Early in the Spring one hitched four head to a turning plow to flat break the land. A turning plow throws the dirt to the right. It has two handles in the rear for the man to hold only and turn the plow. The plow is at the end of a steel beam bent a little over 90 degrees. At the other end was a vertical plate with six or eight holes running vertically with the plate. The team is hitched in one of these holes, and by moving the pin up, the point of the plow points down. If it is plowing too deep, the pin is lowered , throwing the point of the plow up, making it possible to adjust the depth to six or eight inches. The plow made about a ten inch wide cut each pass, so if the row was ½ mile long and the team moved at two miles per hour, he would turn four rows an hour 4 X 10 = 40" per hour. Ten hours would move across the field 33 feet. What it amounted to was long, monotonous, bone aching weary work for both man and his team.
The next step was listing, or making beds or furrows. This plow threw dirt evenly both to the left and right, so if the plow was 6 inches deep, the dirt on each side would make mound 6" high, making 12" from top to bottom. Then when the soil temp. reached 75 degrees at a 6 inch depth, or when the farmers wife threw the sheet off the bed and was laying in a pool of sweat, it was warm enough to plant cotton. The cotton planter was the lister with a planter box added. The bed, thrown up earlier by the lister, was warm and moist down in the center where the seed was planted. Cotton seed then wasn’t delinted, so the man planting had to watch very carefully that the planter didn’t clog and fail to drop seed. Following the seed drop was a packing wheel to firm the dirt so that there was no loose soil to dry out down to the seed. At the same time, the cotton was planted, there were also being planted millions of crab grass, careless week, goathead and grass burr seeds and they would all emerge at the same time. Cotton comes up in a bow shape, then straightens up all at once, which is called "shanking up". This makes the cotton 2 inches tall while the grass and weeds are ¼ to ½ inch high. Now the farmer must plow promptly throwing dirt up on the young cotton plant about 1 inch. The cotton was still 1 inch above dirt while the others were buried. However, no one being perfect, it didn’t work out 100 percent, so what was missed by family - children from five up and the mother, thus the whole family was involved all summer. The sun beating down, water in a crock jug with a piece of burlap wrapped around, barefeet on the hot ground, day after hot weary day with prospect that in the fall there would be cotton picking for the whole family until after Christmas.
Cotton picking started when a few boles opened near the bottom of the stalk. Each picker had a canvas sack with a strap over his left shoulder, varying in length from 4 feet for the children to 16 feet for the men. Each wore a pair of knee pads and the picker varied between bending over to kneeling to pick. A bale of ungined cotton was 1200 pounds, making a 500 pound ginned bale. A real good man could pick 300 - 350 pounds and most women about 200 - 250 pounds and so on down to the toddlers who picked at random into a flower sack. Cotton on average land made ½ bale to the acre. When times were good, ginned cotton sold for $75.00 per bale. The landlord got ¼ or $18.75 of each bale. After paying for the ginning and seed, maybe the farmer had $40.00. If he had 80 acres of cotton, he could possibly clear $1500 - $1600 cash for him and his family for a year’s back breaking work. The reason I went into such details was to show the planning, knowledge, the skill and hard work involved. If the farmer missed one step of this process, if one of his mules died, if he got sick at the critical time, he lost it all. He also had dust storm, drought, hail, cyclones, floods, grasshoppers - any of which could cause disaster. There was an old story about a farmer who contended with all these things throughout his life, and upon his death went to hell. He was there six months before he noticed the difference.
Back to James Needham Groom's Page
Back to Groom Street