Greg Elderkin's Interview with Mary Farnum, Painter and
Margaret Burgess, Supervisor, both of the Cameo Doll Factory

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Smethport History-    What was your job at the Cameo doll factory?

Mary Farnum-    Painting faces and eyes on the dolls.

Smethport History-    Tell me how you first came to work at the Cameo Doll Factory?

Mary Farnum-    Well, when Iíd walk home from school, I saw that plant down there and I thought, boy that is the place I want to work, so when I got out of school, thatís what I did.  I canít remember if I worked some place else or if I worked there, I canít remember, but thatís where I ended up.  I worked there for 27 or 29 years. I wasnít there during the í42 flood, so it must have been in the latter part of í42 or the early part of í43.  It was a very old fashioned place, you didnít have anything up to date.  When I first started working there, I donít know if you remember these Margaret, but they made these tanks, because it was during the war.

Margaret Burgess-    No. I donít remember those.

Mary Farnum-    I remember there was a pot sitting on a hot plate and it had glue in it, and there were these sticks in it, I didnít know what they were for. I remember sticking those sticks in the glue and sticking them in the top of the tanks.  Thatís the first thing I ever remember doing there. But I never remembered seeing one of those tanks, I sure would like to get one.  Even when they cleaned the place out, you didnít hear about them.

Smethport History-    So those are probably big collectors items now.

Mary Farnum-    Oh, they would be!  Iíve not seen one of those any place.

Smethport History-    And that was Cameo Doll Factory when they were being made.

Mary Farnum-    Oh yeah.

Smethport History-    Did you meet Mr. Kallus when you had started working there?

Mary Farnum-    I suppose, I donít remember but I probably did. I might have shortly after. Of course he wasnít here all that much.

Smethport History-    Yeah thatís true, because I remember reading about that.  Was it a small factory?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah to start with, but they enlarged it.

Smethport History-    Where exactly was the factory located?

Mary Farnum-    Right where part of the Pierce Glass company is, right across from where the old Railroad Station was, right across the street from there.

Smethport History-    In this article right here, ìThe Paradoxical Joseph Kallusî, it said that there was more women than men that were employed there.  Was there ever a problem with that?

Mary Farnum-    No.  Oh no, it was womenís work, except for the molding.  At first they had compositions, so they had big ovens and they mixed, what they called a batch, of sawdust and they would put them in these big ovens and bake them.  That was the only menís work.

Smethport History-    Do you remember any of the workers that worked at the factory?  I know you said Bessie Painter Johnson, do you remember anyone else?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah she was the office girl.  Oh heavens, there were so many people that worked there, I suppose everybody in Port Allegeny worked there at one time or another.

Margaret Burgess-    All the clothes were hand made by the local people in Port Allegeny, none of the clothes were factory made.  In all the pictures of the dolls, those were all hand sewn.

Smethport History-    So the Peep Dolls and Peanuts Dolls had hand made clothes?

Margaret Burgess-    They had snowsuits on.

Smethport History-    They were all handcrafted outfits.

Margaret Burgess- They were cut out at the factory, and the women would come by and pick them up.  The doll outfits were given out by the dozen.

Mary Farnum-    The three last people to leave there were Margaret, Kristina Hardes, and myself.  We were all close friends.

Smethport History-    There were different assembly lines for manufacturing the dolls.  What were the lines and which ones did what?

Mary Farnum-    Well, each one would start out and dress them.  Each one would put a shirt on and send it on to another one and something else, and gowns.  We had one lady, Mary Leet, who would tie the bows, she was an older lady.

Margaret Burgess- They are all dead, most all of the ladies that worked on the assembly line have passed on, except Norma DeHaven.

Mary Farnum-    Mary Leet would put a blanket on the Miss Peep doll and tie the bows.  There were at least 4 or 5 that went on down the line.

Smethport History-    It would work from the men setting the mold, and it would go from the mold set to the women gluing all the dolls together?

Margaret Burgess-    They were joined in the body, the arms and legs were put on another line, and each piece was molded.  The legs were molded, the arms, the heads, the bodies, the whole thing.

Mary Farnum-    At one time they stuffed the bodies, so there was a certain group of people that had done that.  I cant remember what they stuffed them with, but I could remember the workers being fenced in, because the stuff would fly all over the place.

Smethport History-    Was it stuffed with a sawdust or cotton maybe?

Mary Farnum-    It might have been cotton.  And then at one time, they had the vinyl in two pieces, and they were joined together at the seam and they would sand off the excess glue and vinyl off.  They even got to where they trimmed it off.

Margaret Burgess-    They had a buffing machine that they would use to sand it off.

Smethport History-    How did you and Margaret first meet?

Margaret Burgess-    She sat behind me and our benches were up against the wall.  She worked in back of me painting.

Mary Farnum-    I had heard about that woman from Nova Scotia, and I just had to meet her. We just became friends after that.  Good friends.  And we worked together for many years, and have spent a lot of time together since.

Smethport History-    Did you ever meet Rose OíNeill?

Mary Farnum-    No I didnít, did you Margaret?

Margaret Burgess-    No, she was dead but I was at the cemetery she was buried at.

Smethport History-    So about when did she die?

Margaret Burgess-    I think it was about 1944.

Smethport History-    That's too bad she died. The finances were in jeopardy.  Did that ever dampen the operation of the factory?

Mary Farnum-    No not that I ever knew of.

Smethport History-    So it was a pretty carefree work atmosphere?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah. He never paid good wages, or put things up to date, but no, it never bothered the plant.

Smethport History-    Do you have any guesses as to why he would do that, not updating the equipment?

Margaret Burgess-    He left the people working there to do it.  Like when Mary would get new stencils, she would have to file them down to suit herself.  If they werenít right, she would make them right.

Mary Farnum-    Yeah thatís pretty much how it was, everybody could work their own way.

Margaret Burgess-    They could figure it out themselves, like dipping the Popeye parts in the paint just right, and stuff like that.

Mary Farnum-    We even mixed our own paint.

Smethport History-    Mr. Kallus was said to only visit the factory once in a while.  Do you know why that was?

Mary Farnum-    No, but he kept in touch.  I suppose he was busy doing other things. But he knew what was going on at the plant. He kept in touch, he called once a day or even two or three times a day.

Margaret Burgess-    He would get on the phone with me for a couple of hours at a time.  Iíd be in bed at night and heíd call.

Smethport History-    At two oíclock in the morning or something like that?

Margaret Burgess-    If he had an idea, heíd call.

Smethport History-    Were you ever nervous that he would check in and not be satisfied with the work?

Mary Farnum-    No.  It never bothered me none.  I always appreciated him correcting me maybe on the painting.  I figured, if anything, that I was learning something new.  No, he never made me nervous.  I enjoyed talking to him, but you might get a little tired of hearing about it.

Margaret Burgess-    It was the same things over and over again.

Smethport History-    I read that the factory had burned down.  Do you know how that happened?

Mary Farnum-    No that was before my time.  That used to be down where the P&C is now, thatís what I read any ways.  When I first started work as a painter at the doll factory, there wasnít any heat in the wintertime.

Smethport History-    So that was pretty rough.

Mary Farnum-    Well you were usually done there about the first of December or so.

Smethport History-    So work would let out for a couple of months.

Mary Farnum-    Yeah except for the office girls and manager and so on.

Margaret Burgess-    And then youíd be called in to do some specials, or if you had to do a sample or something like that.

Mary Farnum-    When I first started, there wasnít a need to do that.  But that was because the factory was burned out before? I donít know.  When I first started painting the weather was real damp or quite cold and the cheeks on the dolls were painted with a color called blush, and it would get a white film over them.  So we would have to go home for the day.  You couldnít use it then.

Smethport History-    So, do you still paint now?

Mary Farnum-    No.  I enjoyed the work back then, it was like going home when you went to work.  We were just one big happy family.

Margaret Burgess-    Each one of the workers did practically as they pleased.

Mary Farnum-    We got our work done.

Smethport History-    When the factory would ship the dolls off to other places, where did they go?

Margaret Burgess-    Well, some of the things went to California.  They had mail order departments, like Spiegelís, and Montgomery Wards.  They had their produce in by Christmas time and a lot of things were shipped to California, and Shepherd of the Hills was one other place too a lot of Scooters dolls were shipped there.  The Scootles didnít go over too good.  But the Kewpies and the Miss Peeps sold very well.

Smethport History-    So business would pick up right around Christmas time?

Margaret Burgess-    Yeah.  Western Auto bought and sold the Miss Peeps dolls.  You couldnít go to the factory and buy one there. You had to go elsewhere.

Smethport History-    The factory was closed off to any outside businesses or visitors then?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah. They werenít allowed to, it wasnít approved of.

Smethport History-    Do you remember any of the businesses over here in Smethport?  Smethport Specialty Co.?

Mary Farnum-    Yes.  I worked there at one time, for a very short time.  After I was through at Cameo Doll Factory, I started working there for only a couple months.

Smethport History-    So you didnít like the work out there, compared to the style of work at the Cameo Doll Factory?

Mary Farnum-    No, it wasnít the same kind of place.

Smethport History-    Was it strict?

Mary Farnum-    Yes it was.  It wasnít what I was used to.

Margaret Burgess-    She was used to being her own boss.

Smethport History-    Do you remember any of the projects that you worked on up at Smethport Specialty Co.?

Mary Farnum-    No I donít.

Smethport History-    Was there the Woolly Willy magnet boards?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah.

Smethport History-    Were those being manufactured at the time you were there?

Mary Farnum-    I donít recall.

Smethport History-    What really put Port Allegeny on the map would have been either the Cameo Doll Factory or the Glass Factories, wouldnít you say?

Mary Farnum-    I would say the Glass Factories did more so when they came in. Cameo Doll Factory, like I said, never paid all that much, it was a lot of women working.

Smethport History-    What would you say the average wages were?

Mary Farnum-    I got up to a $1 dollar an hour. But I remember Mr. Kallus saying that he was going to raise my wages, because then when I got on Social Security, it would help.

Margaret Burgess-    I canít even remember what the hourly wages were.

Smethport History-    Itís amazing that through time all that changes, the cost and the pay of everything.

Mary Farnum-    Well when I was working at the P&C, back during the war (World War II), and I was making $0.30 an hour.  And that was back in í45.  They started hiring women in the front end, or the ìhot endî where nobody but men worked. That job there paid $0.70 an hour.  That was big wages.

Margaret Burgess-    Well now it seems to me I got $75.00 a week, because I thought that was big pay.  I do clearly remember that he gave me $200.00 for vacation that one time.

Mary Farnum-    That was a lot of money back then too.

Margaret Burgess-    That was the only time he did that. I think he did that to spite the other people, thatís all that was done for.

Mary Farnum-    He didnít help to keep things on an even keel.  He kept things bickering between people, back and forth, Because maybe he thought that he was gaining something by getting more work out of you.

Smethport History-    So he liked bickering.  Is that how he was with the businesses that he supplied dolls to?

Mary Farnum-    Maybe, Iím not sure.

Margaret Burgess-    He never wanted to put anything on sale.  His files werenít running ads in the ëPort Allegeny Reporterí but the Popeyeís were in the paper for sale.  Well, Mr. Kallus got mad at the publisher and didnít talk to him for a long while.  That lowered the standards of Mr.Kallus's business.  At Christmas, he would give everyone who worked at the factory a doll as a Christmas present, and they had a choice, either a big one or a small one. He did that every year.

Smethport History-    So he wanted his business to be considered high quality?

Mary Farnum-    Yeah, that was how he wanted it. Very high quality.


Transcribed by Greg Elderkin from the meeting on 10/10/02 with Margaret Burgess and Mary Farnum, in the Lakeview Senior Center of Smethport Pa.

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