J. E. "Paw Paw" Tumlin, an ATCO Kid, has begun writing his story for his children and grandchildren, because he, like the rest of us, wants them to know who he is and all about his life. He, like many other ATCO Kids, is talented. He has been gifted with a beautiful writing ability. With permission we are so happy to highlight his writings from time to time on our blog.
Until they built the current US 41 Highway (4 lane), old US 41 Highway (2 lane) went past the gate to ATCO, Georgia. It is now Ga. State Road 293 (Cassville Road). Travelers saw this neat, clean Cotton Mill Village. There was an equally neat, clean 3-story brick cotton mill with a tall smoke stack and this monstrous sign on top that said: “GOOD YEAR MILL, ATCO GA.” There were huge brick columns on each side of the street, Goodyear Avenue, that provided the only entry or exit to this special place. The 250 houses were all painted white; they all had the same slate type roofing. Even though all the houses had this in common, you never saw look-alike houses adjacent to each other; you might have found a look-alike house a block or two away. The grass was cut. There were huge water oak trees everywhere. You saw no dead trees or low-hanging limbs. In August at least one half of the total village area was shaded by these trees, especially the streets. The asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks were immaculate. There were cast iron street lights all painted dark green. There were no electrical wires or power poles. All the village electrical wires are under ground. This could have been a Norman Rockwell painting. It was real, this was Atco, Georgia.
I was born here May 19, 1929, at 23 Wingfoot Trail. I spent my first 21 years trying to get out of Atco and have spent the rest of my life trying to go back.
You can attribute very little of what I just described to those of us who lived in the village. Goodyear maintained the houses. They had their own painters, carpenters, plumbers, etc. They cut the grass, manually swept the streets, and hauled off the trash.
My parents and I lived at 2 Wing Foot Trail for a long time. I remember they deducted 25 cents per room per week from one of my parents pay for each of the 3 rooms in our house. The wages were average for cotton mill work in our area. They received their pay in cash for many years.
The work was VERY hard. This was true in all cotton mills. If you were willing and physically able to perform the job at Goodyear, you and your family could enjoy the village benefits. I would guess that the labor standards that prevail today require less than half the output of the 1940's and 50's. There was a saying in the mill: “There’s a barefoot man at the gate who wants your job." I had this job when mama and I became engaged.
The ATCO that I remember is from 1929 (year of my birth) thru the early 1950's. I lived here through the Great Depression and World War II. I call the Company’s management style “Paternalistic: “Work for and cooperate with us, and we will provide your necessities." There was the Company Store where food, clothing, shoes, furniture, gasoline, stove wood, coal, etc were available.
Every one walked to work and to the store. Short term credit was available through the mill. The store would deliver your groceries. The ATCO Post Office was in the store. We got a zip code at the same time Cartersville got theirs. Mr Hannon, who operated the store, was also the official Post Master.
We had a fine private grammar school financed by the Company. I spent 7 wonderful years in this school. On Tuesday December 9, 1941, my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Goodheart, brought her huge tube-type radio to school where we heard, live, President Roosevelt ask congress to declare war on Japan and Germany. We heard the famous “Day of Infamy” statement.
Like the rest of the village, the school was neat and clean. All the rooms and auditorium had hardwood floors. I can see Mr. Johnson now, in the hall, pushing what looked like red, oily sawdust in front of his 3- foot broom. It made the floor shine like new.
In the early 1930‘s there were no hospitals in Bartow County. When I was born I think there were only two doctors in the county. I, like all my contemporaries, was born at home. The company had a registered nurse on duty if the mill was in operation. Walk-in village patients could see the nurse.
Later on, a doctor would come to the mill twice a week to check the health of potential new hires. Employees and family members could see the doctor at that time without charge. Visits to see the nurse were also free.
Until the end of WW II fewer than 5% of the families had cars and telephones. The company provided car barns located in 3 different areas. If you had a car you could have your own place to protect it from weather, vandals and thieves. You seldom saw a car parked on the street during the week. If you wished, the Company would provide a place for a vegetable garden and a place for you to build a hog pen. They had two pastures with stalls for your cow.
Nancy Creek ran thru the pasture on the east side of the village, and Pettit creek ran thru the pasture on the west side. I was baptized in the swimming hole on Petit Creek in 1958. Pastor Wiley Wilson and I swam in this swimming hole when we were children.
The Company maintained a beautiful White Church building with four, tall, white, southern, columns. The Baptist held Church services one Sunday and the Methodist held services the next Sunday. This arrangement worked well.
We had our own policeman. He was a “sworn” Bartow County Deputy. He was employed by the Company. I remember Mr Jack McCoy. He knew everybody; everybody knew him. I think he had a gun, but I don’t remember ever seeing it. We also had “a” taxi operated by Mr. Herschel Cagle. He had a designated parking space in front of the store. A metal box on a 5 foot metal pole contained his telephone which was locked when he was away. He would come to your house and take you anywhere in Cartersville for a quarter.
Mr. Cagle’s right leg had been amputated above his knee. His black, four-door Ford automobile had been slightly modified. The clutch petal had an extension that allowed him to depress the clutch and the brake at the same time. He could operate either without the other. There were no automatic transmissions. A simple throttle attached to the steering column, and a gas petal allowed him to control engine speed by hand. As far as I know, he never had an accident.
In the summer the shaded streets and sidewalks were filled with kids playing, running and shouting. We all knew everyone in the village. There was never a concern about security. A stranger entering the village would be detected before they had traveled 2 blocks. By the time I was 10 years old I could play anywhere in the village, but I had to be home at dinner and supper time.
The Village swimming pool opened at 10:00 am, unless it was Sunday. If we had a bathing suit, or if we could borrow one, we might go to the pool. The pool was drained every Wednesday night. Thursday morning it was scrubbed and refilled. Swimming could begin when the pool was within 12 inches from full. This sometimes delayed the opening until as late as 2:00 pm. The pool remained ice cold all summer.
Box cars filled with bales of cotton were pulled thru the gate of the mill yard by a steam powered locomotive two or three times a week. These same boxcars would later be filled with the cotton fabric which would become the backbone of Goodyear Tires. This was the only place in the village where we ever had a traffic jam. The railroad track crossed Goodyear Avenue which was the only entry and exit to the village. Sometimes the train tied up traffic for 30 minutes or more. On a busy day you might see as many as 3 automobiles waiting. It was not unusual to see a mule and wagon in the line.
Most of the tires were manufactured in Akron, Ohio from imported rubber. Each tire would have its own rubber inner tube. Old rubber inner tubes were used by Atco boys to make “flips." Some call them “slings”or “sling shots." It was a sling and a smooth stone that David used to slay the giant. It was not a flip. I made the best, most beautiful flips in the village. I was also the best flip shooter in the county. This was my only claim to fame until I got my foot hung in the toilet.
The mill’s presence dominated the village.
Twenty four hours a day five days a week it was in operation. During the war it ran 7 days a week. From most any place in the village you could hear the sound of a hundred or more huge electric motors in operation. Many were suspended in the 12 foot high ceilings turning two leather belts that were attached to two large machines on the floor. Occasionally you would hear the sound of some sort of management paging system. Remember, at this time there are very few telephones. There were no cell phones. We all would hear the whistle at 8:00am, 4:00pm and 12:00 midnight. On Saturday and Sundays, we would all have a subtle sense that “something was not right."
The mill was quite. It was only on week ends when we realized how noisy the mill was. Inside the mill, in many areas, the sound was deafening. You had to be within 2 feet to carry on a conversation. You had to talk or shout at the top of your voice to get the attention of someone 15 to 20 feet away. To do this, you shout “who” at the very top of your voice.
The village had another unique sound heard most everywhere in the village, especially in the south end where we lived. You would hear a siren for a solid minute. There would be silence for 5 minutes, then you would hear a barrage of loud explosions. Ladd’s Lime Kiln, located about two miles from the village, would be using dynamite to blast the lime from Ladd’s mountain. We seldom noticed it.
Medical science hasn’t yet discovered the tobacco / cancer relationship. All males and a few females smoked. I was embarrassed that I was an exception. I wanted to smoke but cigarettes made me sick. This is why I’m still alive at 83. For a long time there was a “no smoking” policy in the mill. Later they developed designated smoking areas. All the men wanted that last puff before they entered the mill. They would light up, take a couple of puffs and throw the cigarette away from the top step. At the main entrance, the day shift alone would throw away 40-50 in a single day. The area between the steps, and the fence was covered with long, white cigarettes. It was a sight to behold. This was where the young boys got their cigarettes. Remember, I lived in the village during the great depression and World War II. Most of these cigarets were “roll your own." The boys were looking for the “tailor-made:" Camels, Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields brands.
There was a 6 foot chain length fence around the mill and mill yard. It had a barb arm attached to the top of the fence with 3 strands of barbed wire. On these type fences, the barb arm is always pointed at an angle toward the side of the fence where the greater security is required. The mill’s barb was pointed toward the mill. The emphasis was on keeping the employees “in” rather than keeping the public “out."
Every household lived from one payday to the next. If the bread winner couldn't work, there was a serious problem. Within a few days someone you know would knock on your door and ask for a contribution for the family in need. Most instances you already knew of the need and you would have set aside a quarter for their relief. A quarter was considered “generous." (If it was spring, you could hoe cotton or corn for one dollar a day.)
You also hear a knock on the door if there was a death. The county’s only undertaker, Mr. Joe Owens, would bury you on credit. He would also sign your bond, for nothing, if you got in jail.
Some could make no contribution. There was a County Welfare Agency, but their funds were very limited. Pride kept ATCO folks from asking for county assistance; they only asked for county assistance when the welfare of the children was involved.
Later in life, I wondered what motivated us to give? Was it concern for a fellow human being? Was it the teachings of Christ? Was it really an insurance payment? Whatever the motivation, it worked.
During World War II, "ALL ABLE BODIED MEN" were drafted into the military. This tough, caring, can-do Atco attitude was taken around the world. We prayed for our men and women in the military.
School started several weeks earlier than usual, so the children could pick cotton when it was ready. Teen-age boys worked in the mill seven days a week along side the women and old men to make the fabric for our war machine’s tires.
We periodically had air raid “drills.' We all bought “War Bonds." Many of life’s necessities were “rationed”. Had someone gone to Canada to avoid the draft, one of us might have gone there and shot him. I think the Government we had at that time would have considered avoiding the draft to be “treason."
We ATCO folks helped win World War II.
I proudly tell people: “I‘m a ATCO Linthead saved by Grace.”
© Copyright PAW-PAW, used with permission.