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Last Bobbin Mill Closes in Quebec

WHEN the truck pulled out three weeks ago, the last manufacturer of wooden bobbins - the spindles used to gather yarn in the textile industry - joined the ranks of industries extinct in North America.

Progress for most of us, the end of a way of life for the Labranche family.

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''My father started making bobbins in 1956,'' says Martial Labranche, manager of the plant in South Bolton, Quebec. He stands in the quiet factory with his son Andre and his brother Victor.

The maple trees that cover the hills nearby were the raw material for the bobbins, used in the textile mills of South Carolina.

The firm bought up rivals in southern Quebec and Vermont, becoming the continent's largest bobbinmaker. In 1984 it was acquired by Steel Headle, a Greenville, S.C., textilemaker. At its peak the mill directly employed 25 people, making 38,000 bobbins a day. That sank to 9,500 a day in recent years, with 10 people, four of them Labranches.

Technological change has helped North American textile producers remain competitive, but ''the new technology they came out with doesn't use bobbins at all,'' Mr. Labranche says.

Technology almost put this small company out of business once before. ''They tried plastic bobbins but they didn't work,'' says his son Andre. ''The fibers in maple give the bobbin strength plastics don't have.''

Steel Headle is offering the family a chance to buy the mill back. Martial Labranche says he wants to. ''It's a shame to let the building go to waste.''

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