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Truckin tobacco

Back in the 50's and 60's, tobacco was grown here in North Carolina on small family farms.A farmer might tend 5-6 acres of the crop the 'old way' with pole barns and doing everything by hand. A bigger farmer might have 10-15 acres and do it the 'old way' or with a Silent Flame' tobacco harvester, a contraption that moved at a snails pace through the field carrying the primers or 'croppers' on the bottom level and the loopers or 'stringers' on the top level.Most of the smaller operators had a crew of 4-6 primers or 'croppers' walking in the field picking the leaves by hand and putting them into a home-made trailer or 'tobacco truck' that was pulled down an empty row or 'truck row' by a small tractor and pulled to the barn when full. Since most farms had a tobacco barn or two located beside the tobacco patch, this was not a long trip. The average tobacco grower back then had a 1 row tractor. He might have a Farmall A, and Allis Chalmers B or less frequently a John Deere M depending upon the local dealer (usually the one that was easiest with credit) The 1 row tractor was used to plow land, pull a small disc to smooth the field and to run rows and cultivate the tobacco. More prosperous farmers often had another tractor, maybe a Ford 8N or 641, a Ferguson 35 or the equivalent in another brand. This larger rig was mostly used before transplanting tobacco to break up the soil with a moldboard plow or disc.In addition, those farmers that planted corn or cotton used the 2 row tractor to plant and cultivate. During tobacco harvesting time or 'barning tobacco' both the small and large tractors were used for hauling the trailers of tobacco leaves to the barn or 'trucking' tobacco. This was a highly sought after job for young boys that were too young to be a full hand in the field or to hang tobacco at the barn. Many kids got their drivers training 'trucking' tobacco. Believe me, I know that a Ford 641 will only do about 15 miles per hour, but when you are doing it down a narrow truck row with leaves and stalks whipping by your head, it feels like you're in NASCAR. Once in a while an unlucky tractor jockey would turn a corner on a path too fast and the trailer would spill its contents of green tobacco all into the ditch or on to the path. This was viewed as a major 'faux pas' and if you did it twice, you wound up at the barn handing bundles of tobaco from the trailer to the looper. This was considered a child's job and was a great insult to the self esteem of an adolescent male.

Bill Radford, NC, entered 2011-10-10
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