Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

April 7, 2010

Cotton Field Hazards — Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

As a young man, I worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  I worked in Central Texas measuring cotton fields.  Cotton farmers were given a certain allotment of acres on which they could plant cotton.  The farm policy was to provide controls over the amount of cotton grown.  Because of rising productivity, farmers could not exceed a certain amount of planted cotton.  This was to control prices.  A large surplus of cotton would lower the prices much.  For many farmers, it meant a decrease in the number of acres being planted.  There was a subsidy provided to those farmers.

In order to assure compliance, individuals, like myself, were employed to measure those fields.  In Central Texas these were very large fields.  We were provided with an aerial photograph of the fields.  We used these as a plot to give an accurate measurement.  For several years, a measuring wheel was used.  After the discovery that some workers simply drove their trucks around the field, holding the wheel to the ground with an arm extended out through the window, the measuring wheels were replaced. There were  inaccurate measurements in addition to complaints by farmers of their fields being damaged.  I was required to “pull a chain.”  The metal tape, called a chain, was 100 feet long.  When you reached 100 feet, a metal ring was placed in the ground and the chain would pass through the eye of the ring.  As you pulled the chain, the first ring pulled out of the ground. Every 100 feet, the chain would again be threaded through another ring.You would continue this until you had measured  1000 feet.  Then the rings were gathered and the procedure began again.

It was hot and dry in those fields.  With my boots and large western hat, I thought often that I looked like a cowboy who had lost his horse.  Completing the fields of a farmer often required the walking of several miles as you had to walk completely around the field.  Because no field was a perfect square, all sides had to be measured, then mapped on a chart. I enjoyed the work, but I faced two real challenges.  But the better word would be hazards!

Hazard One:  Rattlesnakes!  Central Texas is known for rattlers!  We were required to carry a snake bite kit.  We had been well instructed on the use.  A rattler can strike a distance equal to half of its length when coiled.  That is quite a distance for a five or six foot rattlesnake!  The snake can see you before you see the snake.  A rattler can strike without coiling, but  not with any distance.  The kit included a razor to cut across the bite, a suction cup, an antivenom, and bandage items.  Some today dispute using some of those items, but remember, I am speaking of 50 years ago!

Every time I planted a ring, I looked closely before I would lean down to plunge it into the ground.  I will tell you that it was rare to go into a field and not encounter several rattlesnakes. I would abandon my route and allow the rattler to have its way.  Today, I would carry my Texas Snake Charmer!  That is a legal, sawed off .410 shotgun with a pistol grip!  Blessed I was that I never was bitten!  But that was not my biggest hazard!

(Get the rest of the story — Hazard Two —  in tomorrow’s blog!)



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