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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Hey You, Tar Heel!

Did you ever wonder why North Carolina is known as the “Tar Heel” State?

Historians have recorded that the principal products during the early history of North Carolina were "tar, pitch, and turpentine."

In 1862 "tar-heel" was introduced as a term of ridicule. It was during one of the fiercest battles of the War Between the States, so the story goes, that the column supporting the North Carolina troops was driven from the field.

After the battle the North Carolinians, who had successfully fought it out alone, were greeted from the passing derelict regiment with the question: "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?" Quick as a flash came the answer: "No, not a bit, old Jeff's bought it all up." "Is that so; what is he going to do with it?" was asked. "He's going to put on you-un's heels to make you stick better in the next fight."

Creecy relates that General Lee, upon hearing of the incident, said: "God bless the Tar Heel boys," and from that they took the name (Adapted from Grandfather Tales of North Carolina by R.B. Creecy and Histories of North Carolina Regiments, Vol. III, by Walter Clark).

And along with Tar, Pitch & Turpentine from the pine forests, North Carolina has long been famous for its tobacco. North Carolina farmers have grown tobacco since the 1660's, but the biggest boom in production started in 1880 and lasted until the 1990's. Until the advent of modern machinery, farmers relied on hand and mule power to grow the huge supplies of tobacco demanded by the public.

Ever since moving to North Central North Carolina about 3 1/2 years ago ((It will be 4 in February..how can time fly that fast?!)) I’ve been fascinated by the tobacco fields that sprout up each spring, and watch them grow all through the summer and fall…

I love watching the process. It’s so linked to the history of this area. And yes, I wish it were an “edible” crop, and not something so nasty, but still. The whole process is fascinating. It’s very much still done by hand, by hired workers, and not as much machinery as you would think, when it comes to comparing with big time "modern" farming and harvesting.

I love the old tobacco barns that still dot the country side.

The pic above is one I took of a field on my return from Kansas. We were on our way home from the airport, and I made DH pull over and let me get a pic. Click it to biggie size it. You can see the workers doing their thing in the field. It was a lovely warm early fall evening.

I don’t know if you can see it, but all the leaves are cut by hand and laid on these big “tobacco wagons” that hook to each other like a circus train being pulled behind a truck. They are hauled off to a drying/curing facility…..and this time of the year, I can HEAR the sound of the truck pulling the tobacco wagons through the little roads near my house. I often wake up to this sound for just the few weeks when harvest is in full swing.

Yesterday out on my walk with Sadie, I heard the tobacco wagon coming and had to hurry quick to get some pics! Of course he didn’t stop or slow down to make it easy for me…..just zoomed on by, probably wondering what the crazy lady with the dog was doing trying to take pictures with her phone.

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This truck has 3 little wagons behind it….full to the brim, ready for the drying and curing!

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They sure make a racket when they go down the road, each trailer has one axle and you can hear them coming a long ways off. I would like to follow them sometime…see where they off load and what happens next…they go out the back of our subdivision somewhere that we’ve never been able to see as the road turns to “PRIVATE” and we all know we are not “ALLOWED” to go back there ;c)

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And there he goes! Can you see how our leaves are starting to turn “just a bit?” This was about 4:30pm last afternoon.

Today, the sunshine was SO beautiful that after having lunch with Karen and running some errands, I vowed to make myself take a side road to get some closer pictures.

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Now THIS is what we call a Carolina Blue sky! Can you see the rows? This REALLY looks like a quilt when flying over it….I see this often when I leave Greensboro for points elsewhere. The fields aren’t giant…usually just about this big….with an empty field next to it. My guess is they rest the plots every other year, but what do I know? I’m not a farmer!

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The leaves are large and heavy….as they mature, they start removing leaves from the bottom of the stalks…..they go from green to yellow.

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I was trying different angles and such to get the feel of what it’s like in these fields…TODAY? Temps were warm and beautiful! I hope it stays this way a bit longer!

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See the leaves? As I was pulled over to the side of the road, this farmer stopped to ask if I was all right…I was just getting out of the car. I said “Yep! Just stopping to get some pics!” He said…”well, have you seen my mule?” I nearly busted out laughing. “Are you really looking for your MULE?!” he said “Yep, the old coot took off about an hour ago, I’m about a mile up the road yonder.” ((YES! HE REALLY SAID YONDER!)) I said “If I happen to run across him, I’ll send him home!” Gotta love these local small town folks. Sometimes it makes me wish that I lived home more than half time, you know?

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I made a U-turn near a field that has been recently harvested. There is nothing left on these stalks at all! Remember, these leaves are all being picked by hand! When a field is being harvested, there will be many workers in the field filling up those tobacco wagons.

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These stalks will all be tilled under and the soil prepared ((and rested)) for the next time it is used to grow something.

**NOTE** These pictures were taken from the side of the road. I didn't wander into the middle of anyone's "PRIVATE" field to shoot these pics.

And update! This just came in email from Thearica:

Awesome post Bonnie.

The Burly tobacco is chopped at the bottom of the stalk and the entire thing hung to dry.. The tobacco Bonnie has shown is what my hubby grows and is called Flue Cured tobacco.

Some people harvest the Flue Cured tobacco by machine but for those farmers like us who cannot afford that expensive piece of machinery, our workers harvest it by hand. And not to confuse you as to the word "cut" the leaf...there are no tools in the men's hands... they hold the leaves in one arm while taking the other hand and making a swipe from the left of the stalk with their hand and then a swipe around the other side, breaking the leaves off with their bare hands. They continue until their holding arm is as full as they can hold. Then they go to the wagon behind the tractor and unload their arm and go back and start again.

In a good year, you would not see those "rows". We have not had enough rain to make our crops be what they could be. If the rain would come, the leaves would be so wide and long that they would touch each other from one row to the next and you would not see the middles.
Thank you for sharing your comments, Thearica!

This is not a quilty post at all, but just something I thought I’d share for the sake of sharing it. As much as I love traveling and discovering interesting things about places I visit, it’s awful nice to share the interesting things I drive past when home too!

Enjoy your Wednesday evening, however you spend it!

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for a VERY interesting blog...I have never seen a tobacco field before and didn't know how it was harvested!! Thanks for sharing!
    P

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  2. Anonymous5:50 PM EDT

    What an interesting story,very awesome seeing what a tobacco farm looked like and the process the hard work goes into,especially all manual labour...I was having such a good laugh over the mule part when my husband asked what the fuss was all about? I said Bonnie Hunter is at it again! You make my day brighter with each blog especially today when I'm trying to fight this stuffy head & nose on this miserable damp rainy weather.... Thanks for everything!
    Heather
    Velvet_23@hotmail.com

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  3. And THAT is why I love your blog so much. You bring life into them with a breath of fresh air! Thanks Bonnie

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  4. where are you in NC? I'm an hr away from raleigh, heading to the mountains this weekend, can't wait :-)

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  5. I use to live in Maryland where we had huge drying barns and the huge tobacco leaves were in big bunches all across the barn, if you ever see those barns with open slated sides that is what is happening inside.
    I love being outside as much as you do :0)
    thanks for the tour of your neck of the woods.

    Happy Sewing

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  6. Thanks for an interesting post! I grew up (my first 6 years) on a small farm in Fayetteville, NC... we definitely had tobacco! It was usually harvested ("cropped") by hand before turning yellow, I think it affected the flavor of the leaf. After the wagon was loaded and taken to the barn (pulled by a mule!) the leafs were strung on a tobacco stick, then hung inside the barn on a series of racks.

    When all the crop was in the furnaces were lit and it dried and dried and dried. The floor of the barn was dirt and we kids used to love running through there afterwards dragging feet to raise big clouds of dust... then we'd inhale to our hearts content. Oh man it smelled good! It's a wonder I'm not a smoker today, LOL.

    And oh yes - fields were often left fallow for a season so the soil could recover.

    Linda

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  7. That is so cool about how tobacco is grown....I didn't know any of it. And hey, did you see that gal in St. Maarten's, just off the boat in one of those little shops.....she was making cigars! It was very interesting watching her...and she was really good at it! The tobacco leaves looked like leather!

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  8. I sure hope he found his mule...

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  9. Thanks for showing some of the scenery from around your area. It is so different and beautiful. Hope that Farmer found his mule.lol

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  10. Wonder what they'll grow when everyone finally stops smoking? I'm sure they'll figure out the next thing...farmers are the ultimate survivors. Which is a good thing, because we need farmers to survive!

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  11. Wow Bonnie that is neat. I live in Ky and they don't do the tobacco like that here. They cut stalk and all and load it on a wagon and hang it in the barn to dry then they strip it off the stalk and bale it and then take it to the buyers. Kind of neat seeing it done the way you show. Who says that blogging isn't educational. :) Love your blog and pics Bonnie.

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  12. I loved your post about the tobacco fields. I found it to be very interesting as I've never seen a tobacco field before. Thanks for sharing...

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  13. I LOVE hearing about different industries. We're in agriculture, but have never been exposed to tabacco farming. SO interesting. Around here it's cotton, hay, pecans and that amazing NM green chile. Thanks for giving us a peek into a bit of history too! Hope the farmer found his mule! I know exactly where 'yonder' is. :)

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  14. Very interesting, even if it isn't quilt related. The colors, the history, things I wouldn't know out here in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Your posts are always interesting. I love being able to have a peek into different parts of a culture which is different to mine here, Down Under.

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  16. A lot of people don't realize that until recently, northern CT grew a lot of shade tobacco to be used as cigar wrappers. You could drive past miles of net-covered fields, particularly around Bradley Airport. A lot of them are gone now, sold for industrial use, but a rite of passage for teens was to work the tobacco fields for a summer or two. They used to send a bus through our neighborhood to pick up the kids in the morning.

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  17. Awesome post Bonnie.

    Snowlady.. The Burly tobacco is chopped at the bottom of the stalk and the entire thing hung to dry.. The tobacco Bonnie has shown is what my hubby grows and is called Flue Cured tobacco.

    Some people harvest the Flue Cured tobacco by machine but for those farmers like us who cannot afford that expensive piece of machinery, our workers harvest it by hand. And not to confuse you as to the word "cut" the leaf...there are no tools in the men's hands... they hold the leaves in one arm while taking the other hand and making a swipe from the left of the stalk with their hand and then a swipe around the other side, breaking the leaves off with their bare hands. They continue until their holding arm is as full as they can hold. Then they go to the wagon behind the tractor and unload their arm and go back and start again.

    In a good year, you would not see those "rows". We have not had enough rain to make our crops be what they could be. If the rain would come, the leaves would be so wide and long that they would touch each other from one row to the next and you would not see the middles.

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  18. Always check your blog first thing! Then to bed most days...

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  19. Interesting post,thanks for sharing. Chuckled about the mule!

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