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Former employees recall time spent at the pajama factory

By Staff | Jan 11, 2011

Former Weldon workers recalling time with the Muncy based company were (seated l-r) Glenna Montague, Mary Ellen Nunn, Arlene Barto, (rear l-r) Janet Lore, Dale Lunger and Carrie Lee Fornwalt.

MUNCY – To distinguish Weldon from several sewing factories in Muncy and surrounding towns, many referred to it as “the pajama factory.”

Nearly every neighboring borough had one or more sewing factories allowing disgruntled workers to quit and immediately find employment elsewhere. Weldon trained several men in mechanics often losing them to nearby firms.

During the 15 year time span that Weldon was at Muncy, there had been hundreds employed in its workforce. Employees traveled many miles from all directions to add revenue to family incomes, strive to be self sufficient, or save for further education.

While Muncy served as the epicenter, employees, mostly women, found transportation from White Hall, Exchange, Turbotville, Watsontown, Huntersville, Hughesville and north to Sullivan County.

Sewing machines were similar to those used in homes except they ran at greater speeds.

Not all jobs required sewing skills. Hands were needed to press, pack, trim and remove threads, inspect, fold, supervise, as well as supervise office personnel.

Copies have surfaced of a 1954 photo showing 236 Weldon workers with about 50 recently identified through the efforts of Glenna Montague and others.

The Luminary was fortunate in locating several former employees who shared personal experiences and recollections while at Muncy.

Margaret Hart spent 10 years beginning in July 1958 only 18 months before the company converged with the Williamsport site. Due to much noise in her department, the floor lady yelled to converse with workers. The strain led to throat surgery and after returning to the job, dust became a factor ending her stint with Weldon.

Glenna Montague retired in 1978 due to company downsizing following 30 years of employment. For the first seven years, Montague was a machine operator setting pockets. Elevated to a supervisory position on the main floor’s pajama coat section, Montague identified her counterpart as Oral Brown Hall, supervisor in the trouser section. Montague and several others witnessed fingers being pierced by machine needles regarding it as the most common accident.

At the end of 1960, Montague was included in the move to Williamsport. Mechanics serving in her department were Herb Fritz of Williamsport, and Steve Zandori of Lopez.

Prior to her years at Weldon, Montage worked at Freezers Shirt factory when the Montgomery employer filled military contracts during WWII. The Muncy Valley area resident cited the reason for the switch to Weldon as a shorter drive. “I always drove,” she said, with those in her car pool identified as Gertrude Kapp, Pat Corson, Arlen Barto and Shirley Newcomer.

As time progressed, several of Montague’s daughters worked at Weldon including Janet Lore. Lore spent five years at Muncy beginning in 1953 where she was a trimmer and inspector.

Mary Ellen Nunn began in 1953 and operated a snap machine until the company closed at Williamsport 27 years later. Snaps were used as pajama closures.

Arlene Barto began what evolved into 29 years in 1948. “I graduated from high school on Friday and began work at Weldon the following Monday,” Barto said. She recalled initial pay as a flat rate of fifty cents per hour, plus piece or production rates.

Dale Lunger began as a bundle boy during the summer of 1947, and became an inspector prior to his 1950 departure. Lunger recalled breaks as a time to stay off the stairwells when women rushed down and outside to have a smoke. He described women as carrying cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves.

At Muncy, lunch was an hour long allowing workers time to shop at such places as the Carroll House on the corner or visit Hurr’s Dairy bar, both along Main Street.

Lunger provided the bus photo saying workers were transported free of charge to Muncy from Unityville and Lairdsville. He also said Judd Andrews of Picture Rocks was the driver with Andrews also employed at the plant.

Carrie Lee Fornwalt spent 23 years with Weldon joining zipper flies, pleating backs, setting and closing belts. When the Williamsport facility closed, work went to Harwood Industries at Marion, Virginia.

In 1979, Fornwalt was contacted to move to Virginia following the product line as an instructor until 1982. She spent a year in Costa Rica overseeing production of robes made for the J.C. Penney Company.

Fornwalt said she was the only worker making the move to Virginia, thus the last local employee connected to what had been the company here.

The exodus of Weldon from the North Central Pennsylvania sites at Dushore, Lopez, Muncy, and finally Williamsport, was similar to moves made by many sewing factories. They relocated to parts of the southern United States, then eventually overseas. Today, not only is most clothing sewn abroad, but fabrics are also produced off shore.

The interviewees said the Muncy plant was never unionized. In order to survive, manufacturers found places to obtain cheaper labor and operating costs, a process currently occurring within companies today.