Memories of rug mills’ WWII efforts
Amsterdam native Lowell Robinson of Norfolk, Mass., has contributed more information on how Amsterdam’s carpet mills retooled for the war effort in the 1940s.
“My mother worked briefly at Bigelow-Sanford drafting plans for something,” Robinson wrote. “Can’t imagine they needed a lot of plans to make canvas and blankets: machinery, perhaps? In any case, in those days the drawings were done on linen, and to make prints (blueprints) they were put into some sort of frame on top of a light-sensitive sheet of chemically coated paper, then taken out onto the roof to be exposed to the sunlight for a timed period. The prints-to-be were then put into an ammonia vapor environment which developed them. Crude, to say the least.”
Robinson said his mother liked the work but ruined some clothing because of ammonia spills.
Richard Ellers, a longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and Amsterdam native, said that high school students were assigned to factory work, “In the early 1940s, Amsterdam High School went on an 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. schedule so that older students, mostly us guys, could take part time war-effort jobs in the mills. Two guys split an eight-hour shift. I don’t know what part time work the girls did.
“I worked in the tent-making department at Bigelow-Sanford. We worked as canvas pullers, helping the women manipulate the heavy, coated canvas, as they sewed. Huge, I mean really big, tables were built at sewing-plate height and four, maybe eight, sewing machines around the rim. I cannot remember who my opposite was on the split shift. I do remember we made pretty good money.
“We sat out one brief strike on the tables. When tent-making slowed, couple of us were sent to the carding mill where raw wool (really, really dirty) was washed, cut up and carded into strands of wool, strands later made into yarn.”
During the war, longtime Amsterdam Alderman Angelo “Susie” Sardonia and the Fifth Ward Service Flag Committee put out the Service Men’s News, dedicated to the “South Side boys” from Amsterdam. Sardonia also headed Susie’s Washboard Band in the 1930s and 1940s.
One edition eulogized the pastor of Mount Carmel Church, the Rev. John Reidy, who died Feb. 16, 1945. Father Reidy was Mount Carmel pastor for 16 years and also a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.
The News reported that Tony Fabozzi broke his shinbone in the final minutes of a basketball game between St. Mary’s Institute and Amsterdam High School. Tony had scored 19 points when injured and St. Mary’s won the game, the talk of the town for days.
“This department takes its hat off to Sgt. Al Peters who recently returned from the South Pacific and who donated a pint and a half of blood for Mrs. (Tony) Alexander,” wrote the News about a woman who had an operation at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“Hurrah for our boys who are doing so much to bring comfort to anyone who is in need regardless of race, color or creed. Mrs. Alexander is resting comfortably as we go to press.”
The Mohawk River had given up its ice pack, and the fear of flooding had passed: “Our sympathy to the Public Works Department, who soon will be ridding the streets of the cinders spread on during the severe freezing weather.”
There were 20 South Side soldiers home on leave. Six men had left for basic training. The Fifth Ward Memorial Fund had passed $5,000.
Pvt. Phil Marone was convalescing at Fort Ord, Calif., from a recent ailment and asked for letters from home. The News wrote, “Boy what vitamins mail contains. Here goes, Phil, for a hundred letters a day.”
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