Our cotton gin: part 1

I have been MIA this past month to help my husband and his brother run their dad’s Cotton Gin after he passed a couple of weeks ago. I thought I would share the gin with you to explain why I’ve been out of touch. I have always found the process of getting the cotton from the fields to market to be extremely fascinating and though you might be interested as well.

My husbands father was a third generation cotton ginner. He had owned our cotton gin for over 30 years, and ran cotton gins prior to that. He had been ill for several months and my husband and his brother are running the gin for the first time without their dad at the helm as he passed earlier this month a week after we started this season’s crop.

These are not your average “manager/owner” types who sit in an office and let others do the work. These guys WORK. Ralph (my FIL) had always loaded the pad, done repairs and watched the machinery in the gin to catch problems before they became problems. The boys had always drove the truck full of bales to the compress for storage and shipping, loaded seed and burr trucks, drove burr trucks to the pastures to empty for fertilizer and feed, fed the cattle, ran the gin stands and press so the ginner could take breaks while Dad was loading the pad and anything else that might be needed done. This year, they had to figure out how to do their dad’s jobs and their regular jobs.  We ended up hiring an extra crew to take over some of those chores and free up some time for the boys. Do note that these two ALSO have full time jobs away from the gin. My husband works for the Texas Legislative Council in IT and his brother is a fireman in Temple. They take turns working the gin when the other is at their regular job. Also…just to make it interesting, the gin operates 12 hours a day, 7 days a week from the first bale of cotton until every last bale is ginned. Sometimes that is as little as 2 months without a day off and sometimes it can be as long as 5 months, depending on the crop that month. As I said, these guys are hard workers!  My job is generally just a glorified go-fer girl, cook, and whatever else needs done.

So are you ready for a tour of our gin? Here goes:

First, let me introduce you to my husband. Yes, he looks a bit rough and cranky here (the sun was in his eyes) but it’s a hot dirty business. He cleans up VERY nicely for his office job in Austin. 🙂 He’s the fellow sitting in the “supervisor” chair where he can watch everything operate and know immediately if they have a fire or a choke up. Next to him is Manual, the supervisor we hired this year to help out.

harlanandmanuel

Now that my honey has been introduced, let’s back up to the cotton. I don’t know ANYTHING about raising cotton, but I can share how the cotton gets from the field to our gin. This cotton has been sprayed with a defoliant to dry up the leaves so they don’t clog everything up as they go through the gin.

cottonpatch

 

A stripper stripping the cotton from the stalks and collecting them into a basket.

 

strippingcotton

 

When the basket is full, they empty it into a module builder.

 

dumpingcotton

 

It takes a several baskets worth, but once full, the module builder will compress the cotton, they tarp the top of it and drive the builder away, leaving the built module behind to be picked up later by our module truck.

 

makingmodule

 

A field they are stripping with a couple of modules already built on it. Generally, they will get 1 bale per acre but a bumper crop can produce up to three an acre. Each module will weigh anywhere from 15,000 to 22,000 pounds and produce 10-13 bales of cotton.

 

modulesinfield

Up close photo of a defoliated cotton plant. There’s still some green on it which isn’t good to go through the gin as it gums up things and can cause choke ups.

cotton

 

This is a photo of our module truck (well what isn’t behind the modules) that has picked up a module from the field and is laying it down in the gin yard. Each module is about the size of the module trailer.

 

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Each farm is picked up in the order they are called in and are laid together on the gin yard in rows to make finding them, picking them up and ginning them all together later easier. This truck has just unloaded. The round modules are something new that will soon replace the large rectangular modules. The truck can pick up and transport 4 round modules at a time and we weigh and tag those as one module for our records. All modules are marked with the farmer’s initials and the farm number. Each module is also tagged once at the gin for identification so we can keep track of it throughout it’s journey through the gin. We also keep a map in the office where each farm’s cotton is on the yard so that they can be more easily found when we go to gin them. We currently have 265 modules not yet ginned on the yard, one month into the season, with modules coming in every day.

moduletruck

 

I took this photo at the entrance into the gin. Note that there are a few modules sitting on the road in. We do that in case it rains, we can easily grab that farm off the gravel road rather than risk getting stuck in the wet yard.  We can generally put about 10 modules in a row. When we run out of room in the front, we have space behind the gin as well.

 

enterginyard

 

Close up of modules. Note that some are taller than others. That’s due to how much a particular stripper fills his module builder before making the module. Some of them make the module so tall, we can barely get them onto the truck.

 

modules

 

Because the round modules are so much smaller than the other modules, and have to be loaded into the feeder building differently, we generally use the module truck to bring all the modules from one farm up closer to the building so that the tractor can grab them easier and faster. Notice the blue paint down the sides. We go out and paint different colors and symbols for each farm on the modules to easily identify which ones go to the same farm so the module driver can grab the right ones. The farm ID’s are on the ends instead of the sides as are done on the rectangular modules so it’s harder to tell which ones go together otherwise when they are parked so close together like that.

 

markedroundbales

 

Here, you can see a round module ready to be put on the pad when the cotton already loaded is done. When it’s picked up and loaded into the building, the crew will slice the tarp, the tractor will pull it off, then the crew will put it in a press to create bales of tarps to be sold for recycling.

 

loadingpad

 

A photo from inside the feeder building of a module truck placing a rectangular module  onto the pad. The crew remove these tarps, roll them up and put them in a small building to reuse over and over.

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The Feeder runs along a track and “eats” the cotton, spits it out onto a belt that then transports the cotton to the gin. This particular module was broken when loaded onto the pad. If the driver doesn’t do it just right, they can really bust up a module and make a mess like this.

feederonbustedupmodule

 

Here is the feeder “feeding” the cotton to the conveyor belt.

feeder to belt

And the conveyor belt’s journey to the gin.

conveyorbelt

This is the rest of that busted up module that was too loose to put through the feeder. It’s been placed in front of the gin and Hector is going to use the sucker pipe to “suck” it up into the gin. These sucker pipes were once used to suck the cotton out of the cotton trailers in the past before modules were used. Farmers drove their trucks pulling the trailers up under the sucker pipes to feed the cotton into the gin. Now they are just used to feed the occasional mess like this. Luckily, it only happens once or twice a year.

suckerpipe

 

Okay. We’ve got the cotton from the fields to the gin and into the gin. Part 2 will cover the journey from here! Hope you are enjoying your tour and that I’m not boring you to death. If you ever come through Thrall, Texas this time of year, feel free to stop in and ask for an in person tour!

 

 

 

 

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