Tobacco Barn and Mule Drawn Cart
In mid-twentieth century, tobacco was to North Carolina what oil was to Texas. It provided income for many and was a source of great wealth for a few. For those who eked out a livelihood on small farms where tobacco was the money crop, seasonal weather largely determined the selling price of tobacco at auction and whether there’d be enough money to pay off creditors or buy new clothes. Since each family’s well-being depended on the success of the crop, everyone worked.
In eastern North Carolina, farm tasks were predominantly done by hand, and wooden carts pulled by workhorses or mules were a common sight. The carts were often hand-hewn wood attached somehow to a metal frame on wheels that probably came from an old truck that had worn itself out hauling farm harvests. There wasn’t even a seat for the driver, just space to stand and hold the reins. The horse or mule pulling the cart knew the way–few commands were needed from the driver.
Flue-cured tobacco was picked by hand and strung on sticks that were hung in barns to be “cured” with heat until the green leaves turned golden. Too little or too much heat diminished the value at auction and guaranteed a year of economic hardship. Stories circulated in the 1960s about tobacco barns that had caught fire and burned the season’s harvest, hail that destroyed the tobacco just before picking, and the multitude of bugs and worms that could devour the crop and a year’s work. It took many prayers to get a crop safely to market. Then, it turned out that tobacco caused cancer. It was truly what I always heard it called, “the crop from hell.”
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