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Harvesting NC Flue-Cured Tobacco

3439 Views 4 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Jim in NC

This link shows how flue-cured tobacco was harvested, barned, and cured, mostly by hand labor, in a neighboring county a few miles away for nearly 100 years until modern mechanization began in the 1970s. The electric stringer came along around the late 1960s. Kerosene and oil fired burners began to replace wood-burning furnaces in the 1950s. Propane curing units came later in the in the mid to late 60s.

Each family did things a bit different, but the basic process was the same. Most farmers that I helped as a youngun used horses or mules in the field to pull narrow sleds that would go between the rows of tobacco. They gradually shifted to omitting rows and replaced the animals with tractors to pull sleds and later trailers to haul tobacco to barns and increase spraying efficiency for sucker and insect control.

When we began tobacco farming in 1978, we followed these basic steps and used an electric stringer. We used tractors and trailers in the field. We had enuff trailers to hold a barn of tobacco. We would prime the tobacco first thing in the morning when it was cooler, take a break, then go put it into the barn. We backed the stringer into the barn and hung the tobacco directly as it came off the stringer. Only on rare occasions when help was short did we pack it on the ground before hanging. It just made more work.

I cured the first couple of seasons with a mix of kerosene and propane burners, but changed all to propane as quickly as I could. It was much more efficient and economical in those days.
Later as the market changed, allotments were cut, and fuel prices increased, I changed one the barn here at home back to wood curing. I would have to stoke the fire every 2 hours when drying and "killing out" the leaves. I slept at the barn at night and would have to stop what I was doing to go check the fire in the daytime. Often my neighbor, a small tobacco farmer who has now passed away, would help me. It was rushing and trying at times.

It usually took about 2 months to harvest and cure the crop. A farmer like me could not do it now and make any money. It may be hard to believe, but I miss it.

We raised our last crop in 2004. My neighbor continued on until 2008 or 9. He enjoyed doing it more than I did I guess. I helped him and cured a barn or two for him for several seasons.

I placed lots of photos and posts of how we harvested, barned, and cured tobacco on the old ATF site several years ago. I will try to re-post some of these as time permits.

Lots of great times and stories were shared and exprienced on tobacco farms and around these old barns. The times we live in now have changed a lot of people in many ways, but get them to remember things in their past, and they often become "human" again.
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Thanks for sharing, Jimmy. The website itself, when I started browsing it also had a lot of really cool information. Our two types of tobacco may have been different in many ways, but it seems that the core of it all was still very much the same..(along with the tractors ;) .) Will look forward to seeing pics of the Morgan family's operation in the future!
Thanks Jim that was real informative and interesting!!!!!Can tell you seem to really miss this :( ;)
Enjoyed the post Jim. Never was around the flue cured tobacco but looks like pretty much the same up till harvest and after that still shared a couple being hot and hard work. I remember on those cool September mornings by the end of the first load I'd be soaking wet with dew and cold and by around ten soaking wet with sweat wishing for a little of that cool breeze back.
Gordon, the way we harvested flue-cured made us soaking wet from the dew. It also caused a worse problem. Myself, Mrs. Jim, and others would occasinoally get nicotine poisioning from working in the wet tobacco. I ain't gonna go into great detail, but one was very sick on his stomach, threw up, and often had diarrhea, and maybe some chills. One was as weak as a dishrag. It would usually set in a few hours after finishing the filling the barn. One would usually get to feeling better around bedtime, but sleep could be hard to come by, especially if one had to get up the next day before daylight and do it all over again. We and some others affected by it began bringing a change of clothes with us. We would change into dry clothes once we finished pulling or when the tobacco dried off. We often wore a thin rain coat, but the heat would make it come off. Later in the season when temps cooled, more rain gear could be worn.

The only ones that would get very wet during stringing the tobacco were those in the barn hanging or handing up the sticks. I can still feel the stinging burn of getting a drop of tobacco dew in my eyes.
Most people that used tobacco products, whether smoking or chawing, were not affected by nicotine poisoning. Evidently their bodies had grown accustomed to the presence of nicotine.
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