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Something satisfying about days spent in tobacco fields

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(Second of two parts)

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One would hope that after enduring heat, dust, rain and, on one memorable day in June, a snow flurry to get tobacco into the ground, one could relax for a bit and just watch it grow.

However even the best planters miss one now and then and in a 50-acre field that adds up to a lot of holes that have to be filled utilizing a Jack planter, an utterly Medieval tool that ranks up there with the guillotine and the rack.

The drill was to fill the water reservoir, strap on baskets of plants and start walking. When you found where one had been skipped, you stuck the snout of the beast in the ground, inserted a fresh plant and squeezed the trigger to release a shot of water. It worked, once, after that the infernal machine clogged with mud and you quickly learned to carry a garden trowel and the bare minimum of water, or better yet pray for rain.

I still have nightmares about quackgrass or whatever the botanical name is for that little pine tree shaped weed that loved to snuggle up against the young and defenseless tobacco and suck up its water.

You had to be nimble with a sharp hoe to hook one edge of the blade under it and flick it out.

I was doing this in the early eighties when I heard the phrase global warming for the first time. Up until then the big concern was acid rain. Is that still a thing?

Then there was the artfully named hoeing attachment. What it was attached to was a tractor fitted with hydraulics. This thing beat any carnival ride; you sat on an iron seat and worked two handles with angled pieces of iron welded to them. The object was to work a figure eight pattern between plants; great for eye-hand co-ordination.

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Much depended on the sanity of the person driving the tractor, a notch of added speed and you could cause a massacre. At the end of the row you were hoisted into the air and hung on to any holy handle you could find as you were U-turned into position and lowered to the ground. Sometimes a hydraulic glitch would drop you like a sack of manure.

Now the weather, as always, took a hand. If it was a dry summer you found yourself shifting irrigation pipe all day, and all night if necessary. Thankfully the advent of water cannon and plastic hose on a reel and timer to move the irrigation guns took a lot of the grief out of the process. Still, being near a blown coupling could do you damage

Even with all its hard work and misery there was something unique and satisfying about the job. You were doing something that wasn’t for everybody and could be described as good training for a career in the infantry.

The money was good and if you were lucky you were with a crew that would stick it out to the end of harvest and you made some fast friends. I still run into people I worked in tobacco with nearly 50 years ago.

I know it’s blasphemy to say anything good about the stuff but the tobacco industry, unique to Norfolk and parts of Elgin counties, put a lot of young people through school and provided a living, often a very good living, for sand land farmers.

As a fan of decent cigars I do wish we could grow Burley leaf.

Gordchristmas@outlook.com.

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