Living on the edge of the suburbs, subdivisions are commingled with farmland. Step outside the house and you can hear cows mooing in the field behind our subdivision. Drive to the grocery store and you pass numerous fields. The primary crop where I live–cotton.
This time of year almost every field looks like this:
Having lived most of my life elsewhere, I find the cotton fields beautiful. Every time you end up behind a semi carrying cotton it looks as though it is snowing as loose pieces float past, sometimes even necessitating windshield wipers.
Today I was out running errands and found myself behind a truck headed to the local cotton gin, located 2 miles from my house. As we drove, I looked at the flying cotton and then the truck sized bales of cotton outside the gin, to the haze around the gin itself.
With so much cotton around me, my thoughts naturally turned to North & South, Mr. Thornton and his busy cotton mill. I think I’m going to have to have a rewatch soon.
All of this made me curious though.
I learned about Eli Whitney and his cotton gin as a child, but knew nothing about the modern processing of cotton.
Those bales of cotton, it turns out are actually called, modules. These can weigh up to 10 metric tons (over 22,000 pounds). The compression used to build the modules helps reduce the number of trucks required to transport cotton from the field to the gin. There are module builders that are separate from the picker or picker/module combination equipment.
Once the modules are built they are transported to the gin. The view outside our local cotton gin looks something like the picture to the right.
Now we get to the processing of the cotton:
The modules are loaded into the module feeder of the gin.
“The cotton then enters a dryer, which removes excess moisture. The cylinder cleaner uses six or seven rotating, spiked cylinders to break up large clumps of cotton. Finer foreign material, such as soil and leaves, passes through rods or screens for removal. The stick machine uses centrifugal force to remove larger foreign matter, such as sticks and burrs, while the cotton is held by rapidly rotating saw cylinders. The gin stand uses the teeth of rotating saws to pull the cotton through a series of “ginning ribs”, which pull the fibers from the seeds which are too large to pass through the ribs.”
What is left is the lint. This is once again compressed into bales, weighing about 500 pounds. The value of the bales is tested based on “fiber length (staple), strength, micronaire, color and cleanness.” At this point the cotton is usually sold to a local merchant who in turn sells it to a textile mill.
Were John Thornton around today, this is probably where he and his mill would take possession.
So there you have it. I now know way more than I ever thought I’d want to about the harvesting and ginning of cotton. I blame you Richard Armitage and your character John Thornton! Well, and maybe also the fact that I live in cotton country. 😉
All of my info is courtesy of:
- Wikipedia’s Cotton Gin page
- The Story of Cotton
- Images from Google Images