

Settelmeyer: Well the supervisors and the upper management, they always had a big party. To the hourly people, they would give them a turkey or a ham at Christmas and then to the supervisors and upper management, they’d always have a big party for the supervisors, a big Christmas party. They’d feed us very well and everything was provided. They spared no expense. It was real nice.

Zarbock: Did they do anything for the families themselves, the wives and children, to bring them into it? Like a Christmas party for the kids?

Settelmeyer: Through the years they’ve done that. Of course at that time I came to work as a utilities person, the lowest, cleaning off motors and sweeping floors and I wasn’t involved with the supervisors and upper management back then. So I don’t know what all they were doing. It was real involved, the whole community. It’s not like it is now.

I’ll tell you International Paper is a great company, but it’s almost like the US government. It’s so huge, it ain’t got that closeness. I’m not criticizing them. It’s just you get that big, that’s just the way it is. But back then, you know, Riegelwood was small. I think this was the only mill they had back then. International Paper has 30 to 40 some mills and Riegelwood back then had one mill.

Zarbock: Right, International is indeed international, they’re all over the world. Was there a company store or anything like that with Riegelwood or was it all private like you had a little grocery store. I think it’s an IGA today, it hasn’t always been IGA, I don’t know whether it’s a Food Lion or IGA.

Settelmeyer: It’s a Piggly Wiggly right now. It’s been several things, it’s been Food Folks, it’s been an IGA. It had several names through the years. The village out here and all that property, I think it was owned or is still owned by the bank, the drug store, the doctor’s office, all those buildings, all that stuff belonged to Riegel Paper Company at one time. They built the buildings and they’d lease it to the bank, to the grocery store, they’d lease it to the drug store. They’d lease it to the barber shop. They actually built that village out there and of course the mill provides…the village out here has water furnished to it from our water plant at the mill which is like a city water plant. Good drinking water.

Zarbock: So they weren’t really company stores, but they were built on company land and operated privately.

Settelmeyer: Of course we had a store in the mill. We had a storeroom where we of course had our parts and tools to run the mill. We also had a store in the mill in the storeroom where employees could get shoes, hats and stuff like that.

Zarbock: Really, that’s not here anymore.

Settelmeyer: We quit doing that. You could get your safety shoes and all kinds of stuff. You picked out what you wanted and you signed a slip and they took it out of your pay. But over the years, Federal and International phased that out now. You get shoes now, work shoes or safety glasses, you get them, but work shoes, they’ve got work trucks that come out here from the name brand shoe manufacturers and you pay for them yourself.

Zarbock: You still pay for them yourself.

Settelmeyer: The hourly people do. They give them enough of a pay raise to take care of that where the supervisors, they still get a voucher for their safety shoes.

Zarbock: Let’s get to your career a little bit. You said you started as a utility operator?

Settelmeyer: I came to work out here as a utility person in the power and recovery department where we have our boilers, electric generators. We have recovery boiler, we have all kinds of big pumps. I started out as a utility person wiping off motors, washing floors, picking up trash, running errands, just whatever I was asked to do.

Zarbock: How old were you then?

Settelmeyer: I was about 20, 20 years old.

Zarbock: So you were born about 1946?

Settelmeyer: 1946, yes.

Zarbock: It’s been a pretty exciting job. Were a lot of people working out here at that time?

Settelmeyer: I can’t remember, it was about 1000 at that time.

Zarbock: Was it on a shift situation 24 hours a day?

Settelmeyer: There were some swing shifts and there were day workers who worked straight days and you had your shift workers that worked swing shift.

Zarbock: After you were a utility operator, what did you grow into after that?

Settelmeyer: Well we have a line of progression where you start off as utility and you go up to the next job. I believe at that time it was called a lancer. The lancer, he lanced the boiler, recovery boiler. It would get built up in the tubes and he’d go up there with a steel rod, a steel pipe with air on it and you bumped those tubes and knocked the smelt off of them so the boiler wouldn’t blow up. That was the lancer job and that was hard work. It’s hot.

Zarbock: It sounds a little dangerous.

Settelmeyer: It’s dangerous. You got to be real careful you get burned. That rod will get really hot and you have to be real careful when you pulled it out. You had a row of port holes across the front of the boiler. You run that rod in there and run it up and down and pump the tubes and that smelt comes out of the recovery boiler.

If you bump it, it would feel like a shell on it and you knock it off and it would fall down to the bottom of the furnace. You just go from one to the other and you had to be real careful or you’d get burned. Sometimes a big lump would fall off from up above and it would hit the end of the rod and fly up and hit you in the face or somewhere. I been hit several times.

Zarbock: Were you injured on the job?

Settelmeyer: I never had to have no stitches, or nothing. I had some knocks on my head, goose eggs put on me. A friend of mine, he got hit in the mouth. Put a bunch of stitches in his mouth. You had to be careful.

Zarbock: I remember and apologize for bringing up probably a sore subject, I recall many years ago, probably 15 or 20, I’m sure you were here at the time, they had a boiler explode and I believe four or five men were killed. They were scalded to death. Do you remember that incident and were they doing what you were telling me about?

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir.

Zarbock: You probably had some friends. I believe they were taken to the Charleston Burn Center.

Settelmeyer: The accident you’re thinking about, was actually we had a big tank full of black liquor, chemical ash, black liquor. The tank failed.

Zarbock: It ruptured.

Settelmeyer: It ruptured and it actually run out on construction workers and mill workers in that area and some of them got caught in it. Some were killed on the spot and some of them were severely burned and died later on. That’s what you were thinking about. The only boiler explosion out here that I know of where anybody was killed was our shift foreman about six or seven years ago. It was on my shift.

It just so happens on that particular day that I got off to go to a family reunion. That was on a Sunday morning. A friend of mine that was a relief foreman took my spot. They were trying to wipe off a boiler. They were having trouble with it and trying to light it off with natural gas and they had an explosion.

Zarbock: A natural gas explosion?

Settelmeyer: Something happened with some combustible gas building up in the furnace and it didn't get purged out right and it exploded and there was one boy that was killed. There were several that were injured. I was in church that morning and found out about it and rushed to the hospital. That’s the only person…

Zarbock: You could have been involved in that if there wasn’t the family reunion.

Settelmeyer: Yes sir.

Zarbock: Good Lord looking out. You never know. Do you mind talking about the liquor explosion a little bit?

Settelmeyer: That was in my department. I worked in the power recovery and those tanks were part of our department. At that time, you go up the line of progression in our department. When you go past a lancer, you had to decide whether you wanted to go to the power line of progression or the recovery line of progression. I chose years earlier to go to the power side. I liked working around the power ____.

I wasn’t really involved in working in that area. That was the recovery side. But I was off that day when that happened. I got a call at home that they had a tank rupture out here.

Zarbock: Did you come on over?

Settelmeyer: I came out and by the time I got here, there was nothing I could do. It was all over with. I stopped on the road out here and talked to some friends of mine. There was nothing I could do. It was all over with. That tank had corroded and it failed. It had a failure in it and it just slid open. Just like molasses. Some people say slow as molasses, but it was fast enough that people couldn’t get away.

It even turned a truck over. That tank of black liquor they call it that comes with the wood chip process, cooking of the wood chips, that wall of black liquor…there was a truck waiting to be unloaded out there, a chip truck. That wall of black liquor actually hit that 18-wheelers and flipped it over on its side. The driver, he rolled out the window and crawled out and stayed up on top of the truck so he didn't get down it because not only was it hot, you get thermal burns, but you could get chemical burns. That’s what was so bad about it. He didn't get killed, but right beside him, fairly close to that tank, there was a maintenance shop. It was sort of like a steel building and that wall of black liquor actually collapsed that building and there were several people inside that got killed instantly, when it collapsed. They were trapped in there.

Zarbock: By the time you got out here though, they had gotten folks off to the hospital or wherever. The mess was still probably there though.

Settelmeyer: Yes, I went over and walked over on top of the boilers and I didn’t actually go where the accident happened but I went to where I could look down on it. I didn't actually get into that area. I didn't want to disturb nothing.

Warren: Excuse me, what year was that?

Settelmeyer: It was back in about ’76 or ’77 as best I can remember.

Warren: And what time of the year, do you remember, spring, summer, fall, winter?

Settelmeyer: I can’t remember what time it was now. It seems like it was in the cool part of the year. It was when the weather was cool. It wasn’t hot weather. I can’t remember exactly.

Zarbock: It would be easy to document. That was all over the news. I remember, I’ll always remember that incident myself because you just imagined how those men had died. It must have been a horrific death.

Warren: How did that liquid get that name?

Settelmeyer: Well people that are familiar with the pulp mills, we go through a process where you take your wood chips after you grind the trees up, you get your wood chips. They put them into a big pressure cooker like. They had _____ to it to break down the fire, to separate the wood fire, that’s what they used to make paper. After they get through with this cooking process, they drain that liquid off which is weak black liquor which is actually the resins and stuff that hold your wood firewood together.

They take that weak black liquor and run it through a set of evaporators and get it down where it’s about 50% solids and they store it in tanks. Then they heat it up and burn it in recovery boilers. Not only do we get the heat and the steam from burning it, in the recovery boilers we also recover the chemicals. This tank that ruptured was a tank that had this I believe 40% or 50% black liquor in there. It was hot and of course it had all the caustic and other chemicals in there that are real corrosive and will burn you. It’s just bad stuff to handle.

Zarbock: Nasty (laughter).

Settelmeyer: Nasty and it smells. That’s what we smelled when we walked in this room today. You can smell that.

Zarbock: Did it shut the plant down?

Settelmeyer: No sir, it did not shut the plant down. It limited production some, but it did not shut the plant down.

Zarbock: How long did it take them to clean it up? They probably got right on it, not too long.

Settelmeyer: Well they had to have an investigation.

Zarbock: Yes, I was going to ask you, what was the aftermath of all of that? Did that affect the plant’s operations? Did the federal boys get involved in it?

Settelmeyer: State, federal, I think everybody got involved with that investigation. I think it finally wound down that there was corrosion in the tank. That stuff is very corrosive and the tank had gotten too weak to hold the bulk of it, the weight of the liquor.

Zarbock: What sort of precautions did they decide to take, thicker tank walls?

Settelmeyer: Tanks now, we have a regular schedule of emptying the tanks out, cleaning them, getting an outfit that goes inside and actually blasts out the tank to get it down to the bare metal. Then we get an outfit in that x-rays the wells and the tank that check for thickness. That’s a regularly scheduled thing that we do now. All paper mills are required to do that.

Zarbock: It was not being done prior to that?

Settelmeyer: No, that’s the difference. You asked a while ago some of the differences between back when I first came to work here to the way it is now. Back then there were very few, safety standards were not near what they are today. There wasn’t a regular schedule for inspections of boilers and tanks and all that we have today.

Zarbock: Today it’s just safety, safety, safety. You can’t walk around here without safety being put in your face one way or the other. They just didn't emphasize it as much then.

Settelmeyer: Safety is number one now. That’s something that’s emphasized to employees, to new employees coming in, that safety is number one. Back then, things were tight, I think sometimes they overlooked things. They were trying to make production, trying to make money and sometimes we overlooked things. They don’t do that anymore. Big companies have implemented things to ensure safety, employees’ safety.

Zarbock: And this is a good thing.

Settelmeyer: Yes, it costs, you’ve got to pay more when you go to buy a product, but its something you gotta do. You’ve got to look out for the folks.

Zarbock: Now getting back to you and your career here Bill, we got as far as you being a lancer and then we got sidetracked on that accident. After that…

Settelmeyer: Well I worked on up to the next job which was a power helper. I went around and took care of the auxiliaries on the boilers, I cleaned oil strainers, unplugged parts, just a helper on boilers. I worked around the boilers and the turbines, opened and closed valves, check equipment, checked bearings, checked oil levels.

After I was a helper on the boilers, I worked up to what they call an auxiliary operator. He looks after the air compressors and the big water pumps. Water treatment, the water goes into the boilers and it has to be…you’ve got to get all the minerals out of it so you don’t have build up in your boiler tubes. I did that job where I treated the water to make sure it was within our parameters for our boilers.

After that I actually fired the boilers for years. Then I became what they call an auxiliary operator which is on the turbine job, you’ve got steam for electric generators. We produce our own electricity. I worked sort of the downstairs man helping the operator operate the turbines. Then I worked up to a turbine operator which is actually the top job in the line of progression. You work your way up to turbine operator which is the top job, hourly paid person.

The only place to go then is either to get a supervisor job or you stay there until you retire. So after I’d been out here 25 years, I worked up to the top job, the turbine operator. I was asked if I wanted to work the foreman job some as a temporary relief foreman. I started doing that and I’ve done that for three or four years. They asked me if I wanted a permanent foreman job then. I thought about that and prayed about it and took a permanent foreman job in about ’94. I became a permanent supervisor in the power recovery department.

Zarbock: It was Federal at that time?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir, it was Federal.

Zarbock: It doesn’t seem to matter whether it was Riegel, Federal or International, just from listening to you, it sounds like there’s a great opportunity for an individual to grow and advance in a career here. I mean you really started from the bottom.

Settelmeyer: Yes.

Zarbock: And worked your way right on up into management. I mean that says something for a company. Did you know that? I mean when you came to work here, were you led to believe that if you did good, you know, you could be sitting up here in the offices with us one day or something?

Settelmeyer: Well when I came to work out here, I thought I’d be out here maybe a few years and would end up doing something else. I had some friends of mine and said they’d been working out here 20 years and I couldn’t believe how someone could work here for 20 years. I never thought that I’d be here as long as I was. It was a job and I thought I’d do it for a while until I decided to do something different.

But like I told you all a while ago, I’ve never had but one job. This is the only permanent job I ever had and I worked it until I took early retirement. I had one job and worked for three companies, Riegel, Federal and International.

Zarbock: Well it’s done you well. I mean not only do you have your hair, but you’ve got your hair color so you’ve got that going for you (laughter).

Settelmeyer: Well it’s been good to me. I told the mill manager here and the people through the years every time I got the chance that I appreciate what Riegel’s done for me and Federal and International. They fed my family, they paid most of my doctor’s bills and took care of my wife and children and have been good to me. We had some disagreements at times, but you always will. Even me and my wife disagree sometimes. They’ve been good to me. If I had it to do all over again, I’d say I’d probably do something different, but I don’t know what it would be. I really don’t.

Zarbock: You enjoyed your work here sounds like no matter what you were doing.

Settelmeyer: I enjoyed my work until I became a supervisor. When I became a supervisor after a few years, we’re competing now in a global market with free trade and all. For a company like International which is paying employees $20 or more an hour to compete against a company in Mexico where they’re paying a dollar a day, things have gotten changed here so we could compete. They’ve had to cut costs here and there were changes you didn't want to see, but it was a necessary thing that had to happen if we were going to compete against paper mills in other countries.

Zarbock: To stay alive.

Settelmeyer: Right, there’s been some changes went on that we hated to see come about. What I was getting back to, as a supervisor, it would more and more pressure on a supervisor. We talked about back then there was no safety. Also back then there was no concern about the environment. That’s a big concern with big companies like International. It’s a big thing at International to take care of the environment.

As a supervisor, you not only have to look after his people, someone always has personal problems. If they need to talk to you or need help, you’ve got to look after the vacations and time off and make sure they get paid right. You’ve got to be concerned about not damaging the environment. Your guidelines that we had to operate under to protect the environment, you had to make sure we were meeting those. Plus you’ve got to be making production to make money to stay in business. You’ve got to be careful about race relations, sexual relations. Supervisor has to be trained in how to handle people, how to work with people.

Zarbock: Those were major issues back in ’66 and even into the 1970’s, so you’re absolutely right now.

Settelmeyer: It just got to a point that I was having so much stuff to keep up with that I felt like I couldn’t keep up with it. I was scared that sooner or later I was going to slip up and not do something I was supposed to and end up getting fired or get a bad name or something. I didn't want that. I just felt like if I could get a chance to get out and do something different, I was going to do it. I got hurt in an accident back in October and I broke my leg.

Zarbock: Not here?

Settelmeyer: No sir, it was in a hunting accident. I fell out of a tree stand and broke my leg and messed my back up. It took me about six or seven months to get straightened out and at that time I was getting ready to come back to work. The company was cutting jobs and they offered me a package of early retirement. Me and my wife thought about it and prayed about it and said I think I’ll go on and get out and find something a little less stressful. I’ll take what they have to offer me and do something a little less stressful.

Zarbock: That was last year you say?

Settelmeyer: Right.

Zarbock: Early retirement, well you’d been here over 30 years.

Settelmeyer: I had a bunch of friends of mine have worked here 40 some years, 41, 42, 43 years. I thought I would end up doing that. Probably if I had stayed on an hourly job running the turbines, I probably would have stayed here until they ran me off, until I was 70.

Zarbock: You just enjoyed doing that.

Settelmeyer: I’m a hands-on person and that was the one problem I had as a supervisor, that I wanted to make sure something was done and done right. A lot of times instead of delegating responsibilities to people, I’d do it myself cause that’s what I wanted and I wanted it done a certain way and if I told somebody else to do it and they done it right it aggravated me, so I ended up doing it myself.

Zarbock: Plus I think it’s easier managing machines than managing people. I mean if a machine breaks, you know there’s certain things you do to fix it. If a person’s breaking, then it’s a different situation. You can’t just put a new screw in or a new washer on it or something like that, much more complicated.

Settelmeyer: As a supervisor, I had about 20 people that reported to me. I worked shift supervisor power recovery department. I worked swing shift. I was over probably about 250 million dollars worth of equipment that I was responsible for. The people that worked for me, I had good people work for me. There were very few bad apples in the bunch. Most of them were good people. You’re dealing with people, people have problems.

They’d come to work one day and they had a fuss with their wife. They come to work ill. You’ve got to be willing to look at that, to overlook it, accept it and go on. That’s just the way people are. I know when I came to work someday, I’d need help. Just dealing with people, there’s a lot of variables there.

Zarbock: You never know what kind of baggage somebody is bringing with them when they come through the door. I’ve learned that myself. Now you mentioned and it’s absolutely true, I’ve been in the same situation myself, you’ve got to be so careful when you’re working around women these days. If Erin was here, I’d say it in front of her too. I mean you just have to be. Were there many women working here when you came to work here? We’ve done one interview with a female employee and she just seemed to be one of the guys, kind of fit right in. Were the females much of the work force here?

Settelmeyer: When I first came to work out here, there were no women working in the hourly jobs in the mill or working production jobs in the mill. The only ladies that were working out here at that time were in the office as secretaries. The first women that came to work in the mill as laborers, hourly people, was after I came to work here. The first time we saw a woman working swing shift out here with the men, it was look at that, there’s a woman out here working.

Zarbock: Do you remember who the first woman was that worked in the mill?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir, I can’t remember her name. She was from Germany and she had married a soldier over in Germany and the soldier worked here or he lived in this area. She had come back, married him and was living in the community and got a job in the mill. She spoke with a strong German accent.

Zarbock: That’s interesting. Now race relations, we live in the south, I’m a southern boy too. I know there are a lot of blacks that work in the mill now. Were there many blacks that worked in the mill when you started working out here?

Settelmeyer: There was a right good many. It was pretty much even. There were probably a few more whites, but much like it is now.

Zarbock: And were there ever any problems?

Settelmeyer: Well when I first came to work, talk about the union a while ago, we had two separate unions. We had the union workers that were members of the white union and then you had the black union.

Zarbock: And this was in ’66?

Settelmeyer: Yes and then shortly after that, we merged into one union where there was black and white.

Zarbock: Employees themselves though, there were never any problems?

Settelmeyer: No sir. Along about the time that Martin Luther King was assassinated and Robert Kennedy and all that, up until that time there hadn’t been much hard feelings or distrust. But along those turbulent times with the Kennedy assassination, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, there got to be some hard feelings. We had riots in Wilmington.

We had some members here who worked at the mill who were members of the National Guard. They had to be called out and go to Wilmington. There were some hard feelings in the community about some things. There were houses being burned. It lasted that way a few years, it’s calmed down a lot.

Zarbock: It’s worked out now. It seems to be. When you left here last year, the work force was pretty much united.

Settelmeyer: Yes, I’d say so. We get along good. I’ve got good friends of all races out here and we got along good and I’d say if you would go to any of them, other races besides myself and ask them if I was fair to them, they’d say I treated them as good as anyone else. Not better.

I was asked a question one time about how I treated minorities. I said I thought I treated them better than whites because I don’t want them to complain and say I didn't treat them good. I’ve always been that way.

Zarbock: Now when you started here at Riegelwood, when did it change over to Federal?

Settelmeyer: ’74 or ’73 something like that.

Zarbock: Did anything change when it went from Riegel to Federal?

Settelmeyer: No, there were no really big changes.

Zarbock: Federal is a bigger company.

Settelmeyer: When Federal came in, it began to become less and less of a family. They were a bigger company. They had other mills and other businesses. It just wasn’t quite as a tight knit group out here as it was before. And it began, by the time Federal came in to the time International purchased the mill, it was becoming less and less of a family and even more so now with International.

People, the mill manager and even the company president and CEO, sometimes back at Riegel or Federal, you’d see them come through the mill sometimes and they knew people. But now with International, you don’t see that very often. You don’t see the mill manager. He’s so busy, got so much on his plate he’s having to take care of and you hardly ever see John Dillon, the head man with International.

Once in a while, he’ll come down and come through and he doesn’t know anybody here. He may know the mill manager, Scott Grimes and a few people. When I first came to work out here, the head man with the company, the CEO, he would come in the mill and the workers and he knew each other.

Zarbock: And you’d see them, like you said, out in the mill every now and then. This sort of phased out when Federal came in and then was that the main difference? When did International take over.


Zarbock: So six years ago now, would you say that was the major change with International?

Settelmeyer: That’s the biggest change. It’s just you’re working for a global company now and it’s so large. Like I say, it’s like working for the government, the United States government. It’s more politically correct, more political. The company doesn’t want to be seen as not being politically correct and everything so they make sure everything out here, we’re politically correct.

Zarbock: And you think the biggest changes that you’ve seen since 1966 are the changes in safety and the changes in environmental concerns. Your dad was saying there was also, at one time, they weren’t that concerned with reforestation. That seems to have come about in the last 25-30 years.

Settelmeyer: Yes, it sure has. I know Riegel had some plantations, now it seems like by the time they big enough to make a decent size tree, they’re cut down and replanted.

Zarbock: Have you been in that part of the industry here in the plant buying wood chips?

Settelmeyer: No sir. My job at the mill the years I was here pertained to I furnished steam and electricity, pressed air to the mill. That was my job, power to the mill.

Zarbock: How has the machinery and technology itself changed here at the mill since you started in ’66?

Settelmeyer: Well when I first came here, we fired boilers, it was by the seat of the pants. You done it by, you listened, you smelled the smell, and what you heard. Where now the operators say you were actually sitting right outside the boiler and you’re right next to it and you can look at it. Now we’re operating off computers and the boilers may be a couple hundred yards from you. You operate from a T.V. screen. You have to depend on the eyes and ears of people in the field. You’re hoping they’re giving you reliable information. That’s the biggest difference.

Zarbock: Now when you started in ’66, you didn't have a lot of computers around here.

Settelmeyer: Very few.

Zarbock: And how did that change by the time you retired?

Settelmeyer: Well about everything now is run by computers. All the boilers, we fire them by computer. The turbines we run them by computer control. The way we swing the load in the mill, we do that by computer control where before it was manually. Just everything, the instruments are computerized. They give us our readings of the boilers and all that stuff is by computer. You’ve got a lot of computer screens. You walk over to that control room now, there’s just a whole line of computer screens.

Zarbock: You must have seen a lot of people come and go out here at Riegelwood International Paper over the years. Your dad has a whole pocketful of stories of interesting characters in the forest industry. You’ve probably seen a lot of interesting people come and go out here.

Settelmeyer: My first work in the power recovery, we had three foremans, McGee Pickett, Leon Phelps, D.C. Williams and Henry Hodges. They were men, they were here when the mill was built. They were here at the start. Mr. Pickett, he’s a real interesting character. He was all the time walking, he was all the time on the move. He was a real tall, slim fellow and if he walked by something and he didn't like what he saw, he’d make an adjustment on it. Then later on, he’d find out something was going haywire, and would say, “Oh, I made a little adjustment for you”.

He was a real nice fellow, but he was bad about wanting to help you adjust, he liked to tinker. He was a good man though. He got killed in a car accident right out here on 87 a few years ago. But all the men now, those old supervisors, they’re all dead now. None of them lived.

Zarbock: Any other interesting characters that come to mind like him that have particular little quirks?

Settelmeyer: We had a recovery foreman, A. A. Ray, his nickname was Tootie. Tootie is still living, he lives in the village right now. Tootie smoked like a chain smoker, one right after the other. He had a knack, he could smoke a cigarette and he always had it in his mouth and he’d smoke it right down. The ashes wouldn’t fall off for some reason. You’d see a bunch of ashes and when they finally fell, they’d fall in his shirt. He always had a bunch of cigarette ashes on his shirt (laughter).

Zarbock: But he could define gravity with a cigarette.

Settelmeyer: He could and he was a good recovery operator. He knew recovery boilers. He was a good operator.

Zarbock: I mean there was a time when smoking was just accepted in our society. Men that smoked, they smoked all the time. A cigarette was hanging out of their mouth all the time.

Settelmeyer: You see that in old movies, on television, everybody you see. Even politicians and all smoking cigarettes all the time. That’s the way it was here then. Everybody smoked. There were very few places out here you could not smoke. Of course now you can’t smoke in any control rooms. They’re real careful about it now, people and second hand smoke.

Zarbock: Was there a canteen or something on the site when you came to work in ’66?

Settelmeyer: Yes, it’s the same one we have now. They changed it a little bit. The way it operates, back then the way you paid for your meals in the cafeteria, you went to a machine and put your money in there and they’d give you tickets. Just like you put a dollar in there, they’d give you two 50 cent tickets or something. You got the tickets and then you’d go and pay for your meal with the tickets. They didn't take cash. You had to put your money in this machine and get tickets to pay for it.

Every once in a while, those machines would hang up and you’d have a long line. I know they lost money then. But it’s the same cafeteria we have now. They’ve modernized it and changed it, but it’s basically the same as when I came out here in ’66.

Zarbock: I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but getting back to the accident. Not so much the accident, but the men that were lost in that accident all lived around here locally. In a community this size, it must have really affected people. I mean just recently in Whiteville a young boy was killed, just one man was killed in a traffic accident and we had a huge memorial service for him. I mean the whole town turned out. Was it similar things like that here in Riegelwood after that?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir. Everybody was real close. We went through the process of grieving. I know I visited the widow of the man that was on my shift that got killed and spent time with her and the family. I cried with them.

Zarbock: A real sad time.

Settelmeyer: That’s the thing about people sometimes I found out here and at other places too, sometimes they don’t really care about me, I’m just a number and all that. But something like that will happen and you really find out how people care for you and how they turn out. The people that you might not be real close with are often the ones that are offering to help you out.

Zarbock: You see that on a national level here recently with the 9/11 with the whole response to that. The research library of Riegelwood that was given to me a couple of years ago, is there a lot of research that used to go on here? These are bound volumes of pulp and paper magazines and everything else. It was in this building I believe that the bound volumes came from. Was there research that was going on here?

Settelmeyer: Yes sir, but I don’t know that much about it. I wasn’t involved in it. Back then, I was just an hourly person working over there as a utility person. I know there was a lot of things that come out of this mill that I know they use throughout the pulp paper industry to make a better product, safety wise, a lot of things are worked on for safety.

Better way of doing things, better way of operating without danger to the environment. There’s constantly stuff like that going on. It’s been that way particularly in the last…with Federal and International. There’s a lot of things they’ve worked on, how to operate the boiler, how to make the paper, how to cook the wood chips, how to make the wood chips, wood chipping process.

When I came to work out here, back then they had the little short wood trucks. A stick of pulpwood was about 4-5 foot long. They would carry a couple of cords. They’d stack them in and a stick of wood would probably be about 5 foot long. They couldn’t be too wide because they had to come down the highway. They were little short wood trucks would come in. Then we went to the long wood trucks.

Zarbock: So they were just bringing in short pieces of wood in ’66 before they went to the 18-wheelers with long trees.

Settelmeyer: It actually looked like mountains of short wood out here in this wood yard. It would actually look like a mountain it was so large. I don’t know how tall it was, I’d say 40 feet up in the air, just big piles of it.

Zarbock: Then they’d take that and the chips out of it. I see chips coming to the mill now.

Settelmeyer: They come from outside, wood yards. They come from the sawmill. They chip up a slab and scraps. They’ve got outside producers. The logs come in. They chip them on site and truck them in.

Zarbock: But you’re still doing a lot of chipping here.

Settelmeyer: Yes sir.

Zarbock: Was there, you think more chipping done here then and when you started and less ready chips being brought in?

Settelmeyer: I think back when I first came to work here, I think most of the wood that was brought in was brought in in tree lengths, either short or long. There weren’t a lot of chips being brought in then. That’s changed through the years. I think there’s probably more chips coming in now than there are whole trees probably.

Zarbock: You mentioned, was it Tootie that’s still alive. Would he be a good person for us to interview? Are there other folks that we might seek out?

Settelmeyer: Tootie has a caustic personality fellow. I don’t know how he would do (laughter). You never know about Tootie now. He might tell you where you could stuff it.

Zarbock: I’ve been told that before (laughter).

Settelmeyer: You never know, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Zarbock: Anybody else?

Settelmeyer: I could probably sit down and think about it. My brother, he works out here. He’s worked in maintenance. He came out here like I did as a utility person in the finishing department and transferred to maintenance. Now he’s a maintenance trainer. The company is going to be sending him all around to different mills training other people how to do maintenance.

Zarbock: What’s his name?

Settelmeyer: David Settelmeyer. He’s in Pensacola and will be coming home this afternoon.

Zarbock: Anybody else that you knew back in the old days who are still around?

Settelmeyer: There’s a bunch of them in the community here. There’s the fellow that taught me how to fire a boiler, Donald Marks. He lives here in the village.

Zarbock: If you think about it, I’ll give you my card and you know think about anybody else. I’ll be happy to consider them and maybe talk to them. What do you see for the future of papermaking? What’s the biggest challenge facing the papermaking industry right now?

Settelmeyer: I look at what I was sort of talking about a while ago, competing in a global market against third world countries where they have cheaper labor. They’re not concerned about the fire, they’re not as concerned about safety. They make a product, I don’t know if its as good as ours, or not, close to it, but they make it with a whole lot less expense. We’ve got to come up with some ideas of how to make our product, to cut costs. We really have to work hard at that, how to protect the environment, protect the employees to work safely and produce a quality product at a price that we can make money at when we sell it.

Zarbock: You told me that you probably would do it all again if you had to do it all again.

Settelmeyer: If I had to do it all over, I would come out to work here and I’d work as an hourly person. But if I had to do it again, I don’t know if I would take a salary job again because the pressures. Operating that equipment (laughter).

Zarbock: Is there anything else that you’d like to add to wrap up?

Settelmeyer: No, I appreciate what the Riegel and Federal and International has done for our community. The standard of living has really been improved by the company here and the jobs and the jobs associated, construction jobs, suppliers and people you buy from. It’s really been a boost to this area in North Carolina and I thank them for what they’ve done for me and my family through the years.

Zarbock: Most of the labor pool came from the surrounding countryside, didn't it and people that lived, that were farm communities. Did a lot of them continue to do a little farming on the side as well as work here?

Settelmeyer: A lot of the people, not only were they employees for the paper mill here, they also were farmers too. They’d get off of work of graveyard, and want to go home and pick corn. They had a dual role.

Zarbock: So they were just busy all the time.

Settelmeyer: Busy all the time, yes sir.

Zarbock: Did you do any of that?

Settelmeyer: My father farmed a little bit and I helped him a little bit.

Zarbock: Did you ever go out in the woods with him?

Settelmeyer: Oh yes, I spent some time with him and he taught me a lot about the forest and trees, wildlife, hunting and fishing. I learned a lot from my father. When I was a little kid, I’d work with my daddy. He’d drive a Studebaker log truck…my mama would put a bottle in my back pocket and I’d go to work with my daddy at 3 or 4 years old and ride in that log truck with him. Having a bottle and riding in that Studebaker log truck. I thought I was in heaven.

Zarbock: That was living (laughter). Thanks Bill, I do appreciate it.

Settelmeyer: Yes sir, thank you.

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