Two of Epsom's Early
I would like to share with you a few highlights of two of Epsom's early Industries, the Barmer Narrow Fabric Companies. The owner of the mills, Robert Zinn, my father, was born in Barmem, Germany, coming to this country in 1907. His brothers, also skilled in the weaving profession, had come to this country a few years earlier, finding work in the Artistic Weaving Co., in Barnstead, N.H. When an opening came for a foreman in the company, they sent for my father and family. My father was at this time supporting his widowed mother, and wife and infant son.
Traveling by ocean in the early part of the century was long and tedious. Acting on the advice of his family and friend, who suggested that sea-sickness could be fatal to one as young as my brother Ervin, they left him in the care of my grandmother. It was to be three years before they were reunited in America.
My father stayed with the Barnstead Artistic Web Co. for two years as their foreman. Two more children were born there to them. Everyone has a dream. My father's dream was to own a weaving factory of his own. He became acquainted with a family by the name of Hall in Epsom. It was through the generosity of Mr. Sumner Hall, who extended him a loan that he was able to start his own factory; the first Barmer Narrow Fabric Company came to be.
This old building had been a shoe and box factory, and was no longer in business. It was ideally located near water, affording power for my father's enterprise. This building was on the road a short distance between the Epsom Baptist Church and the little bridge spanning the Little Suncook River. The first Barmer Narrow Fabric Co. was mostly referred to by the town's people as the "silk mill." Here they could purchase lace, edgings, and insertions of all kinds for their handiwork. The narrow edgings were mostly woven to trim corsets and undergarments. The insertions were used on children's dresses.
I do not have too much data on the first factory except that it was in operation for seven years prior to the fire in 1916. Have you ever had anyone ask you, "How far back can you remember?" My earliest recollection in regards to this factory was when I was four years old, and it was in regards to the fire. We were all seated around the evening's meal when our kitchen door was violently opened and our Aunt Martha rushed in. "Robert, Robert. Die fabric ist un feur" she cried. ("Robert, the factory is on fire"). And my father pushing back his chair, with terror in his eyes followed her from the room.
Four years old seems young, but I witnessed all the unbelief in their faces. A scene one does not forget, for my place at the table was across from my father, with the kitchen door to my right. I was told by folks who remember the fire, that flames seemed to have leaped miles into the sky. If you can visualize Epsom in the early part of the century, you can also picture what leaping flames from a two-story building must have seemed like in utter darkness.
On the following day school children were allowed to come and view the ruins. Mrs. Ruth Stevens, who was one of the children, remembers that lace and boxes were strewn all over the ground. Perhaps that was part of the desperate attempt to salvage whatever could be saved.
After a fire men often search the ruins to estimate the loss. My father sorted all the iron, separating salvageable parts, and drawing samples of these. He took them into the Concord foundry, located on South Street, to be reinforced and made new. From these parts he built four new looms, except the battens that hold the shuttles. These he imported from Germany, as the proper tools for fashioning these were not available at this early time. Later, as his plans to relocate developed, he ordered four more new ones from Germany.
Roscoe Warren's father was my father's maintenance man at this time, and greatly aided in the building of the looms from the salvaged iron. During the next two years following the fire, a power house was erected over the water wheel and dynamo. It was from here that power and electricity were generated for his new factory. Also electricity was wired into homes near by, supplying them with light. The engine was a thirty-horse power, one-cylinder engine, and burned kerosene. One man, Billy McKenzie, was so impressed by its operation that he named it "Old Dick."
Looking back, it is hard to forget my father, a courageous man, fighting the odds, and starting over again following this nightmare of misfortune. Even today I look back and think back to the many nights, after he had established the second Barmer Narrow Fabric Co., how I would watch from my bedroom window across from the factory, to see him walk alone, with only the light from his kerosene lantern, down to the power house to lock up for the night, plunging that part of Gossville into total darkness.
My earliest recollection of the second factory, located on the Black Hall Road, where the House of Kirk (Kitchen Klean) is now located, was our front yard. It seemed that huge boxes were constantly being delivered by men with strong horses. These boxes served two purposes. One, they held an assortment of things for the new factory, wooden warp beams, yarn, gears, breast beams, and what not. Second, when empty, they served as play-houses for the Zinn kids and their playmates. These boxes were made from rough lumber.
Another recollection is of the men and women that worked there. These women all wore unique dust caps to keep the lint from snarling their hair. The men wore dark colored denim aprons, and caps with green celluloid visors. These caps shielded their eyes from the glare from light bulbs in the loom, and the many windows in the building.
Proper tools were a pair of sharp scissors and a weaver's hook. The hooks were often of different lengths, the longer ones to reach back reels. We were taught early the proper way to hold our scissors, with our little finger in an opening and the scissors part resting in our palm, always readied for swinging into position for instant use, when cutting web or when a thread broke. The weavers usually kept their hook behind their ear or in the breast pocket.
In the early days, yarn was bought by skeins. These skeins often came through quite tangled and gave the operation of a spool machine quite a few tearful moments when trying to find an end. The machine had a wooded prop on the side, where the operation hung the skein and with her hand would have to give the inside of the skein a few karate chops in order to bring out the end. This machine was not automatic, so the operator would have to watch carefully that her spools would not run over the sides while filling. After the spools were filled, they would then be taken to a quiller machine, where the operator of this machine would run off the yarn onto smaller quills to be used in looms. Although the company wove a great deal of white trim, the yarn often came through in beautiful shades, the colors having enticing names like Indian Orange, Crab Apple, Ashes of Rose, Egyptian Green and many more like these mentioned.
Many of the looms had a wire of brass or steel that was used in a looped design. The wire was twisted around a rod in back of the reeds, brought forward through the reed, or through the eye of the harness, then through the front reed, where it would be smoothed over a front rod to hold the lace intact while the looms were in operation. A non-looped design did not require it.
My father was very particular that all weavers should smooth the lace and wire in each strip before beginning their work. He had given my brother Erwin this instruction, showing him just how he wanted it done. The last words my father said to him were, "Now you do vart I tell you. You vill get a big smesh is you don not vart I tell you." But boys being boys, my father had no sooner left the upstairs office, when Erwin glanced over his looms and said to himself, "Huh, they look all right to me. I'm not going to bother with that."
He had not sooner started up his looms, however, before he learned what a smesh on a loom is all about. He thought the end of the world had come. Weights began to drop all over the place. The lace and wire buckling up into little tee-pees, shuttles got stuck, breaking out hundreds of ends and what not.
If you can picture what forty strips per loom, with weights of eight to ten pounds for each strip sounds like when falling from a height of six to eight feet above onto a hard-wood floor, you can well imagine the racket it made, let alone the damage it did.
My brother surveyed the smash and held his head. "What shall I do?" he thought. "I've got to go up and tell Pa. He must have heard the noise." Well, my father had indeed heard all that noise and knew exactly what had happened. He met my brother. My father had rather large eyes, and when we had done something to displease him, we knew what we were in for when he fixed those eyes on us. Pointing his finger at my brother, he scolded, "You did not do vart I tol you. I tol you you'd get a smech, you dum-koft!" My brother said he never forgot to straighten the wire and lace out after that morning.
Do any of you like to doodle? My father was forever doodling. When I got old enough to understand, I realized that his doodling was a means to and end. He was drawing ideas onto scraps of paper before the ideas could vanish. Later the doodlings were carefully copied onto graph paper with brush and water color. Each little square that was filled in represented a part of a design that a designer or card cutter understood. A finished design tells them the amount of ends or threads needed in the loom when this particular design is used.
Before these patterns are ready for a loom, they are taken to an operator of a card cutting machine and placed in an encloser to be read line by line, as he works. As he reads the design, he begins to cut numbered cards, by pressing keys and a foot pedal on a machine similar to a small organ. When all the cards are cut, they are taken to a lacing device, where the numbered cards are laced together, ready for a loom.
A very unique machine was invented in 1800 by a weaver's son named Joseph Jacquard. He was born in Lyon, France. By the year 1804, he had perfected this machine so that up to date there has not been needed in the use of a shuttle loom. This machine is placed onto the top of a loom, and its intricate workmanship plays a vital part in weaving. It is so built, that knives lift and lower as a cylinder revolves, picking up a new card each time while completing its cycle, usually from one hundred to two hundred cards or more, depending upon the design that is being run in the loom. This machine also holds all needles that lift the harness when called for by timing the holes in the cards. When there are no holes in a card the needles do not work. Today folks bemusedly call it early computerization.
Harness making for looms is in itself a separate art. Today there are very few harness makers in New Hampshire. My father taught my husband this trade. Usually harness makers are sent out from New Jersey and demand very high wages. They do not, however, set up a loom, doing only the cutting and tying.
A very accurate measure of the cord used must be calculated to determine its success or failure when tying the knots in a harness. If not the harness will hang uneven and when the loom is in operation, the weavers will experience many broken ends. A harness maker likes to keep records of how many hours are spent in completing a harness. My father always hung his gold watch in a loom, and my husband his wristwatch.
Many hours go into a fully assembled loom and we would need a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out the many parts needed for its final operable run. Just to name a few vital parts, we would need a frame that in the early century was constructed from apple wood for durability when fashioned in Germany. Warps are needed for the fill, many gears of all descriptions, pick wheels which will determine the length of the lace, reeds of al widths for the woven products, pulleys, and a hundred and one more items, too numerous to mention.
Before the different designs were taken to a consumer, they were first woven on a sample loom. Here it was carefully scrutinized for any flaws or mispicks. When fully satisfied, they would then be ready for the public. My father took many business trips, many to large cities in places like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In looking back, I've often thought how remarkable it was that a man from a foreign land, with scanty English and no interpreter,
But, my father was gifted with a sense of humor that easily made friends for him. He often told us how on some of his visits a secretary was hesitant in announcing him if her employer was otherwise occupied. He'd say, "Tell him dat de old man of de mountains is here." This is always brought the owner from the office with a hearty handshake and a warm welcome. More often than not, a generous order came too.
As is often the case, when the cat is away, the mice will play. The Barmer Narrow Fabric Co., was no exception. Before all of the floor space was in use for looms, some of the more spirited young people would seize this opportunity to do the Portland Fancy during their lunch hour, or even when their looms were running O.K..
In April of 1921 an indenture was made between my father and George M. Hall to become partners of the second Barmer Narrow Fabric Co.. George Hall was the nephew of Mr. Sumner Hall and had been in college learning how to conduct business, making it possible to accept my father's partnership.
The woven lace was cut from the loom by a weaver when the amount required was finished and the inspector usually pulled it over a rod, or cord near the top of the loom to keep it from snarling into the bins. It was then inspected and the flaws cut out and the strip pasted together. A worker would then wind it onto cards, by the yard, usually three yards to a card.
Much of the web would be brought into our home where hours of time were consumed by my mother, getting it ready for shipment. Our kitchen table would resemble an assembly line day after day as she slipped a special designed label between the bottom and upper strip. When she had completed row after row of this, she would then turn each card over and paste the label together, and stack so many to a pile, and tie them together into bundles. There were many nights when my mother worked on a rush order, that she could not stop to put the youngest child to bed, so the child laid stretched along side of the work, sound asleep. The paste was bought in crockery jars, resembling rich cream, from John B. Varisk & Co. in Manchester. As the Zinn children became old enough, they were taught the trade of weaving or as floats, aiding where needed.
In 1922 my father again sailed to Germany. He had become interested in automatic lace machines that would weave lace in large quantities and in a shorter period of time than his shuttle looms. These machines were round.
As was the custom, families always relied a great deal on other family members who were also skilled in the weaving trade. So at this time, my Uncle August and his family came back with may father to run the machines. My brother Walter learned to run these machines too. When I was writing a little history of our factory during the bicentennial, I wrote to my brother, who furnished me with the following information: There were 21 lace machines; 2-32 spool machines, 4-36, 4-40, 2 -44, 4 -52, 1 -60, 3 -54, and 1 -72. These used cotton yarn. Then 12 -2. 1 - 2, 8-2, and 6 - 2 also rayon and silk. These undoubtedly wove the wider lace. These had springs with different tensions in the spools. If a thread broke or a spool ran out, the machine would shut down by itself. Sometimes a spool would get lost, while running, or two would run into each other. On the 2 - 44 spools, Pa made the most money, they ran all the time.
The finished lace ran on reels. They ran at 160 rpms, If they ran any slower than that, they would snarl up. They made about 15 yards an hour. On the 32 spools you would get two strips and on the 64 spools you would get four strips, the same with the 36 and the 72 spools. If you wanted a wide piece of lace or a single piece of lace, you could have it, but you would have to iron it out.
By now, in Epsom, there were so many German families, that it was often referred to as German Town. There were nine families in the ell of the hotel. Some of these people wanted to learn better English, so engaged two teachers to meet at the home of my Uncle on Tuesday evenings for class. Although an improvement was noted, a barrier still existed at times.
One of these times was the day my father handed my husband some change and said, "Yah, go to de store for me and get me a Pinzel." When my husband got to what was then Silver and Young's store, he thought, "What can he do with one pencil? I might as well get him a half a dozen." When he got back to the factory, my father asked, "Did you bring me de pinzel?", my husband said, "Yes."
"Yah, come mitt," my father said to him. But when he was handed the pencils he asked, "Yah,, vat do you vant me to do mitt dem pencils?" He had wanted a brush to clean the reeds, the similarity of the words, tripping him up.
From 1929 on my father's dream began to slowly disintegrate, what with the stock market's crash and the depression rearing its ugly head. Business began to decline. People just were not buying. He carried on by purchasing 24 sewing machines to sew curtains, to utilize his stock. But this ended in failure. The help carrying home most of his profit.
During the thirties, my father invented a device on his looms that could weave two way elastic, negotiating with a firm in Massachusetts. Between 1936 and 1937 he sold his looms to a weaving factory in Pittsfield and ran them until the factory in Pittsfield had added on to its factory for them. My father's children, some married, went to Pittsfield with the looms to obtain work there.
In closing, I'd like to leave the thought with you that each of us had a dream, and like in all our dreams, we encounter strange happenings, some things to our delight, and often a terrifying nightmare. When we wake up we ponder our dream. Why did we dream as we did? We do not question it. We accept it as it happens. And so it is in life, we dream on until its end.
NOTE - This article available in Vol. 3 of Epsom Historical Documents compiled by Phil Yeaton and available from the Epsom Historical Association