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.”