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Can You Play That Thing?

Photo courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum


April 1st was Gob Martin’s birthday. Gob, whose birth name was Wade E. Martin, was a master woodcarver who worked at Beacon Manufacturing and played for the mill’s championship baseball team, The Beacon Blanketeers. One of five boys born to fiddler Marcus Martin and his wife, four of the boys and their father moved to Swannanoa from Gastonia in 1929, after Marcus got a job at the mill. How he got that job is a story in itself. According to Gob, his father hopped a freight train from Gastonia in the midst of the Great Depression because he heard that they were hiring at Beacon. Gastonia in the late 1920’s had been an epicenter of labor unrest culminating in the murder of Police Chief Orville Aderholt and mill worker/ union organizer Ella Mae Wiggins.

Gob told me that when his father arrived in Swannanoa he stood with his fiddle tucked under his arm in a long line of men hoping to get hired at the mill. George Young, the hiring manager, asked Marcus if he could play. Marcus sawed off a tune and was hired right on the spot. The idea was that it would be good for morale to have someone living in the village who could play a mean fiddle. And that is how he got his job.

That's kind of a common theme I've heard about Beacon in the early days- that their hiring practices had as much to do with what you could offer the community as any work experience you might have. Everyone said that  if you were a good baseball player they would find you a job doing something. In fact all of the Martin brothers worked at Beacon at some time or another and played on the mill’s baseball team.  Later, Gob was in charge of Beacon’s children's recreation program which included Little League and basketball teams, and a putt putt golf course - all open to anyone who lived in the mill village. 

Other hiring practices I’ve heard about included a policy to ensure that at least one family member was working if people were laid off,  including during periods of the Great Depression. Unlike today’s more automated mills, textile work in the twentieth century required many hands. There was an incentive to train and hire lots of people- including whole families. Today’s mills require considerably less people to create the same amount of product. It’s probably safe to say as well, that the days of relying on your baseball or musical skills to get you a job, are also a thing of the past.


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