Jan Lynds tosses a rag to her son James Lynds as James uses a commercial-grade rag cutter to slice the material at their home in Anson on Tuesday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

James Lynds slid a green T-shirt through the rag-cutting machine and trimmed off the seams, pockets and logos, slick as a whistle.

He placed two, 1-foot-square pieces of cloth carefully into a plastic tote box, repeating the same operation over and over with other clothing items, separating out zippers, buttons and logos.

“He just loves to do it,” his mother, Jan Lynds, said. “He’ll sit there for hours.”

James, 44, has Down syndrome and lives with his mother and father, Bill Lynds, on a scenic hill in Anson that overlooks mountains to the south from every window of the home they built.

A happy, energetic man, James attends the L.C. Dill Center in Skowhegan five days a week where he does all sorts of activities including arts and crafts, and from which he visits museums and animal shelters and helps deliver Meals on Wheels. He has attended the Skills Inc. program for about 20 years. In the summertime, he spends a week at the Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which serves children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities. There, he swims, fishes, boats and camps out, among other things.

At home, he is equally active — and productive. He mows the lawn, splits wood and stacks hay the family grows and sells.


“He’s quite capable of doing a lot of stuff — just not capable enough to live alone,” his mother said.

James also started a cloth-cutting business. He collects used clothing and cuts it up into squares, folds them and packs 1 pound of them into plastic bags to sell to auto mechanics and dealerships and other businesses that use them for cleaning purposes.

James Lynds uses a commercial-grade rag cutter to slice material at his home in Anson on Tuesday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The Dill Center had such a program before the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly fours years ago and James earned a stipend for doing the work. But when the pandemic started the program was discontinued, leaving a void in James’ life, according to his mother. That is when he and his parents got an idea of doing the job at their home.

They bought a rag-cutting machine from New York for $2,800 — an expensive piece of equipment, but it will pay for itself over time, Jan Lynds said. James gives the zippers to thrift stores that can sell them.

“We give buttons to my friend, Aunt Diane,” he said.

They donate other, unusable cloth and clothing to Apparel Impact, which recycles or reuses them.


“Nothing goes to the landfill, so that’s a plus,” said Jan Lynds, a retired health and physical education teacher.

They named the business “Rolling Ridge Rags,” after the road they live on. They sell 1-pound bags of rags for $2.50 each, but if someone buys 20 pounds, they get a 50-cent discount per bag. Anyone wanting to purchase them may call Jan Lynds at 696-3266.

The money James earns pays for his membership at Miller Fitness in Skowhegan, his cellphone and other things he enjoys. He also bought Christmas presents for his family.

“That was the whole idea — you can have some money in your pocket,” Jan Lynds said. “That’s his spending money.”

James Lynds hold strips of buttons and zippers that he cut from rags with a commercial-grade rag cutter at his home in Anson on Tuesday. Lynds is shown with his mother Jan Lynds in the background. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

James works in the garage when the weather is warm, but in winter, the operation is set up in a spare bedroom in the home’s finished basement that also has a view of the mountains.

“When he gets going, he’ll spend the whole afternoon there,” his mother said. “He’ll come up and get a drink or something, but he will go back and fill that box and bring it up to me and I’ll fold and bag and weigh the 1-pound bags.”


When I visited James on Tuesday, he and his mother gave me a tour of the rag-cutting operation as their docile, black and white, 7-year-old German shorthaired pointer, Molly, followed along. James’ dad, Bill, was out delivering fuel for Bob’s Cash Fuel that day. A former 20-year Anson road commissioner and owner of Somerset Greenhouse, he also serves as moderator at Anson town meetings.

As James slipped more cloth into the commercial-grade cutting machine, the motor rumbling softly, he said he also collects bottles and cans and returns them for cash. Between those two ventures and his other activities, he is a busy man. His mother concurred.

“There’s a purpose for everybody and this is a purpose he can do,” she said. “It’s not a chore. He loves doing it.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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