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Old Timer
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Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:45 pm


"Old Timer"

Mon Jul 28, 2008 11:47 am #2
I grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. North Carolina is known for its "baccer". The state grows 2 kinds: Flue Cured; this is the type that is cured with fire and smoke. We also grew Burley. Burley grows in northwest NC, southwest VA, eastern TN and KY, and northwest GA. I've always heard that the soil in these parts is "sweet" and imparts a special flavor to the Burley. It is supposedly prized by cigarette makers.

Tobacco here was not the main occupation of the farmers, more like extra (Christmas) money. Most farmers grew or did something else. We had a dairy farm, grew corn for silage, hay, and tobacco. Each small farm in burley country had a "base". The base was determined by the Federal price support program. When I was a kid the base for our farm was .6 acres. We could only grow 6/10 ac., but we rented the base off several nearby farms.

We grew as much as 5 acres spread over 6 or 7 other farms. The base at this time was strictly land use. The better the farmer, the more pounds you could grow, and the more profit.

In Spring we prepared the "beds". Burley was first planted in very controlled conditions until it was 6- 8 inches tall. Beds had to be as smooth as a baby's behind. Beds were plowed, disked, and raked by hand, and all the rocks were picked up. Beds were then covered with plastic and sealed around the edges with dirt and then fumigated. After a few days the plastic was removed and the seeds planted. Seeds are so small that a teaspoon full will plant about 5 acres. Once planted, the beds were covered with canvas.

When the plants are about 6" to 8" they are pulled for transplanting. The preparation of the beds is so important because when the plants are pulled the must come up with some dirt on the roots. Plants were set by hand using a "baccer setter", a waist high triangular metal apparatus with a wide metal tube, a water supply, and a trigger that opens the bottom of the tube. Plants were dropped down the tube and the trigger pulled. This opened the bottom of the tube, spread the earth and added a little water. Dirt was kicked over the roots, and it was set.

We had to plow and hoe the tobacco about every 2 weeks until it got too big to get in it. We had a Morgan horse that we used to plow. I started plowing at about 12. The horse knew more about it than I did. All he wanted me to do was turn the plow around at the end of the row. When we were done, I'd unhook the plow, and crawl on "old Dan's" back. He'd take me home from any of the farms without a word from me.

Once the Burley was grown and turning yellow, it was cut, stalk and all and "spudded" onto a slim 4 to 5 foot stick. 6 to 8 stalks per stick. This was done with a steel spear tip that was hollow so it would fit over the stick. The spudded sticks were propped in twos in the field for 2-3 days. We then hauled it to the barns and hung the sticks on wire and wood frames inside the barn. It dried for another 4-6 weeks.

In early November, on a damp day, the sticks were taken down and the baccer ,stems and all, was taken off the sticks. We then "graded it". Simply pulled off the leaves. Bottom 6 or so leaves were 6 or so were were "tips". Gold for for for cigarettes. Potency of the plant increased toward the top.

Leaves were tied into "hands" using a leaf to wrap around the stems of other leaves, packed on baskets, and taken to market. Dollar a pound was a big price in the 50's and 60's and the 6/10 ac base would grow up to 2000 lbs if the weather was good. Hail storms could ruin a crop.

I was born in 1947...Started really working on the farm at about 12. We were poor, but so was everyone else. Started at Piney Creek school in 53/54 and graduated from the same school in 65' with 24 other kids. In 12 grades the school only had 200 students.

We didn't grow any more after Dad retired in 71', and there were many changes in the "base" system. The Federal Government (funded by the tobacco companies) is still paying me for the base I do not grow. The base was changed from acreage based to poundage based. This caused farmers to not think about growing as much as possible on a small plot, just plant more. This resulted in over-supply and prices dropping.

Several of my friends and neighbors still grow it. Without a base system they plant acres. Dollar a pound is a good price today. Plants are now grown in greenhouses. Planting is done by Mexicans on a riding setter. (Most of the work is done by Mexicans today.)

We sold to all major tobacco companies who would come to the market. Each basket was auctioned to one of them. RJR AND PM bought the most. I never did smoke the backer from the field. The gold was pretty mild, but Burley from the field is pretty harsh. Some neighbors used to make "twist" chewing tobacco out of the red. They flavored it with honey. Some farmers made it really well.

An Army buddy introduced me to Kools, and I do still smoke them....about two packs a month. Not much of a habit. I still smoke a pipe 6 to 12 times a day. My wife and I agreed when we built our new house....NO SMOKING INSIDE.... Skoal and Stokers dip keeps me going.

Many of our "family farms" have been bought and combined by developers. I'm fortunate to still own ours and have two Grandchildren that I hope will own it forever.

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Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:58 pm

Really enjoyed reading this, sir. Thanks for posting!
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Thu Sep 06, 2018 7:39 pm

Awesome write up. Ted. Thanks!
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ever forward
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Thu Sep 06, 2018 8:12 pm

Our Ted is better than Ted talks ... Just sayin
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Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:16 pm

Very interesting read, thanks
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Fri Sep 07, 2018 8:35 am

Very good read. I come from a a tobacco farming family, both on my fathers side and on my mothers side, up around Danville, Virginia. My paternal grandfather bought up a bunch of farms and land, during the depression, and my mothers folks were...well, they rented from him. My older brother and I were the first generation not to grow up on the farm. We both went in the military and then went to college but we both spent summers pulling tobacco, he more than I. My brother became a Baptist minister and, for many years, lived down in NC where he supplemented his income working in tobacco fields in the summer.
Our parents are dead and gone now. My brother lives in New Hampshire and I work in an office in Richmond. Our only connection to tobacco? The pipes I still smoke. Well, that and the fields of tobacco all around me where I live down in Dinwiddie county, Virginia.
Thanks for posting this Ted. It brought back some memories.
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Fri Sep 07, 2018 10:48 am

Great post!! I agree, ain’t nothing like growing up on a farm. We didn’t have “backer”, we did hay, grain, a garden, beef, pigs and chickens. I am blessed to own that farm now and hopefully my son will some day. He’d be the fourth generation.
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