By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Ray Cox started out to be a photographer. But, a lack of film right after World War II led him down another career path.
That was a fortunate turn of events for generations of seamstresses who have relied on Cox’s self-taught skills to repair their sewing machines.
Cox developed his skills in the late 1940s when he went to work for Rice-Stix, a clothing manufacturing company. They began operations downtown at the old gymnasium.
“I got a job during the first year it was there,” Cox said. “I was working on sewing machines. I trained myself. It kind of came natural to me.”
He learned to sew at the family shoe repair store where he occasionally helped out. His father, Robert Cox, and his uncle operated the Champion Shoe Shop. The business name came from the brand name of the equipment they used.
Rice-Stix moved to Central Street and North Main and Cox worked on the 118 machines in the pants department. “I stayed busy,” he said.
Along with broken machines, he had to deal with some cantankerous co-workers. Cox told of one of the ladies who was never satisfied with a machine for very long.
“She would have to have another motor or she would say that one over there is faster,” he said. “It got to where I would unplug her machine and unhook a wire.”
The next morning Cox would reconnect the wire and make her think he had done some miraculous repair to her machine. “That would satisfy her for a little while.”
Back in those days Cox was paid $.55 an hour. Once he told his bosses it was time for a raise and they gave him another nickel an hour. Finally the union came in and his pay went to $.75 an hour. “They were tight,” he commented.
Cox worked for Rice-Stix for over 14 years before leaving in the early 1960s to sell insurance. However, he continued working on sewing machines. “I’m still in it,” he said.
“I don’t intend to ever stop helping people with their machines.”