CGP Community Stories

Rex Shaw, November 22, 2013

Title

Rex Shaw, November 22, 2013

Subject

Museums - Hanford Mills Museum
New York - East Meredith
Logging
Feed
New York - Winter
Energy - Hydroelectric

Description

Rex Shaw was born in Delhi, NY in 1944 and grew up in East Meredith, NY. Shaw’s father worked at the mill in East Meredith for a number of years when Shaw was young. The mill opened in 1846. In 1860, David Josiah Hanford bought it, and it was the primary employer in East Meredith until it closed in 1967. The mill complex included a sawmill, feed mill, gristmill, woodworking shop, and hardware store. It also served as the primary provider of electricity to the town. Since its closing, the mill has functioned as a museum, operating under the name Hanford Mills Museum since 1973. After being away for thirty years, Shaw has lived in East Meredith for the last seven years. After returning to East Meredith, Shaw worked for several years as an interpreter for the museum. This interview was commissioned by the Hanford Mills Museum as part of an ongoing project to document the history of the mill.

Creator

Amanda Magera

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2013-11-22

Rights

Hanford Mills Museum, East Meredith, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
5.9mB
image/jpeg
4288x3216 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-14

Coverage

Upstate New York
1944-2013
Cooperstown, NY
East Meredith, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Amanda Magera

Interviewee

Rex Shaw

Location

New York State Historical Association Research Library
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2013

AM = Amanda Magera
RS= Rex Shaw

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
AM:
Today is November 22, 2013. This is Amanda Magera interviewing Rex Shaw at the New York State Historical Association Library for the Hanford Mills Museum and Cooperstown Graduate Program Community Stories Oral History Projects.
Mr. Shaw, tell me about your family’s move from Delhi to East Meredith.

RS:
Well, my family originated in East Meredith. I was born in Delhi. And I lived there until, now, I guess.

AM:
What was East Meredith like when you were a kid?

RS:
Very busy. You had two grocery stores. You had a post office, which was in one of the grocery stores. Of course, you had the mill. And at the mill, you had people bringing in logs to be done. You had a hardware store. One of the stores also had a plumbing shop in it. The guy did heating, plumbing, electrical work. That’s pretty much the town.

AM:
What were the people like?

RS:
Old folk.

AM:
Not too many…

RS:
Just down home folk. Most of them graduated high school. A lot of them didn’t. But it was neighbor take care of neighbor. If you had a problem, your neighbor would be there to help you out. No matter what it was, financial or if you needed food, or you were sick, they would come there and do things for you.

AM:
Were there any community organizations or was it just…?

RS:
They had a fire department, yes. They started that, I believe in 1949. I was a member from 1967 to 1976. And I moved to New Hampshire for thirty years.

AM:
I know you said your father worked at the mill.

RS:
Yes.

AM:
Tell me about that.

RS:
I was pretty young. I was six years old when he left the mill. He did just about anything they wanted him to do down there. Most of it was, he handled feed. He’d either bag it or unload it off the cars, off the rail cars, bulk, and then fill it in bags later. He would deliver the feed. You know, that day you didn’t have your big bulk trucks. It’s all hand delivery, in bags. The bags were probably 50 to 75 pounds. They were heavy. And that’s what he did all day long.

AM:
You said he’d do just about anything. What else would he do?

RS:
He’d work in the saw mill, bringing logs in, helping them. They had a sawyer. I don’t recall what his name was, but he would do all the sawing. My dad would just roll the logs in, or whatever. I’m sure he did some woodworking out back. They made all kinds of stuff. This was many, many years ago; this was before even my father’s time, that they made a lot of molding, and broom handles, dowels. Dowels was a big thing.

AM:
How did your father talk about the mill?

RS:
A tough place to work. It was real, real hard work. There was nothing mechanical. Everything was by hand. You lifted all your feed into the trucks, you unloaded it by hand. They didn’t have pallets and forklifts at that time. You were a bull. That’s how you got things in and out, whether it was lumber or feed. And my dad, I think, did mostly feed.

AM:
Did he tell any specific stories about the mill?

RS:
Not that I recall.

AM:
How did your father feel about leaving the mill?

RS:
He went to a job where he made a lot more money. And I’m sure it was hard, because most of the people in town worked at the mill. Most of the men. You build a lot of relationships and then all of a sudden you’re just gone one day and you’re at the Bendix Corporation, well they call it Amphenol now, but at that time it was Bendix, or Scintilla. and that’s where he worked until 1986.

AM:
Was that in East Meredith?

RS:
No, that’s in Sidney [New York].

AM:
But your family stayed in East Meredith?

RS:
Yes, he drove 35 miles a day, each way. [5:00]

AM:
Tell me about growing up near the mill. How did the town interact with the mill?

RS:
Well, it supported two grocery stores. I guess if you wanted to get cornmeal, you could have it ground right there. There were a lot of people who did all their own baking. In fact 99 percent of them did. So you’d go buy your own cornmeal or wheat or whatever it was at the hardware store or at the mill, mostly it was at the hardware store they’d have that stuff. [It was] pretty much self-sufficient with the mill there. Everybody in town would go there for tools, shovels, rakes. I think they had cat food there and dog food, but I know they had a lot of sporting equipment, fishing poles, and different things like that. So basically they had what we’d call a hardware store today. Like Lowe’s, only a lot smaller. People didn’t have to go to Oneonta or Delhi or anything; everything was there in the community. So, the mill basically made the town self-sufficient. You’d buy all your food there, as I said you had two grocery stores. You had the mill, where you could buy grass seed if you had to, or anything else. Everything was there.

AM:
Did a lot of people bring things to the mill from the town or did most of it get shipped in from the area?

RS:
Well, if some of the farmers wanted specially ground feed, they’d bring in their oats or their wheat, and they would grind them the way the farmer wanted them done. You know, molasses or whatever they used. And they had huge molasses tanks there. Somehow they would mix that in with the feed. I don’t know how they did that, but I know they did it. And then they would sell it back to the farmer. He’d bring the grain in and they would charge him so much for grinding it, putting it in bags and whatever. Then they would put it on a truck and deliver it back to him. Or he could come and pick it up himself, it didn’t make any difference.

AM:
Were the farmers part of the East Meredith community?

RS:
Yes. Oh yeah. We used to buy all our milk from the farm. We didn’t go to the store to buy milk; we bought it right directly off the farm. And as I said, everything interacted, the farms, the mill, the stores, and all the people. It was just one giant community. You didn’t have to go, like I said, to Oneonta or wherever. Everything was there. Your meats, your dairy, your cheeses, whatever.

AM:
Tell me about the lumber side of the mill. Where did the logs come from?

RS:
Most of them were by farmers. [They] would bring them in to have certain things cut. And they would probably, I’m sure, buy lots of logs. And then retail them out, for your 2x6s or 2x8s. Again, you didn’t have to go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, they didn’t exist. And the sizes were exact. If you wanted a 2x4, you got a 2x4. In fact, just here about three months ago I had them cut some molding for me, because I can’t buy it at that size. If I need a four inch piece of molding, that’s what I needed. Three and a half was too small because then I’d have to change the whole house over. But they can do that at the mill, even today. They can cut it and plane it. Put you really nice. And it’s reasonable.

AM:
Was that true when you were a kid as well?

RS:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. They cut a lot of molding for people. Probably half the town. Probably the houses were built by a lot of it, the wood from the mill. Because the mill was started in like 1820 [correction: 1846]. Most of the houses were built in the late 1800s. Mine was built right around 1865, 1866. I’m sure a lot of the lumber came [from the mill], I don’t know that as a fact, but I’m pretty sure most of it came from there.

AM:
How did the kids interact with the mill?

RS:
They always had a pond. Once it froze over in the wintertime, there were times they would shovel it off for us and allow us to skate there. But they wouldn’t let us on there until they knew it was safe. [10:00] They allowed us to fish in there. I said ice skating. And you could do just about anything, as long as you didn’t misbehave. In fact, they would leave lights on for us that would shine out onto the pond. We used to have cookouts, hotdogs and marshmallows. There used to be a little island at one end, near the mill race as it came into the pond, and we used to go out there and cook hotdogs, whatever. And that’s how we interacted with them, the kids. They were just really good to us. As long as you didn’t mess with anything in the mill, you had no problems. I guess you were on your honor system. There used to be probably fifteen or twenty kids go down there almost every night once it had frozen and you could skate to your heart content. No boundaries. We used to skate up the mill race once it got real, real hard. That was probably, two, three hundred yards from the pond. And that was all part of the interaction with the mill.

AM:
Did any of the young people in town work at the mill?

RS:
Not that I recall. It’s pretty dangerous stuff that they had there. I mean, it was your saws and your planers, stuff that made the tops. That stuff, you don’t want kids around. Because wood does fly. Some of it had guards on it, some of it didn’t. A lot of the guys at the mill, if you notice –and that’s long before your time—were missing fingers. Mostly because they were daydreaming, or something, and got caught in the saw and that’s the end of it. It’s very fast. And back then, there was no OSHA, so you pretty much bandaged you hand up and continued your day.

AM:
What else did the kids do in town?

RS:
There wasn’t much to do, for kids. They had a small soda fountain. That was gone by, I’m going to say the middle fifties. That’s the last I remember of it. And, that’s basically what it was. That was about all you had to do. Other than mow lawns in the summer and shovel snow in the winter. That’s what the kids did.

AM:
So how did they occupy their time outside of school?

RS:
Your parents found projects for you. Believe me they’d find something for you to do, whether it was stack wood or split wood. And I’m not talking little, tiny kids, I’m talking teenagers. You would stack wood, carry the wood in the house. Any menial task. That’s what you did. Every day.

AM:
So where did you go to school?

RS:
Charlotte Valley, in Davenport.

AM:
How far is that from East Meredith?

RS:
Seven miles.

AM:
Was that a long way?

RS:
Not really. Only if you had to walk it. And I did a couple times. I was removed from the bus for, misbehaving, I guess. So yeah, seven miles was a long way. And when you were punished, you not only got punished by the school, but you also got punished at home. If you had any privileges, they were history.

AM:
What kind of privileges?

RS:
Riding your bike, or going and hanging out with your buddies. Those days were gone. It would last for a week, whatever they decided was fair. That was just the way things worked back then. Not like today. That’s just pretty much the gist of it. You just did as you were told. There was no questioning. You just did as you were told, and there’d be no problem. In the summertime, I ended up weeding the garden. I hated it. That was one of the worst jobs in the world. While all your friends were going swimming, or fishing, you were out in the garden, weeding. And that was a daily task. You’d get so many rows to weed every day through the summer. And you’d better have it done, because Dad, when he got home, he would check it. [If] he found any weeds, you’d do it again. [15:00] I guess that’s punishment. Or part of the education process.

AM:
Was that hard?

RS:
No, just not much fun seeing all your friends going down the road, headed to the swimming hole or going fishing and you’ve got to sit there half a day and weed a garden.

AM:
Did you ever get to go out?

RS:
Oh, occasionally, yeah. It wasn’t every day I was punished. But there were days. We had a stream behind our house, it had a waterfall, and that’s where the kids used to go fishing. That was only just a hundred feet from where I was weeding the garden. And it wasn’t much fun to sit there weeding the garden and watching all your friends out there fishing. Not fun at all. But that’s the way you learned to do as you were told. Or asked. Back then, they really didn’t ask much. They told you what you were going to do.

AM:
Did the same thing happen to your friends?

RS:
Probably. But they seemed to have a lot more slack time than I did. I guess that’s just the way different parents are, some had gardens and some didn’t. As I got older, I would mow lawns. I had seven or eight lawns I would do, every week, fifty cents a pop. It would take you an hour and a half, two hours to do some of them. Fifty cents is not a whole lot of money. Then it was, not today. Now they won’t touch the lawns for less than a hundred bucks. I was born too early. But that was how I spent most of my summers, just mowing lawns once a week. My dad had a cemetery in East Meredith that he took care of and, yes, I was up there clipping. Not with a weed whacker, little hand trimmers. That’s what we used and I don’t know how many stones there, and I don’t care to ever count them, but there’s a lot. There’s probably a couple hundred, anyway. And that’s what you did. That’s what you did nights when Dad got home, go help him at the cemetery. That was my excitement.

AM:
You mentioned a garden. Why did your family keep a garden?

RS:
My mother used to can everything, for the winter. She’d can all her tomatoes, all her beans, whatever she grew. Corn. Back then they used to can everything. Today they freeze it all. She would have, I’m going to say, three or four hundred quarts of stuff. A variety of different stuff. And that’s what you would eat through the winter, everything that your mother canned that summer, or that fall, I should say. But it was worth it, it was good.

AM:
Was that common in town?

RS:
Yes. Oh yeah. Just about everybody canned. I had a family of my own, my wife used to do canning. I put in a hundred tomato plants. There’d be several of the ladies would come over and help my wife do her canning. When that was done, they’d go to the next neighbor’s house and do her canning. And then they’d just move up the line. There used to be like four or five of them that used to work back and forth, just canning and whatever. And that was the gist of their day. That’s in the middle-sixties that we were still doing that. Again, that’s how you survived in the wintertime. You got some real nasty snowy days, you had food in the pantry. You prepared it all.

AM:
Tell me about the winter. I know you mentioned skating. What else did you do?

RS:
We went sleigh riding a lot. There was a large hill across the street from us. And we used to spend hours, on our lax days, either sledding or getting on a toboggan to go to the top of the mountain and come all the way down the log roads. [20:00] Usually they were covered in ice by then, and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun if you got off the trail. There were times that you could not stop the toboggan. I don’t know how fast you were going, but enough to really break your neck. And we’d end up down near the cemetery, which was, oh my God, must have been seven or eight hundred feet from where we should have stopped. And you go right through a swamp. It’s just all the good things. But there was a fence at the cemetery that would stop you. Some of the kids used to ski. I tried it one time and ended up in a barbed wire fence, and I’ve never been on skis since then. Ever. I did not stop, and that was an education. That was the gist of our days, in the winter time.
Of course, there weren’t snow blowers, everything was done by hand. That’s what we did, we shoveled snow. If that meant shoveling the neighbor’s driveway out for a buck or two bucks, whatever they wanted to pay you, that’s what you did. And you shoveled their sidewalk. It wasn’t a point of being asked, you just went and did it. Because you knew they were going to ask you, so you just went there and did it anyway. There would usually be two or three of us in the neighborhood that would go around and just do different driveways and sidewalks, for the elderly, especially. Young people, they could do their own, but the elderly, you helped them out a little bit. And that was the winters. Most people either burned coal or wood. We burned both. I’m going back to the late forties. We had a coal stove in our living room. I believe we had a wood stove in the cellar. Don’t quote me on that, but I think that’s what it was. But I know we had a coal stove in the living room.

AM:
Where did you get the wood and coal?

RS:
From the mill. That’s exactly where we got the coal. Because they did have a lot. In fact, I think the old coal bin is still there. Everybody would go down, shovel your coal. Or they would deliver it. They would deliver it by the truck load. And I think, probably, my father did a lot of that also. Late in the fall, when everybody wants to get their coal in, pack it in the cellars. Usually you had a huge bin in your cellar with nothing but coal. And it came from the mill. I don’t know how much it was, price wise, but that’s where you got your wood.

AM:
Where all did the mill serve? Was it exclusively East Meredith?

RS:
It was pretty much in the area. They probably would go out to Harpersfield or Davenport, or something like that. It all depended what the product is they needed. Coal, I imagine, they would deliver anywhere, and that used to come in by train. Then they had to truck it over to the coal bin and that wouldn’t have been much fun.

AM:
Who did the trucks belong to?

RS:
If the mill was running them, the mill owned the trucks. And they would bring in their own coal. A lot of it would come in on the trains. They would just bag it over to their coal bins, open the bags, and dump it in the coal bins. Then, when people needed it, they would load it in their trucks. It would be all loose, it wouldn’t be in bags. You usually had a window or something where you had a bin, down in the cellar. Usually, there was a chute that came out the window and that’s how you dumped you coal down into the cellar. I don’t know what kind of coal it was, probably a soft coal that burns well. But the stuff’s dangerous. It gives off a lot of fumes if you’re not careful.

AM:
Were there ever any accidents with the coal?

RS:
Not that I know of. Not that I know of. I’m trying to think, no, not that I can . . . As far as burning homes down? I’m sure that they did, many, many years ago. I think, back in the latter part of the eighteenth century, there was an entire family burned to death. I don’t recall if it was coal or wood, but their house burned and they couldn’t get out. Whether that came from the mill or not, I don’t know. But they were local. It was an entire family, like seven or eight kids. [25:00] It was not pleasant.

AM:
How did the community handle when things like that happened?

RS:
Everybody joined together. And they were there for that family, any survivors, they were there. Whatever they needed, clothing, furniture, they would make sure that they got whatever they could use. If you had a chair that you weren’t using, you donated it. You didn’t ask for anything, you donated it. If you had a shelf like what’s over here in your corner, you donated it. Because these people had nothing. If they needed shelter, somebody would put them up for a week and then they’d go somewhere else, until they could build another home. But that’s a good many years ago, a good many years ago. That’s just the way people, I don’t know what the word [is], cohabited? Everybody took care of everybody else. You knew when your neighbor was down and really needed something. The rest of the neighbors were there, to give them whatever they needed, whether it was food, fuel, whatever. A lot of the guys from the mill would donate things. When the Pizza brothers had it, they would donate wood or coal to help these families out. But these families always remembered that and always came back to say thank you. That was part of the mill’s influence in East Meredith.

AM:
Did anything like that happen when you were a kid?

RS:
A fire?

AM:
Or anything that brought the community together.

RS:
Yeah, I remember one gentleman getting very, very sick. In fact, he’s still alive. He’s got to be in his eighties now. He had some kind of a major surgery, and he couldn’t do anything. He was a carpenter by trade. Could not do a thing. And everybody chipped in to help him with medical. If his family had to go somewhere, somebody would take them. If they needed food, there was somebody there for the food. Because he just couldn’t work to support his family. This is how neighbors worked. He lived next to the cemetery. In fact, I’d see him probably once or twice a month. In his eighties, he’s still trapping. In fact, I saw his truck this morning. But he was very, very sick, and the community came together. Whether it was financial, or food, or fuel, the neighbors were there. Those days, I think, are gone. Not totally, but. You never expected anything in return. This was just the way things were. Everybody took care of everybody else, when you were down and out, broken leg or whatever you had. Somebody was there to take care of whatever, chop your wood.

AM:
What do you think changed that?

RS:
Society itself. People suing other people for different little things. You’re getting a different type of people, coming from areas where you took care of yourself, and the heck with the other guy. It wasn’t so much a close knit community like this was, where you had farmers, plumbers, electricians, all lived in the same little town and all worked together. You all used the same plumber, same electrician. It’s just changed. I’m sure that there are people who help people, don’t get me thinking everybody’s bad, they’re not. But when somebody is down, take care of yourself, because we don’t want to get sued trying to help you. I think that’s the big thing, people are afraid. Fear, of being sued. Even today, people won’t let kids play in their lawn, because they’re afraid if they get hurt, that other person’s going to sue them, for all the medical and whatever else they could get. When I was a kid, you didn’t do that. A kid fell and cut himself, or sprained his ankle, you took him home. Or you put a band aid on it. Those days are gone. Because you don’t know how the parents are going to react. That’s why you don’t see a lot of kids playing in other people’s lawns, just for that reason.


[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

RS:
They’re scared. And most insurances won’t cover it, just in case you want to know.

AM:
How has East Meredith changed over this time?

RS:
Well, they had a gas station, that’s gone now. Both grocery stores are gone. We still have a post office, but now it’s only open four hours a day. I mean, you can get in and get your mail in the mailbox. But those things are gone. The mill is gone; the camaraderies at the mill. This one store, at Henderson’s, was almost directly across the street from my house. They had an old coal stove at the back and that’s where everyone would come and shoot the breeze on a cold winter day. He’d have coffee, everybody would have a cigar or a pipe and just sit there and chew the fat. Not anymore. Those places are all gone. All I have are the memories of them. I used to go in there when the guys would be in there. And at the gas station when I was a kid, there would be several farmers go in and play cards, all afternoon, before they went home and milked the cows. The big game was pinochle. Whether they played for a lot of money, I don’t know. There was money exchanged. But those things are gone. You don’t see that anymore. We have one neighbor that has a party, I’m trying to think what they call it, but it’s in the dead of winter. Rain, snow, ten below, it doesn’t make any difference, they have the party. Last year, because I was real sick, I couldn’t go. But it’s usually, twenty, thirty people there. And that’s the winter fun. It’s setting by a campfire and somebody brings a covered dish, whether it’s chili, or some kind of a stew, or steaks or hot dogs, whatever it is. But somebody brings something. That’s about the most the community does together. It’s the one time. And a lot of the people aren’t from the community, but they do invite everybody that’s in the neighborhood. Other than that, there’s nothing else that goes on in the town anymore.

AM:
I know you said you moved away for a while. Since you’ve been back, what have you appreciated about East Meredith that you didn’t appreciate as a kid?

RS:
The quiet. Very, very quiet. I enjoy the time you could hear a pin drop. Seven days a week. Seeing the old stream again, behind my house. The waterfall is long gone. There was a flood in, I think it was ’70 or ’72 that wiped out the waterfalls and most everything else down through the back of my dad’s house. Other than that, not much has changed, really. The old houses are still there. Most of the originals that I knew as a kid are gone. I think there’s two people I know of, that was there when I was a kid, or a young man. One owned a gas station, he’s 90 or 91 now. And another lady. In fact she brought me down some dahlia bulbs. Called me up and said that my red ones looked great this summer, so she brought me down some pink ones. She’s the only other lady I know of who was there when I was a kid. She’s got to be well into her 80s. I guess those are the people I can still remember. But they’re the only ones left. It’s pretty sad, when I can look and tell you who lived in every single house at one time when I was a kid. They’re all gone. Part of life, I guess.

AM:
So who lives there now?

RS:
What do you mean, the older people?

AM:
You said that most of the people are gone now, who’s come into the town, or have they?

RS:
Transplants, from downstate. Long Island, New York City, New Jersey. It’s a whole different lifestyle there. They grew up where it was much faster. You didn’t have time to be buddy-buddy with your neighbor. [5:00] I’m sure there was interaction between neighbors, but not like I was used to, where everybody knew everybody and everybody took care of everybody. And that’s changed. It’s gone to everybody for themselves. Not everybody, but a good share [of them]. I guess that’s the thing I’ve noticed most. And I won’t say where they’re from, I just said downstate. And Jersey. None from Texas. [Interviewer is from Texas.]

AM:
Since the mill has become a museum, what traditions have they kept and what’s changed?

RS:
I don’t know about traditions, but they do have a lot of tours now, to show people what was done, like where the waterwheel was, when it was replaced, all the different machinery that’s in the building. That’s pretty much what you see now, just museum people. There are days that there are probably a couple hundred people go there, through the summer. They open up in, I think it’s in May and they close in October, or November. It used to be in November. They’ll show everybody through the mill, the saw, how it operated. The only thing I don’t think is there that used to be there is the diesel engine they used to run the saw with, because when water got low, you couldn’t run the saw. Everything in the old mill was run by water. In fact, the mill used to supply the electricity to East Meredith. You always invited Horace Hanford or John Hanford to the party, or you didn’t have electricity. There was a generator; in fact, they’ve restored that now. And they’re all DC bulbs, which they’re a light, like a see through glass, but they’re all DC voltage, not AC voltage, all fed off this generator. I imagine it was run by a small diesel engine, or maybe water in the beginning. But that’s still available there, because that’s what they run the mill on, is the DC power. You can tell just by looking at the lights. It’s just a different color light, a different phase of light. I’m trying to think of other things they show them, too. They show them where the old boiler was. When they raised steam, they had a lot of steam power. They put in a lot of steam equipment. Most of it’s not running now; in fact, I don’t think there’s any steam equipment running. But they had that available. It was a big old wood furnace, probably half the size of this room, and they would fill it full of logs. There were, I believe, pipes that ran down, that would run the saw, all on steam, before they put their diesel engine in. How many horse power the diesel motor was, I don’t know. Probably a hundred horse[power], at least. It was a huge engine, but I think that’s gone now. I do remember it running as a kid. It was noisy. But it kept the saws going. And in the wintertime, of course, you can’t saw once it’s all frozen, because there’s just not enough water in the pond. They have a gate at the end of the mill race, around what they call Kortright Creek. They used to open and close that to raise and lower the flow, the level of water in the pond. That still operates, actually. I think they still use it. They put a screen in the bottom because so much junk comes up through there, wood, leaves, fish, all kinds of weird stuff. The last I knew, they hadn’t hooked up any of the steam equipment, but they were piping it in. Whether they have done that yet or not, I don’t know. But that’s what used to run one of the water wheels. It was done on some kind of a spray, I can’t tell you exactly what it was, but it would just [sound: tchu], hit that thing just right and spin the waterwheel. [10:00] Some of the old pipes are still down there, buried at the bottom of the mill. It’s weird. Most of the stuff down there is original. I’m sure some of the stuff that’s rotted they’ve replaced with lumber that is cut at the mill. Anything that’s repaired down there is cut at the mill. They’ll buy a load of logs so they can build picnic benches. They mill all the wood that’s on those picnic benches. It’s cut right at the mill. Or any repairs they have to do, to railings, floors, all cut at the mill. And it’s fascinating to watch it.

AM:
You told me you worked as an interpreter at the museum.

RS:
Yes.

AM:
What was that like?

RS:
Scary. Because there was always somebody there that really knew this stuff, and some of it you had to kind of skate your way through. They gave you a brief history of how this worked and why it worked this way, but if you got somebody in there that operated a mill, he could tell you stories that you were just totally lost. They’d ask you questions that you’d have no idea, gear ratios. I was never into that. They never explained that. The size of the waterwheel will decide how fast the saw will run. There were people that knew that. I had no idea. These were almost engineers, some of them. It was interesting. I got to know a lot of things that I hadn’t seen in many, many years. They used to make little boxes, like for milk trays. They made tons of those for milk companies. In fact, I think there’s some on display down there, even now. I know there was a lady down there, that that’s all she did, all day, was make boxes. This was when I worked down there. She would set up all day. Somebody would cut all the wood for her and she would assemble all the boxes and they used to sell a ton of them. Some of them are milk cases, probably two feet long, very narrow. Great for CDs. That’s what most of them bought them for, was CDs. I don’t remember how much they were now, but very inexpensive. It was all stuff cut at the mill. They had saws near where they made the boxes that cut it the perfect length for every box. I used to do that once in a while, but they had an old gentleman, he knew the stuff inside and out. He made all the replacement windows in the building just by looking at what the old ones were, because the old windows, the originals, were so rotted that they took them out. He redesigned all new windows. He did it all on his little band saw in the back, and all the saws at the mill, all the lumber that was put in those, was made at the mill, from the original logs, or from logs they’d get in there. It was quite interesting. They used to ship a lot of barrels, would be shipped in. And they used to make tops for the butter, and the butter would be shipped down country, and it would last a lifetime. They had a machine there that would actually cut the tops. One side would cut the groove, the other side would make the tongue and you’d just smack them together, all made of pine. That’s one of the things they made, one of the things I made a few of. You’d do them as demonstrations. Now, the machines have guards on them. They didn’t when my dad was there. That’s a long time ago. Safety was not, probably, a priority. If you came home with all your fingers, you had a good day. I know it’s probably a sick thing to say, but there was a lot of gentleman that lost fingers, hands. They’d come back, bandaged up, and raring to go for the afternoon. [15:00] These are just stories I’ve heard from, just different guys that knew these people. You’d see a lot of them, missing fingers. Stuff was very dangerous, you had to really pay attention. They had band saws, they had circular saws, they had the main saw, and that thing was deadly. It would just cut a log like it was nothing. Can you imagine being caught in that thing? The belts in the cellar, near the waterwheel, were humungous belts and they ran all over. You had to be real careful that somebody didn’t move a lever upstairs and engage everything while you were trying to put the belt on, because it would probably rip your arm off. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it or not, but they’ve got all kinds of pulleys down there. There was different ways to put belts on, depending on how they wanted the machine to run. If you wanted it to run clockwise, you’d twist the belt one way, if you wanted it counterclockwise you’d twist it back the other way. Again, these are things I didn’t know until I went down there. They had a millwright that was working there and he’s one of the very few in the country. He used to travel all over the country, sharpening blades, especially the grist mill; I’m trying to think what they call them. They’re huge stones where they grind the grains, like corn, into a powder. That’s what he did. He could sharpen anything, but that was his kick. And he was good at it. He used to travel all over the country, sharpening this stuff. I guess it’s quite an art. But he doesn’t work there anymore either.

AM:
You mentioned pine, what other woods went through the mill?

RS:
Usually hemlock, pine. Probably not much hardwood, unless somebody was making a hardwood floor. Most of it was pine. It’s a soft wood and easy to work with. Probably a lot of the houses in East Meredith were built with pine, or hemlock. There was another wood that’s almost extinct now, I don’t recall the name of it. There were very few trees, they used to have them marked out, but then the flood took them all out. They were a very special, very, very hard tree. You could just about drive a nail into it. This is what they used to build the houses. I’m sure they did a lot of hard wood, but most of the stuff I saw was pine and hemlock, soft woods. It used to be stacked, just tons of it in the yard. Again, when I was a kid. Stacks and stacks of lumber all over the place. Now they just do it for something to do. They do sell the stuff. It’s pretty reasonable, very reasonable. I think I got two pieces of molding eight feet long, each, I think it was, like, three dollars. That’s pretty reasonable. I don’t think you can go to Lowe’s and buy, unless you want clear pine, but these were hemlock. It’s the only place I could get it. Like I said at four inches, that was really tough. I’ve had a couple other pieces cut down there. In fact, I’ve got a fence next to my house, all cut at the mill, all the posts, all the rails. I think she charged me a hundred bucks. If I went to Lowe’s or Home Depot, it would probably cost me three or four hundred dollars, easy. I don’t remember, it was like a hundred feet, and three rails, so that’s, what, three hundred feet, for a hundred bucks. In fact, we just treated it. We put it up last year and we just treated it this year. But she cut all the posts for me; they are all four by four. I went to put lights on the top of them and they won’t fit, because they are true four by four. If you go to a place like Lowe’s they’re three and three quarters or something like that, which these lights will fit perfectly on. So I had to build blocks on top of them, to make them fit. That’s what I’m saying about, everything was full size, four by four was a four by four, not three and three quarters. [20:00] I guess that’s the difference in a lot of stuff.

AM:
Who else would go to the mill, today, for things like molding and fence posts?

RS:
Probably not many people know they do it. I knew Dawn, she’s the one who did it for me, and I’ve known her for quite some time. I think if anybody went down there and said, can you do this, when she finds the time, she will do it, whether it’s making my fence—I think my fence rails were 6 or 8 inches wide and this is the stuff they cut and they store anyway, so that was there. She just had to cut my posts for me. I think she would do almost anything. And there’s nothing they can’t do there. They have a molding machine that can make crown molding like you wouldn’t believe. It’s got like three or four hundred different blades and it takes them like eight hours just to set it up to get one piece of molding through it. It’s quite a pain. I’ve only seen it run once, and it’s so noisy you can’t even stand to be in the building, that’s how bad it is. Very loud. It’s just like the planer, when they smooth the boards out. You can’t even be in there to listen to that. You have to wear ear muffs because it will about bust your ear drums. That’s how loud it is. Of course, back then, I’m sure they didn’t wear them.

AM:
How does the museum deal with the equipment being so loud?

RS:
Usually they have earmuffs and stuff like that. As far as hearing it up in town, you can hear the saw when it’s running. You can hear the planer, but anything else you can’t even hear.

AM:
What about when they’re bringing tours through?

RS:
Most of the equipment, like the major saws, aren’t even running. They only run those when, say they have a group from the school. They will run the saw. That isn’t as noisy as the planer or the molding machine. The molding machine, it’ll just drive you nuts. It’s like somebody beating on rocks with a hundred hammers, that’s how bad it sounds. You have to wear ear muffs, whatever you call them, ear protection. You have to wear them, and eye protection. That is mandatory. In the mill they have rails, so you can’t get close to the equipment, for your own safety. But they’ll run anything there, if you want to see it run. And the majority of the old mill, like I said, is all run by the water. Some of the newer parts of the mill, it’s electricity. But the majority of the old mill is all by water. It’s pretty neat.

AM:
I know that the museum has changed its mission recently to, I’m going to quote here, “inspire audiences of all ages to explore connections among energy, technology, natural resources, and entrepreneurship in rural communities with a focus on sustainable choices.”
What do you think about all that?

RS:
When did they change all this? Just recently?

AM:
Uh-huh.

RS:
Okay. I didn’t even know they had changed this. As far as energy, you can’t beat water power; it doesn’t cost anything. And they have a generator there that generates all the electricity they need. If and when they run it. There are lights in there but they also have the DC lights. And they do run the generator. I’m sure that it’s very efficient. They don’t have to use anything from outside. As far as someone using water in their house to run things, I don’t think that would be feasible. It would be pretty hard to run a channel under your house to make everything work. I didn’t know they had changed their policies. It’s economics, that’s a tough one. They no longer handle feed in there; it’s just a museum now. The only thing they do is basically saw lumber. They do sell the sawdust, or give it away, sometimes they just give it away, from the main saw. They have a huge blower down there, and you don’t want to be down there when they’re running it. It’s not a pretty sight. I don’t know where you could save anything, economically, other than buying stuff there. Buy your lumber there, it’s really cheap. But you’re going to get what you get. [25:00] It may have some splits in it, so you’ve got to be extremely careful. Some of the lumber has probably been sitting there four or five years, so it’s very, very dry. In fact, my fence was probably sitting there two or three years. We just put Thompson’s water seal on it this year, and it just soaked it up like a sponge, so we’ll probably have to do it again next year. Economically, you can’t beat it for buying lumber there, if you need it. It all depends on what you want. When they originally ran the main saw, the logs, the bark end of it, they drop off, they give that stuff away, to people who want to use it in their outside furnaces. Most of them, that’s what they burn, that old nasty pine and hemlock. You wouldn’t want to burn it in your stove, but they burn it in their outside furnaces.

AM:
What do you think the museum can teach the people who visit?

RS:
The way it used to be. How simple things could be. The way you could use water power to generate almost anything. Like I said, if you had a generator, then you could light the whole town. I don’t remember how many houses, ten or fifteen houses, is what they lit, just from the mill. But the power would only be on for six or eight hours. When it was time to go to bed, boom, they’d shut the power off. That’s the way it worked. That’s about the only thing I could see, that everybody would have to change their wiring to DC voltage. That would be wicked expensive. But that’s about the only economical advantage I could see. The mill’s outlived itself. I think that’s why it closed in ’67, because it couldn’t keep up. That’s a time when West-Nesbitt and Agway were real big, and now West-Nesbitt’s history as far as I know and Agway is not very strong around here anymore. They used to be the great feed suppliers in the area, and I think that’s one of the things that killed them. And you had other saw mills that were updating, putting in modern equipment, computer controlled equipment. The old mill never did that. If they did, it was going to be too late, because everybody had moved on. It was a very small mill. That’s the only thing I could see.

AM:
When you were an interpreter there, what was your favorite part of your job?

RS:
The kids. And when we turned the waterwheel on it was awesome, even for me, every time we turned it on. You’d just yell for somebody upstairs to open the wheel, they’d open it and let the water gush. You could really get the waterwheel running, and every belt would just start turning. It was just very fascinating. It had to be some much of a genius to figure out the size of each pulley, and there were spare pulleys, to change the speeds on the saws. Would I ever know how to change one? Absolutely not. And they were all made of wood. There was no metal pulleys there; they were all wood. That’s what was fascinating.

AM:
Would the pulleys have been made at the mill?

RS:
I doubt it. I’m not going to say that they weren’t, but I doubt that they were. There were some metal replacements for the bigger equipment in the cellar. I believe it was all wooden pulleys. Some of them were pretty good size, I’m talking three or four feet in diameter that would run some of the saws, I can’t remember how big the one was for the main saw, but they were pretty good size pulleys. Once they got going, got that waterwheel really spinning, and the waterwheel would have to fill up each little bucket full of water before it would start to turn, but once it got turning, it was just unbelievable how fast that thing would go, and how fast you could get the saw to run. It has to run quite fast to cut wood or


[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

RS:
it’ll jam up real quick. You have to know somebody who knows what they’re doing. For me to run that? No way. There’s no way I could do something like that. You have to be very well trained.

AM:
We talked a little bit about how the mill interacted with the town. How does the museum interact with the town of East Meredith?

RS:
I really don’t know. It doesn’t give us… I don’t see where it puts back anything into the town. Most of the people who come are from the outside. I mean, if they have a big exhibit, you get in free if you live in East Meredith. And they have several shows every year. But as far as contributing to the town, I don’t know that it really does. Not financially, because it’s a non-profit, quote un-quote, organization I believe.

AM:
Do they host any events?

RS:
Oh, they have several events, and a lot of people come in, but they’re all from out of town. Most of the townspeople have seen everything. Once you’ve seen it once, you don’t need to go see it a hundred more times. They’ll have steam engines. I can’t even think of half of them, but stuff like that. Those are a big draw, when they bring in the old antique engines or antique tractors. There’ll be a lot of people for those, because they’re interested in them. Anything else, the mill, I don’t know if their groups are up or not, but the last time I worked there we could set there three or four hours a day with nothing. And that’s not much fun. The mill had run its gamut. All the local people have seen it. You may go see it a second or third time, but beyond that, there’s nothing there, there’s nothing new. It’s still the same old mill. We may have new people, but it’s still the same old mill, and the same old lines. This is what this does, this is what that does, as you’re doing the tour, or interpreter. Nothing changes. Only the people. As far as putting back, I don’t see where it puts anything back into the town.

AM:
What do you think the museum could do to change that?

RS:
I don’t know. Being non-profit, I don’t know how it could put anything back into the town. That’s a tough question, I don’t know. Maybe have more events for the townspeople, a barbecue or something. They have people who come in and cook for their events, but how about something just for the town, say, “hey, thank you, for your support.” And I think the majority of people in the town would support it. But again, you can only go there just so many times. It gets old. Because nothing has changed. Most all the same equipment’s there, since my father was there. How many times can you see a piece of machinery and want to go back and see it again. Unless they’re actually operating it, that’s interesting, when they operate them. The fellow I used to watch, his name was Bill, I don’t recall his last name now, but he’s got to be pretty close to ninety now, but he was still working there in his mid-eighties, making window-frames. He was great at carving, and he’d do a lot of that right there. He could make anything. He was amazing. I learned a lot from him. Back into the town? It’s really tough. Would the town support a barbecue? I don’t know. It’d be tough. I don’t know what the town could benefit by. I don’t think that we benefit by it financially, we have nothing there, there’s no gas station, no stores. Where does that money go? Not back into the town. It’s pretty much with the mill and whoever their benefactors are. I think the O’Connor fund is one of them, isn’t it? [5:00]

AM:
I believe so.

RS:
That’s one of them and there’s another one. I don’t recall. I think they’re even drying up some of their funds because things are tough. I don’t know how many people go there anymore. I know the year I was there, there was under a thousand people. When you’ve got three of four guys, just sitting there, I just got to the point, I just said, I’m going home. I just thought it was a waste of the mill’s money and my time, to sit there and do absolutely nothing, because there was actually nothing to do. You were waiting for the people, and if the people don’t come, it’s a long day, a very long day.

AM:
Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven’t covered?

RS:
Not really, nothing I can think of.

AM:
Alright. Thank you for your time.

RS:
You are more than welcome. And thank you for your patience.

Duration

30:00 Track 1
30:00 Track 2
06:05 Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Collection

Citation

Amanda Magera, “Rex Shaw, November 22, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed November 17, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/149.