yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

Hauling County to the Gin

by Harlan Blount

Sallie and Latham Blount

Sallie and Latham Blount

Life on the Blount farm in west Tennessee during the 1930's was typical for many families in the rural South. The Great Depression was present everywhere; jobs were almost non-existent and the majority of familes worked and lived on small farms. On the Blount, farm cotton was the major source of cash income. The soil was not very fertile and the U.S. Government farm subsidy program limited the number of acres of cotton that a farmer could grow. The Blount farm was only allowed to grow 3.5 acres of cotton. Since the soil was not very fertile, the expected production was about 2 or 3 bales of cotton. A bale of cotton would normally weigh about 500 pounds after it was processed at the gin to separate the cotton fibre from the seeds. The owner of the gin was also the local buyer of cotton and the cotton seeds. In 1938 cotton sold for about 7 cents per pound, and a 500 pound bale would bring $35.

During the months of September and October cotton matured and the white locks (strands) of cotton containing seeds extended from the bowls which had grown on the cotton plants during the summer. The maturing process caused the cotton bowl which was about 1.5 inches in diameter to pop open. The pointed end of the bowl would produce sharp points not quite as sharp as the thorns of a rose. Farm families inlcuding children from age 7 or 8 would drag pick sacks behind them and pluck the locks of cotton from the rows of cotton. A proficient cotton picker could pick about 200 pounds of cotton each day. About 1100 pounds of cotton with the seeds inside was required to produce a bale of cotton fiber.

The Blount family would work for 3 days picking the bale of cotton. Each time the pick sack was filled, it was weighed before the cotton was dumped into the wagon equipped with high sideboards. A record of each sack weighed was kept in order to know when enough cotton was loaded to produce a bale of cotton. The gin was very busy at this time of year since many farmers throughout the south end of the county were bringing their cotton to be ginned.

The wagon had been loaded and parked under a storage shed one October evening. Early the next morning about 3:00AM Latham harnessed the team of mules and hitched them to the wagon to haul the load of cotton to the gin. Harlan was almost 6 years old and was going to get to ride with his dad this morning to see the ginning operation. It was rather cold with frost appearing all over the plants and roof tops. Harlan dug a shallow trench in the cotton under the canvas covering and kept warm. The ride was rather long since it was 6 miles from the farm to the cotton gin in Decaturville. As the team struggled to pull the loaded wagon of cotton up the hill, the brigtht moon was shining down among the tall trees which lined the winding gravel road. Harlan could hear the distant Hoo-o-t, Hooo-o-ting of an owl. About half way to the gin, Latham drove the wagon and team of mules off the gravel road into a shallow creek to give the mules a drink and to soak the wooden wheels. This was necessary to expand the wheels and keep the steel rims from slipping off the wheels of the old wagon. It took about an hour to drive to the gin.

When they arrived at the gin, Latham took his position in the line of wagons and a few trucks which were waiting to have their cotton unloaded and ginned. Harlan was cold, and he was allowed to go inside the office where the weight master and pay master worked for the gin owner. After waiting several hours, Latham was ready to unload the cotton. The gin had a vacuum device which sucked the loose cotton with seed inside up into an overhead bin. From this point the cotton was shaken loosely along the row of ginning machines which separated the seed from the cotton. The cotton fibers were carried through a metal tube to the press, and the seeds were carried away to an overhead bin farther along line of wagons. When the wagon was empty, Latham drove it to the position under the seed bin and collected the seeds which could be used for animal feed and next year's planting or sold.

The bale of cotton would be bound with a covering of brown burlap and steel bands before it was released from the powerful press. The bale would be about 4 feet tall and about 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. As it tumbled out of the press, it would be weighted and graded by an employee of the gin. The weight ticket and a grading ticket would be given to Latham, and he would then drive his wagon outside to a parking space. When he took his weight ticket and grading ticket to the office, the pay master would write a check to purchase the bale of cotton.

Harlan was excited now. With a check for $35 they could go to the dry goods store in Decaturville and buy a new pair of shoes, 3 or 4 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of overalls, 2 shirts, 2 pairs of winter (long johns) underwear, and a jacket for about $10. Oh! yes, Harlan's dad would let Harlan buy some gum and candy for 5 cents to eat on the way home. Along the road on the way home, they would purchase a half bushel of Winesap apples for 50 cents from a farmer who had an orchard. The apples would be eaten raw and also cooked and used to make apple pies.

When they arrived home early in the afternoon, Sallie excitedly examined all the new clothes that had been purchased for Harlan. Sometimes she would decide that the price and quality was not as good as those available in the Sears mail order catalong. She would take them back to the store the next trip to Decaturville for a refund. Then she would order the clothing from the Sears catalog. It would take 3 or 4 days for the order to go to Memphis and return by U.S. Mail. Postage was very cheap - a first class letter cost 3 cents!

All of the Blounts went right back to the cotton field to pick the rest of the cotton before rain came and damaged the crop. Fall was a very busy time on the farm. Everyone had to work hard to harvest the many crops before frost and feezing weather came and killed the plants.

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