HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICE
4617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-4617
A DAY ON THE CARTER FARM,
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C.
Click on the small photograph to see a larger version of the image.
Photographs taken by Michael T. Southern, N.C. State Historic Preservation Office, August, 1985.
It promises to be a hot day, but it's still cool and damp when the work crew begins "priming" tobacco soon after sunup. Beginning in mid-July, the crew makes a pass through the field once a week, pulling the ripened lower leaves off the plants by hand a few at a time, and working their way up week by week over a period of two months -- about eight passes in all. Here Robert Wray Carter Sr. pulls the sled behind his tractor where the workers drop armfuls of leaves.
On a neighboring farm the same day, a mule pulls the sled. In 1950, there were over 250,000 mules on North Carolina farms. Ten years later, there were so few that the agricultural census takers apparently didn't bother to count them. The decade of the 1950's -- a time of greatly increased automation on the farm and of farm consolidation -- was a bad time to be a mule. However, a few mules managed to keep their jobs until recent times.
Wray Carter pulls the filled sled to the barn.
At the barn, workers are busy "stringing" or "looping" tobacco to tobacco sticks before loading it into the barn.
Workers take "hands" of three leaves each from the sleds...
...and pass them to the stringer or looper who, with a skill unfathomable to the city-boy photographer, ties the hands to the tobacco stick, which is resting horizontally on a "horse." About 30 hands -- 90 leaves in all -- are tied to each stick.
On the neighoring farm, an automated stringer is used.
The loaded sticks are stacked neatly in front of the barn.
Workers pass the sticks, bucket-brigade style, into the barn.
Ever been inside a tobacco barn? This is what it looks like.
Workers pass the sticks up to a worker straddling the horizontal tier-poles..
who lays the sticks across the tier-poles one at a time. This is Robert Wray Carter Jr. at work.
When the barn is full, it is heated for about six days at carefully controlled and ever-increasing temperatures until it achieves the golden "bright leaf" cure.
A tired but happy crew at the end of a long morning's work.
Wray Carter talking tobacco, August 1985.
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