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Date archive for: September 2015

Hahira Goldleaf Column September 16, 2015

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It is good to be back in Georgia. I am struggling with a cold but we made it back to the states on Thursday the tenth. The jet lag from a twenty-three-hour trip and this cold is taking its toll on me. We are spending a few days in the Dalton area and then we plan on leaving for Lowndes County either Saturday or Sunday. It will be so good to see family and friends, and I am looking forward to the Honeybee Festival, my forty-year class reunion, and the book signing.

Last week when I left you, we had cropped, cooked and delivered the tobacco to the warehouse. Now for the fun part–sale day! The baskets of tobacco were lined up in long rows waiting for the sale day to start. Prior to the sale employees of the FDA-USCS office would grade the tobacco and put the minimum price on each basket or sheet of tobacco. This price served as the minimum acceptable price based on the government grader. If the tobacco did not sell at this minimum graded price, the government would extend a loan to the farmer under the CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) as a price support for the farmer. The government graders stayed ahead of the sale by two to three rows.

At ten o’clock AM, the owner of the warehouse along with the auctioneer and the tobacco company buyers would line up at the first basket of tobacco. The warehouseman would look to make sure everyone was present. The lineup was the warehouseman, auctioneer and then two rows of buyers one either side of the row of tobacco. The tobacco company that purchased the most tobacco the previous year was given the choice of being first in the lineup, either beside the auctioneer or directly in front. The warehouseman would look at the ticketed price from the government grader and would start the bidding at the graded price or higher.

The job of the warehouseman and auctioneer was to get the best price for the farmer. No one ever wanted to see the tobacco go as a CCC price support loan. Often, to keep this from happening the warehouse would buy the sheet of tobacco at a price slightly higher than the government-graded price. If this happened, the auctioneer would announce, “Sold to the house.”

The warehouse got paid a commission for selling the tobacco and out of this money the auctioneer was paid a commission. It was in the warehouse’s and auctioneer’s best interest to sell at the highest price possible–the higher the price of the tobacco, the more the warehouse and auctioneer received. If the farmer was not happy with the price he would tear up the ticket and after the sale he could take the tobacco home.

The auctioneer had to “sing-song” the auction, watch the various signals from the buyers. He was a busy man and watching and listening to the auctioneers always amazed me.

Even more amazing was the one man that walked behind the auction. He was the “calculator”. Remember this is before the time of ten-key calculators. This man could multiply, in his head, the number of pounds by the selling price per pound and write the total on the ticket. After the calculator, another person would follow him and pull copies of the tickets to take back to the business office of the warehouse. The business office would take these receipts, list them per farmer, and issue a check to the farmer.

The sale would continue until every sheet of tobacco in the warehouse sold. The next day the buyers would move to another warehouse and the process continued. After the sale, big transfer trucks would back up to the warehouse doors, and the bought tobacco was loaded into the trucks for the journey to the cigarette factories in North Carolina and Virginia.

The tobacco that the “house” bought was taken to a rework room in the back of the warehouse. Workers there would shake the sand out of the sand lugs and blend the cheaper sand lugs with the better tobacco from higher up the tobacco stalk. This reworked tobacco would be put back on the floor, and the house would try and sell this tobacco at the next sale for a higher price.

The tobacco buyers lived in rented rooms and apartments in Hahira. The companies would rent offices in the old post office on Railroad Street, Hahira Hardware’s warehouse and other locations throughout town. Sometimes on sale days the circuit riders would come into town. These were the tobacco buyer’s bosses. They would visit their offices in the various towns in South Georgia to check on their buyers. It was easy to spot them. They would arrive in town in chauffeured limousines. No one liked the arrival of the circuit riders because once they came into town the price of tobacco would drop.

With checks in hand, the farmers would settle up the bills they had made with the stores earlier in the year–fertilizer bills, pesticide bills, grocery bills, and bank loans. Any money left was spent at the various stores in town.

My parent’s first store was across the street from my parent’s store. During tobacco season, my dad would get up early in the morning and cook a huge pot of boiled peanuts. When they were ready, we would bag them in small brown bags and twist “ears” on each corner. He would take a box and tie a string from side to the other. The string would go around my neck and he would fill the box with bags of peanuts. I would sell boiled peanuts in the tobacco warehouses–ten cents per bag.

My older brother, Junior, had a small grill at the end of our store where he would sell hot dogs, snow cones, and soft drinks. A few years later Daddy built a fast food restaurant at the other end of our grocery store, and Junior’s Burger and Dairy Bar was born.

Next week, I will finish with tobacco and tell you about how an incident during tobacco season almost sent me to the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. It’s a story that still gives me nightmares and will maybe shed some light on why this Spearman boy is a “little touched in the head.”

Hahira Goldleaf Column September 9, 2015

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Last week, when I left you, we were in the middle of tobacco season. Farmer’s trucks filled the streets waiting their turn to enter the tobacco warehouse to unload. People lined the sidewalks and packed Cohen’s Department Store and other shops in Hahira.

It was like the Honeybee Festival less the exhibits. There was a “Tobacco Ball”, a yearly dance held at the high school gymnasium and every year Hahira crowned a Tobacco Ball Queen.

City boys worked in the warehouses under the direction of Mr. B.J. Miley and Mr. Jim Reeves. The boys from the farms accompanied their fathers into town riding on the sheets of tobacco on the back of the trucks.

In case you have forgotten or have never experienced a tobacco season, please allow me to give you a rundown on how it worked. Please remember, I am writing this from a 1960s perspective. A lot of processes and procedures have changed since then.

South Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia grew flu-cured tobacco. Kentucky and Tennessee grew Burley tobacco, a completely different type of tobacco and process. High heat in a tobacco barn in a tobacco barn cooked the flu-cured tobacco like an oven baking bread.

As the leaves ripen up the stalk, the tobacco was harvested, about three leaves per time. The first cropping consists of the three leaves at the bottom of the stalk and nearest the ground. First cropped was the bottom three leaves or “sand lugs”, called this because the heavy spring and summer rains would splash sand and dirt on them. These sand lugs were often the first to sell and brought the cheapest price on the market. The second cropping, the next three leaves up the stalk, referred to as the “priming” and brought a better price.

A “sled” served as the container for the harvest leaves. The sled was a big wooden box or crate with runners at the bottom to allow it to move across the ground. When filled the sled a tractor dragged it to the tobacco barn. Workers unloaded the sled and placed the tobacco on waist-high, wooden shelves outside the tobacco barn. Stationed at these shelves were the “hander” and the “stringer”. The hander would grab a handful of leaves by the stems, all turned in the same direction with the stems up to the stringer. The stringer would then loop the small white cotton twine around the handful of leaves and attach it to a tobacco stick. The tobacco stick was a wooden stick about one-inch square and thirty-six inches long (don’t hold me to these measurements, I am doing this from memory). The stringer would continue looping and stringing the tobacco leaves until she filled the stick. The cropping was almost always done by the men while the women and young girls did the handing and stringing.

I don’t know the procedure at other folks’ barns, but at my dad’s the ladies would place the strung tobacco back in an empty sled. It would sit there until the men finished cropping and returned to the barn. The men would then hang the filled tobacco sticks in the barn. Inside the barn was a series of horizontal beams (tier poles). The spacing between these tier poles was a little shorter than the width of the tobacco stick. They ran the length and width of the barn, from top to the bottom. Someone would climb to the top and place a foot on one tier pole and the place their other foot on the other parallel beam. He had to maintain his balance while leaning down as someone passed the tobacco to him. He filled the top series of parallel beams and then moved over and down until the barn could hold no more, from left to right, top to bottom. Daddy spared me from doing this job because my legs were too short to reach from one tier pole to the next.

I wish I could say that working in tobacco was fun. It was hard work, but everyone had a good time, laughing and joking and telling stories. Some of the hardest work was cropping tobacco in the hot summer heat. Croppers would get sick, on the verge of sunstroke, a condition known in the tobacco field as getting “bear caught.”

After filling the barn, the farmer started the cookers. In the early 1940s and before the cookers were wood fired. Someone had to stay with the barn while the tobacco cooked adding more wood and stoking the fire. In the late 1940s and 1950s, farmers changed their cookers to propane gas, so there was no need for someone to sit and mind the fire. The tobacco cooked in the barns for about seven days. The farmer checked the leaves throughout the cooking. One test was to check the stems. Wet stems meant the tobacco was not cooked.

After cooking, the workers unloaded the barn, and they unstrung the tobacco from the sticks. The farmer or his workers placed the tobacco in burlap tobacco sheets, tied the sheets at the corners, and loaded on the truck. In Hahira, farmer’s trucks would line up waiting to enter the warehouse and unload.

In the early 1960s, a warehouse worker would place a latticed wooden basket on a cart and push it to the farmer’s truck. Workers then dumped the sheet of tobacco into the basket. Another worker wheeled the basket and cart to the scales for weighing. The weight limit for a single pile of tobacco was two hundred pounds. After the sale, the tobacco was once again dumped back onto another sheet for loading onto the transport trucks bound for the factories in North Carolina and Virginia. In the late 60s or early 70s someone decided this sheeting, dumping and re-sheeting was a redundant process. They discontinued the use of wooden baskets. The farmers had to buy a specific type of tobacco sheet for delivery to the warehouse. Warehouse workers carted and weighed the sheeted tobacco but no longer dumped it into the baskets. The warehouse gave the farmer an equal number of sheets in exchange.

So we’ve cropped it, cooked it and brought it to market. Next week, we will talk about the market and the impact it had on Hahira, its economy and its citizens. This week may have been boring to some, but I wanted to put everything in perspective and get it down in print before moving on. Those were great times, and I wish I had started writing about this sooner in my life while I could remember more.

We leave for home on Wednesday the 9th and arrive in Atlanta on the morning of the 10th. Your prayers please as we cross the big pond. We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the Honeybee Festival.  And also at the book signing at Frogtown South Winery on October 8th from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. RSVP for the event on Facebook or send me an email at robert@pressary.com and let me know you are coming. We need to know how many cans of sardines and Vienna sausages to buy for appetizers. (That was a joke, it will be Saltines and peanut butter.)

Hahira Goldleaf Column September 2, 2015

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Listen. Listen real close. Shut out all the sounds around you and you can still hear the echoes of those hot summer days, the ghost of times past.

An echo of a nasally, sing-song chant…”Hey, hey forty dollar, forty dollar, do I hear forty-five? Forty-five now fifty? Fifty dollar, fifty dollar, fifty-three. Fifty-three, fifty-three, sold to Lolly. Now forty-five, start forty-five, fifty? Fifty-one dollar, fifty-one, fifty-one! Sold to American.” And it would start again, sometimes it would end in “sold to Reynolds” or “sold to the house.”

The auctioneer’s chant, the smell, the sights, the sounds of our little town during the months of July and August. It was the season and the culmination of everyone’s efforts since February of that year. The dust that gave up its pungent aroma. The smell that I can still remember to this day. The smell of hard work, the smell of money, the smell of flu-cured tobacco. It was tobacco season time in Hahira, it was GOLDLEAF time!

Hahira’s five tobacco warehouses sat like monstrous, empty, tin tombs throughout most the year. But for eight weeks in the middle of the summer they became alive and filled to the brim with tobacco, farmers, buyers, warehousemen, and laborers. Occasionally, you could spot a chubby, towheaded boy selling ten-cent bags of boiled peanuts from the grocery next door to Mr. Wallace’s “Farmer’s Warehouse.”

Mr. Wallace owned three warehouses and another person, I can’t remember the name, but I think it was a Mr. Lee, owned the other two. Some of you might say there were four warehouses in town. That is true, but there was one across the overpass at I-75, which was later demolished to make way for Day’s Inn and Tasty World.

For the farmers, the process started as early as February. Preparing seed beds to plant the small seeds with varieties like “Hicks Broadleaf” and “Coker 139.” These tiny little seeds were like gold and in the 1960s sold for ten dollars per ounce or more. The seed beds were prepared and the seeds were planted and covered with a fine cotton cheesecloth to protect them from bugs, critters, and the elements.As the weather began to warm in March and April, the tiny little plants would burst through the soil, waiting to be pulled from their beds and carried to the tobacco fields for transplanting in April.

While the plants were sprouting in their beds, the tobacco warehouses were making preparation for the season too. The warehouses only had a few electric lights and the lighting was supplied by rows and columns of skylights on the roofs of the warehouses.

The warmer spring weather brought roofing crews to Hahira. They would nail wooden rigs with pulleys to the sides and roofs of the warehouses. Large, black tar cookers would be towed into town and the smell of cooking tar permeated Hahira. This thick, hot goo was applied to the edges of the skylights, roof seams and on other holes to prevent the rain from leaking into the warehouse during the rainy days of July and August. The contraction and expansion of the tin roof from the cold days of winter to the warm days of spring made this annual ritual a necessity.

The farmers were busy transplanting the small plants in the fields. This consisted of a transplanting machine pulled behind a tractor that would seat two people. The transplanter would open a trench and the people sitting on the transplanter would feed the small plants into a chain controlled belt which delivered the tobacco plant to the newly opened furrow. A second “foot” on the transplanter would close the furrow behind the plant. A water tank mounted on the tractor delivered water to the furrow and the newly planted tobacco. Behind the tractor-drawn transplanter, someone would walk with a hand planter to plant the seedlings where the mechanical transplanter missed.

Sometime in mid-April or early May Mr. Dixon Wallace would come to town. He was a small, thin man and he owned three of the five tobacco warehouses in Hahira. I still remember seeing him walk from the warehouse named “Hahira Number One” and cross in front of Charles Cornelius’s station on his way to his Farmer’s Warehouse.

Farmer’s Warehouse was across the small street from my parent’s store and every year he would stop in and say hello. He also would bring me two gifts. One was a quarter that he would make disappear by sleight of hand and then pull from my ear. The other was a genuine, tobacco buyer and warehouseman’s sweatband. These sweatbands were worn around the head and positioned so the foam rubber pad was on the forehead. Their purpose was to keep the sweat out of the eyes of the buyers and auctioneers and other folks involved in the sale.

Mr. Wallace would inspect the warehouses and return to his home in Smithfield, North Carolina and return a few weeks before the beginning of the market in Hahira. During the off season, the warehouses were looked after by the “most level headed man in Hahira”, B.J. Miley. Mr. B.J. was a short man, maybe around five foot three but could work the socks off a man twice his size. B.J. oversaw the warehouses and managed the local workers.

My dad and a few others called him the “most level-headed man in Hahira” because B.J. loved chewing tobacco. When he had a wad in his mouth the tobacco juice would run down both sides of his chin evenly–thus indicating a “level head.”  His brand was a plug tobacco called “Brown’s Mule.” He also loved his short boy Cokes. This column is named partially in memory of Mr. B.J. I loved to watch him sit in my dad’s store and listen to the stories they would spin with the other men of Hahira.

Joe Griffin is a couple of years younger than me and he worked for B.J. in the warehouse. I checked with him to make sure that my recollection of B.J.’s tobacco was correct. Joe confirmed for me that “Brown’s Mule” was indeed B.J.’s tobacco of choice but added that he could be seen with a pouch of “Beechnut” on occasion.

B.J. was loved by many. The boys and men that worked for him were treated fairly, but they learned from him to work hard. He would joke and kid with the workers but when it was time to work, it was work and no foolishness. B.J. was a hard-working man that kept the tobacco warehouses in Hahira purring like a litter of kittens after a bowl of warm milk. He will always be in my memory and in the memory of those that knew him.

Next week, we will hang around the tobacco warehouses a little longer and take you inside the market and hopefully bring back some memories of those times and places. A time when not a parking place could be found on the streets of Hahira. Tobacco season and boiled peanuts, oh how I miss those days. Precious memories, how they linger.

Hahira Goldleaf Column August 26, 2015

I didn’t get any emails concerning last week’s article, so I am assuming, and hoping, that I got most of the details right. This week may prove to be a little more challenging to my old memory cells.

Before we move on I want to go back to fishing for a minute and how it relates to some of our local expressions and words that are unique to our part of the world. The particular word I am thinking of is “mess.”

Growing up, you didn’t catch a “lot of fish” you caught a “mess of fish.” Folks did not bring you some butter beans or mustard greens from the garden. They brought you a “mess” of them. The only exception to this is when you bought a “bushel basket” or a “peck” of something. For me, there was always some confusion as to what constituted a bushel or a peck. I know that four pecks make a bushel. What made a peck always seemed to be some arbitrary number. Pecks and bushels are dry measurements and things, like ears of corn, were hard to fit in the requirements because of their size. So, let’s just leave it as a mess and I plan on eating a mess of catfish when I get home next month.

Okay, enough of the language lesson let’s walk up Main Street from Littleton’s Bait and Tackle. Some of the places I mention will cover a span of time and I will try and note that.

Walking up from Littleton’s, on the right side of Main Street is the Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church. At the church I attended, I always became a little anxious if the preacher went past noon. Then even more bothered if some long-winded Brother pushed the closing prayer to a dismissal of 12:30–mama’s roast was in the oven waiting for me. But I really felt sorry for the folks at Magnolia Missionary Baptist. If you rode by at two or two-thirty those folks were still in church and going strong.

A few steps from Magnolia toward downtown was a service station. I can’t remember who ran it, and I want to say it also served as a Greyhound bus stop in later years, but I am not completely sure about that. I know that Cowart’s Appliances was the Greyhound station at one time, and we will talk about that when we move over to Church Street. I think it may have been a Sinclair station, you know the one with the dinosaur, but I may be dreaming.

Sitting behind this station and to the side was a big barn that I often thought could have been a horse stable or something. I think the city stored road equipment there, and it later became the location of Clanton’s Welding.

On the corner of the street, the corner of Main and South Hall Street was a bar and pool hall owned by Mr. Lester Taylor. He was Sonny Taylor’s father and the late Ms. Alice Pearl Taylor’s husband.

I was five years old, and the Taylors practically adopted me. Mr. Taylor would come get me from my parent’s store, and I would eat lunch with him and Ms. Alice Pearl.

Then I would go with him to buy cucumbers. In addition to the bar, he bought these during the season in Hahira and Barney. He had this huge grading machine with a conveyor belt. He would dump the farmer’s cucumbers on the machine, and the machine would sort the cucumbers by their size and drop them into a basket. I remember staring at the machine for hours, it was fascinating. Sometimes, on the way to Barney, we would stop to check on things at the bar. It was the first place I remember seeing the big jars of pickled eggs and pickled hot sausages.

This location over the years was home to Martin Auto Parts and then Passmore Auto Parts. Mr. Taylor also had another building around on Church Street, but we’ll talk about that and the pet alligator when I get to that part of town.

Years later, after the auto parts stores, the building was demolished and became the location of Hahira’s first Dollar General Store.

Let’s go back down the street to Magnolia Missionary Baptist and cross the street to the other side of Main. On that side was Boykin’s Service Station owned by Julian Boykin. I can’t remember what was there before Boykin’s, but Boykin’s and Charles Cornelius’s Station (further up on Main) were the two places that my parents and most other folks came for tires, batteries, and general car repair.

Next door to Boykin’s was Ralph Norris’s used car lot. Mr. Norris wore tinted glasses, and a hat with a tiny feather in the band. He was a snappy dresser. I’m sure if you looked in Webster’s dictionary for “used car salesman” there would be a picture of Ralph Norris next to the definition. The lot had a roofed overhang near the sidewalk where he parked some of his inventory and then a small office further back on the lot. This car lot later became the site of Hahira’s first Suwannee Swifty Store and is now Joyce’s Fried Chicken.

That brings us up to where Main Street intersects with South Hall Street, and it is here we are going to take a slight detour off Main. We will turn right onto South Hall and go up about 50 yards behind Mr. Taylor’s building to a small block building sitting slightly off the road. There is smoke boiling out of the back of the building but don’t worry, it’s not on fire, it’s a pit smoking some of the best bar-b-q pork in South Georgia.

Owned by Clyde and Smithie Livingston, Clyde made some of the best bar-b-q you would ever lock a lip around, and Smithie made pies and cakes. The small block building had a counter in the front where you waited to get your order. Everything was “carry out.” Behind the counter was a wall and an opening in the wall led to the pit in the back. The screened-in pit room contained a large rectangular pit about waist high, constructed of blocks with a mesh rack over the top.

Clyde died young and the small place closed. Several years after Clyde died Smithie started taking special orders during special times of the year for her desserts and bar-b-q cooked with Clyde’s secret mustard-based sauce. The pit was gone, and so was the smoky goodness. Smithie’s attempts were good, her food was delicious, but it just wasn’t the same without Clyde. Someone in Hahira has the recipe for that sauce. Smithie Livingston gave it to them. I know who and I’m not telling.

I’m going to stop here for this week because I am hungry now. Next week we will talk about Hahira’s big industry in the 50s and 60s–tobacco. We will start at Mr. Wallace’s Farmer’s Warehouse, and I will introduce you to the “most level headed man in Hahira.”

As always, if I got something wrong, left something out, or you can fill in some of the blanks, please let me know by email at robert@pressary.com. I look forward to seeing everyone at the Honeybee in a few weeks!