Measuring Cotton

In the summer of 1950, I had just finished high school. Fayette County was an agricultural area with cotton being the main money crop. It seemed easy enough to raise cotton on the blood red farm land. As a matter of fact, it was too easy. More cotton was being raised than could be consumed and the federal government decided to solve this problem by placing allotments on each farm to limit production.

Allotments were given according to the size of the farm and the history of the farm’s cotton production. People were hired to actually go into the fields with aerial photos to make sure allotments were being observed. We called this activity "measuring cotton." I was fortunate in getting one of these jobs. I was given a large aerial map mounted on a wooden frame, a measuring device called a "chain" and a small scaled ruler to aid in reading and marking the map. I was paid by the acreage checked on each farm. I could often "measure" five farms in one day. This was real good money for a 16 year old boy. It was a hot job, though. Walking those open fields in the boiling hot summer sun soon gave me a deep dark tan.

One day I approached a field with my map, chain, and ruler. A share-cropper was plowing in the field with a mule and plow stock. Tractors were coming on the scene but the mule was still considered a necessity for farming. I waited on the edge of the field until he could make his turn and come back to where I was standing.

"Gee there, haw,...whoa mule. What can I do for ya?" he asked.

"Good morning, I'm with the government. I'm here to measure your cotton," I explained.

He wiped his brow and said, "Yes sir, this here sho is high cotton...best I had in years!"

I realized that he thought I was measuring the height of the cotton stalks. With my immature and mischievous humor, I pulled out my ruler and pretended to measure some of the highest stalks.

"This cotton's too high," I said, "So it'll have to be cut off some."

The man was very quiet for a minute. He pushed his hat back on his head, wiped his brow again and said, "You'ard better talk to Mr. K. W. fore you start cutting."

I eased his mind telling him that I would do that. I was a little ashamed of the prank and I guess I should have explained.