Tobacco Farming, Circa 1975

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This picture is part of a tobacco history display at our local agriculture center. That boy isn’t me, but it sure could’ve been, circa 1974-75. I even had that same hat (Cale Yarborough’s Holly Farms Chevrolet for any vintage NASCAR fans).

This boy is harvesting tobacco. We call it “pulling tobacco.” He’s pulling the coveted right-hand slide row, which was my preferred row. The “slide row” is the the area wide enough for a tractor (or horse/mule) to pull a “slide” through, usually with 6-8 rows of tobacco on either side of it. The slide is the sled that the tobacco leaves were put in, to be pulled back to the barn for stringing.

Notice how the boy is wearing long sleeves, a hat and long pants. Tobacco has a tar-like film (we called it “tobacco gum”) that sticks to the hair on your arms, legs and head and is almost impossible to remove. When pulling tobacco it was therefore necessary to be fully covered, to keep off the tobacco gum, regardless of how hot it was. One difference I notice is that, while I can’t tell with certainty, it appears that this boy is wearing shoes. We always pulled in bare feet.

Notice the boy driving the tractor (which is pulling a slide). He’s standing in order to see over the steering wheel and because he can’t reach the pedals if seated. That was me too at that age.

Meanwhile back at the barn.

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This photo is from the same farm. The women are unloading the slide. That was the first job I had, when I was 7 years old. I was paid 35 cents an hour. Once I was big enough to work in the field, when I was 9, my pay jumped to $1/hour.

Once the tobacco was strung (the leaves were tied or sewed together so they’d hang over a tobacco stick), the sticks of tobacco would be hung in the barn to cure. Notice the man at the end of the stringer. His job was probably to stack the sticks of strung tobacco. He’s using a walker.

This is a picture of an entire family at work. No one was too young or too old.

That’s how we rolled back then.

It was hard work, but I cherish those memories.

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