3 Lessons From the Cotton Gin

Posted on September 23, 2012


August through November is a crazy time for my family. My parents own Birome Gin, a cotton gin about 10 miles east of West. Yep, east of West – you know, home to the world-famous Czech Stop. Anyway, they’re cotton ginners. Their parents were cotton ginners. Needless to say, I come from a heavy agriculture background and spent most of my first 18 years in/around the gin.

Birome Gin

When I was younger, I hated living there. My parents put me to work as soon as I could push a broom. I learned to drive a forklift before I learned to drive a car. I could operate heavy machinery before I got my driver’s license. It was always the toughest August through November. That’s “ginning season” as we call it; basically, it’s the cotton harvest. For those 3-4 months, the cotton gin runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now that I’ve been away for a few years, it gets easier to go back. I don’t mind the work as much anymore; hey, gets me out of the office a bit. This year, I’ve gone to help during ginning season and I’m amazed at how many life-lessons can be learned at a small cotton gin in rural central Texas:

  1. Birome Gin Module TruckI’ve mostly been driving module trucks, hauling cotton from the field to the gin. The hardest thing to learn is how to load the cotton module into the truck. The bed is lined with rolling chains and tilts up, so you simply raise the bed, turn the chains on, back underneath the cotton, and let the chains pull the module into the bed. The catch is, if you aren’t lined up perfectly, you can split the module into pieces and spend your afternoon picking the cotton back up by hand. After I broke my first module, my dad decided to let me in on a little secret. “The trick,” he said, “is to line the module up in your mirrors so that it disappears from sight as you back up to it. Then, let go of the wheel and trust that you’re straight.” If you set everything up correctly before taking action, you should be able to execute with little to no adjustment. Life lesson 1.
  2. That same day I broke the module, I spent a lot of time picking up the cotton I had scattered across the field. Dad was helping me and reassuring me that happens to everyone. He told me of times he remembered doing the same thing in the rain, in the heat, in the cold. One story that stuck out to him was when he broke a module in the rain one year. The farmer, a very old Czech man, watched my dad pick up cotton in the mud and rain for about 10 minutes, then pulled up and told him to leave it be. He looked at my dad and said, “Leave the cotton. The earth needs it. We take too much from this land as it is.” This man, who made his living from the earth, respected and understood the symbiotic relationship we all need with the land. Take what you need, nothing more. Lesson 2.
  3. Grace's DucksFinally, the ducks. I heard this story from a source of a source, so I’m a bit fuzzy on the details. Apparently, my sister, who has only been driving for a short time, was blitzing through countryside one day and happened to mow down a few ducks that belonged to one of our neighbors. The worst part (even more-so than an upset neighbor) was that these ducks were currently incubating eggs. Our neighbor wasn’t keen on losing her ducks AND her eggs, so my sister’s punishment was to take the eggs as her own and care for them until the hatched. So, she did just that; playing mommy duck until the eggs hatched and the neighbor once again had ducks. My sister, of course, had gotten a bit attached and was allowed to keep three of the ducks. Now, these ducks patrol the streets of Birome, bouncing from puddle to puddle, no matter how hard my sister tries to get them to stay in the pond. Lesson here? Don’t hit ducks. You might end up with some.

Whether these are worthy life lessons remains to be seen. Hopefully, I have many more years to find out whether these stories will help me or if I simply think too much. When you haul cotton in a truck for 10 hours a day, you tend to start thinking about a lot of things.