The lessons learned from working in tobacco

Published 10:22 pm Sunday, August 26, 2018

In past articles, I have mentioned tobacco and the learning experiences it provided. All three of my children have worked in tobacco, and they share familiar stories even if it was on a harvester.

Many lessons of life could be learned from this job. It was a hot, laborious job, to say the least. It even had its own language. On a hot and sultry day, words like puttin’ in, takin’ out, handin’, hanging, priming, tie horse, truckin’, tier pole, lugs, poking and toppin’ were common words. Even the name tobacco was pronounced “bacca.” In the field or under the shelter, work started early and finished just in time for a shower and supper. This process usually started in June and finished up in late July. The work from the field, to the shelter, to the barn and then to the pack house was, indeed, much more than a chore.

Many farmers in our section of the county (Old Ford) would share help. Once a crew was finished with one man’s ’bacca, the crew just moved to the next. Farmers even shared barns to cure tobacco.

One summer, I was fortunate to be working for Mr. Harvey Dixon Jr. Mr. Harvey was a tough man who always wore black boots and khaki pants, and if he said do something, it got done! One day, he asked me to pull a platform of tobacco across the highway to the Leggett’s barn. I jumped on the tractor, trying to impress his two girls (Brenda and Laura) and headed out. When we arrived at the barn, there was a dip in the ground. The platform got stuck but, determined to impress the girls, I hit the gas. The tractor leaped forward but without the platform! The chain had snapped! The tractor and I went through the side of the barn! I cut it off and climbed to the top-tier pole, knowing Mr. Harvey would be there soon.

“Boy, you better come down from that tier pole,” was his order. My response was, “Mr. Harvey, I am as close to Heaven as I can be.” Mr. Harvey thought that was a good response, and he laughed and negotiated my pay for the summer to help pay for the barn. Lesson learned. Mr. Harvey and I remained friends ’til he passed away. Harvey Dixon Jr. was a good man and one who believed in giving young people a chance, and I am forever grateful to him for all that he taught me.

There are many stories and experiences we all learned from working in tobacco. I’m only sorry that today’s youth cannot learn some of these valuable lessons that working in tobacco taught many of us.

The best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places — Washington, NC!

— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.