By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012
Issue: June, 1984
Wayne Banks is 79 years old and makes his home in Christiansburg, Virginia. When he was 14, in 1919, I doubt if he had ever read Horatio Alger's advice to young men on seeking their fortune. Wayne did just that and this will be a continuing serial story about his venture out into the world. It is wonderfully detailed. He sat down and told me the story over the course of about five hours. It reads like a diary. It is a story of ingenuity and perseverance, a will that found a way…
In 1919, when Wayne Banks was 14 years old, he decided it was time to go out and seek his fortune. He had graduated from the seventh grade and that was as high as the schooling went in his neighborhood near Galax, Virginia.
The day he left, his mother gave him $2.50 to take with him. Wayne says to this day, he doesn't know where she could have got it.
He didn't just start out "hit or miss." He was going to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and try to get a job at Hanes Knitting Mill. He said, "The reason I knew it was there was because I had on their underwear." He rode from home to the Lowgap, North Carolina Post Office. From there it was 17 miles to Mt. Airy. He took off walking. As he was walking along, he kept hearing a buzzing noise and could not figure out what it was. He kept walking and looking back over his shoulder and saw a car coming. There were only three cars in the whole area in those days. He jumped up on the road bank because folks were scared of cars back then.
The car stopped and it was Ernest Gillespie. Ernest was the mechanic who worked on all three cars. He offered Wayne a ride. Wayne said Ernest needed help to push because roads were so bad that you spent more time stuck up than traveling. "I could have walked faster."
When they got to Mt. Airy, Wayne went to the tobacco warehouse. A lot of farmers from Hillsville sold their produce there. Will Lyons, his cousin was the first person he saw. Wayne said, "I had on knickers. We wore them until we were 21. That's how folks knew your age. My cousin asked where I was going and I told him to Winston-Salem. My cousin said he had all kinds of food and would fix me a meal. He said to stay here tonight and if he didn't sell out, he would go to Winston with me the next day. My cousin had a big wagon and two little grey mules to pull it.
All the roads were dirt then and when we went uphill, I had to push. We got started about 4:00 in the morning and got to Winston about 6:30 that night. So, I spent this night with Will also.
Will told me I would have a hard time getting a job because I was so young. I didn't let that stop me. I left Will the next day and went to the mill.
There was a big bald headed fellow there who said he needed two young men on the second floor but I was too young to wait on lines (carry work to the ladies).
That plant was on Main Street. I didn't argue. I just walked out and down Main Street toward Old Salem.
A shop sign caught my eye. It said, “Edward A. Firley - Clothing on Acredit,” I walked over and looked in the window. there was a brown long pants suit. I didn't think I could afford it and I walked off, but something said, "Go back". I went back and saw a little sign that said, "$2.50 down - 50¢ a week."
I went in and asked them to fix up that suit. They filled out the papers and asked where I worked. I told them I would be working at Hanes Knitting Mill.
Then I had to find a boarding house. I found a room in one on Liberty Street.
The next morning I went back to the mill with that new suit and a cap on, pulled down on my head. The same man was there from the day before. He asked what my name was and I said, Wayne Banks. They told me to come in on Thursday. I worked 10 hours a day, 6 days each week for eleven silver dollars cash money. It took me a year to pay for that suit, catch up a week I got behind on board and save out $2.00 a week for personal things I needed such as toothpaste."
Continued Next Month... Wayne's career as one of the first radio salesmen in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the days when radio was still new, daring and expensive.