Monday, September 7, 2009

The Barn

I love the way a plain old thing such as a barn or mailbox looks when the sun first comes up in the morning. I can see this old tobacco barn out my back door. I have a love/hate relationship with tobacco barns.

I grew up working on a tobacco farm in the South, when it was way more labor intensive than it is now. I started driving the tractor that pulled the tobacco harvester when I was 8. No umbrella or sunscreen. The tractor creeped along from 7:00 A.M. until... pulling the harvester which carried the workers. There were 4 pairs of workers. Each pair was made up of a cropper who sat on the low seat near the ground and the Tying person who sat above the cropper. The cropper "cropped" the tobacco and handed a hand full of leaves to the Tyer. The Tyer tied it on to tobacco sticks (aka baccer sticks). When the stick was full another worker would take the sticks full of tobacco and stack them neatly in a tobacco trailer being pulled behind the harvester. There were usually other people walking behind the harvester picking up any fallen leaves of tobacco or cropping any missed leaves. There was a lot of skill involved in being able to tie the leaves on the sticks and when I was old enough to assume this job, I was pretty good at it! You were lucky if you got a skilled partner to work with. If it was a bad one, then your job was harder.

When each trailer was full, it was pulled to a tobacco barn like the one in the picture to be hung on the tier poles. The boys and men did this job. There would be an assembly line from the trailer to the boys in the top of the barn, each person handing the next person the tobacco sticks. After the tobacco was cured, the process was reversed. The tobacco had to be taken out of the barn and prepared for the market. This was usually done in packhouses. The sticks were placed on "tobacco horses" where the leaves were taken off the sticks and placed into tobacco sheets and then taken to the market.

Lots of people who worked in the tobacco fields in those days have fond memories of all this. Not me! All I can say is that it was hot and dirty. Sometimes the Nicotine or the poison sprayed on the tobacco leaves would make me sick which meant I was nauseated for several hours. There were tobacco worms! YUCK! and NO, I do not now or have I ever smoked.

So, what's the love part of the love/hate relationship with tobacco barns? Well, now you can see them scattered throughout the countryside, dilapidated and over grown with vines. They are part of my past and the history of the South. And, Lord willing, I will never have to work in one again!

I hope you are having a peaceful and restful Labor Day! I know many of my North Carolina readers have memories similar to mine about growing up on a tobacco farm. What kinds of memories do you have of growing up on a farm or in the city?


Anonymous said...

Yes, Dear, I do have memories, but I believe that mine are even more labor intensive than yours. No seats on a harvestor for the croppers. They walked; the leaves were dropped in a 'sled' which was pulled by a horse or mule. Then to the shed by the barn where there were 'handers' and 'tyers' as well as someone to 'take off sticks.' These were stacked; only when the croppers came from the field did we start with your scenario where the 'assembly line'
relayed the sticks of tied leaves to the poles in the barn.

Also, after curing, and the reverse process of getting the tobacco out of the barn and into the pack house, we took it off the sticks, graded it by quality, tied it into more bundles, packed it carefully, kept it in 'good order' and finally took it to market. No simply putting it into sheets.

I must say that even with the labor intensive memories and my current aversion to tobacco, those loads of beautifully tied bundles of golden leaf were a sight to behold!!


Pen Pen said...

Oh yes, girl.... been there, done that. Which was my incentive to be a nurse and work INSIDE in the a/c. However, there have been bad days in nursing that I would have loved to be outside and getting dirty and sticky from tobacco gum. We called the croppers...primers... my brothers primed tobacco.

Susan said...

I have never worked a day in my life in a tobacco barn (although I grew up in the South), but my husband sure has. He was one of those little boys working in the barn hanging the sticks of tobacco! His 90-year-old granddaddy still lives on that farm - he was born, raised, married, and lived in this same house his entire life - and next to his mile-long driveway is the tobacco barn that looks just like yours. Your post was a nice surprise for me to read this morning; reminded me much of my husband's granddaddy, whom I love like my own!

Heather said...

wow that's a very cool fact to learn about you! and about tobacco farming. thanks for sharing :)

ancient one said...

My days of working in tobacco sound the same as Marjorie's. I "handed" tobacco... more than tying "looping"...I wasn't as fast as others... Much later when bulk barns came along, I worked a couple of days for someone. We took the tobacco off the tobacco "trucks" (small trailers) by the arm fulls... I got so sick doing that... I had to stop. Every afternoon, I was throwing up when I got home.

I love your picture of that tobacco barn. They are disappearing fast around my neck of the woods. Mr. Williams (Trade Stores) home place is not too far from us. He has had one of his tobacco barns restored to its original condition. I expect it will be here for quite some time.

Enjoyed your post today... memories that I really don't want to relive either..

Alexandra said...

No outdoor work memories, but I do love those big flat tobacco baskets that I see at the flea markets over the border here in Va.

Thanks for sharing - interesting for the outsider point of view. :)

I lived overseas in all sorts of different countries; I think my hardships were just not having a permanent home or roots.

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