Monday, October 20, 2008
COTTON WAS A "CASH CROP BACK THEN'
Back in the era of the 'honey harvest' described in the last entry there were thousands of small farmers tilling the soil. Cotton was one of the crops that could produce some cash after a season's work, planting and caring for it to maturity.
Soon after the honey harvest experience our family moved out to the edge of the small town, rented a place that had a couple acres of rich garden soil. We planted various vegetables canned and prepared for the coming winter. Besides having a surplus of good vegetables, the fence rows had numerous sand plum trees loaded with fruit. Mother filled dozens of jars with plum butter and jelly made with blackberries which were plentiful, growing wild.
Near our home a Company decided to build a new cotton gin. Many area farmers raised cotton, especially the ones having a houseful of kids. The Cotton Gin construction began and was looked forward to because it would save a seven or eight mile trip in cotton picking time. Hauled by team and wagon.
Work progressed nicely as the framework of the Gin was half completed. While standing in our yard I heard the Gin framework crashing to the ground. An unexpected windstorm.
It was a setback though the Company official declared he rebuild and be in operating condition for cotton picking time. That he did, having extra crews helping.With the first big heaped up big load of cotton picked and loaded, along came a neighbor, mules stepping right along on the way to the Gin, big Henry sitting up there smoking that corncob pipe, waving as he passed by.
Everyone around cotton country including big Henry knew that it was a No No to smoke near a load of cotton or in a cotton Gin.
When a load of cotton is burning it is very secretive. No smell or indication it is on fire. That mysterious flame quickly sweeps over the surface and bides it's time to do it again.
Those old time Gins had a unique unloading system. The mules are driven in pulling the wagon, stopped in a position so the wagon may be tipped up to slide the cotton out. A bale of cotton weighed 500 pounds and a large wagon load could make a bale.
We kids were working in the big garden, at least dad had told us what to be working on. We spent a lot of time just sitting in the shade though one of us would always watch to see if dad was coming and give the alarm to start working.
I was the one watching and saw rolling smoke coming out of the new Cotton Gin. I told the other kids and as we watched, out of the drive on the exit side of the Gin came those mules with old big Henry really laying reins leather on them. That corncob pipe had been the dirty culprit and the unloading commotion had caused the flame to generate and out of control.
The Gin burned to the ground and big Henry suffered a singed beard and the mules singed tails.
Cottonseed can be used to make Gunpowder. sam