Behind-The-Scenes Cotton Gin Anecdotes

By J. Kelley Green

Working in the regulatory arena can be frustrating and tedious, but for those of us who have found ourselves doing this work, it can also have its humorous points if you know where to look.  

When I first started at Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, there were about 450 gins in Texas, but they were much smaller than the ones we have now. Most of them had no air permit — back then a gin was “grandfathered” from being regulated if it was older than a certain age. Environmental issues were just starting to kick in for the smaller facilities. There was an older (to me at the time) man in Lubbock who ran the local enforcement office for what now is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He found out I was working for TCGA and summoned me to his office.  

In our meeting, he explained to me he had a lot of respect for the ginners, but he had learned to be careful in what he specifically asked them to do, because they will get it done. He said he had gone to a gin with a pile of burrs on fire and simply told the guy the fire had better be out by tomorrow. When he drove back by a few hours later, the ginner had a tank of diesel and was putting it on all the parts of the pile that were not yet burning. He now had a huge fire, but as he explained to the TCEQ inspector, it wasn’t going to burn out by tomorrow if he didn’t get the fire going really well today.  

The Occupational Safe and Healthy Administration was inspecting one of our gins and found a teenager working there. His father owned the gin, so the inspector said he couldn’t keep the kid from working. However, the inspector was upset and gave the ginner a thorough chewing out. At that point, our guy put his arm around the inspector’s shoulder and asked him if he had any children. The inspector replied that he did, and our guy then asked him if he was going to let them work before they were 18. The inspector said that he would not. The ginner said, “Well, I hate to tell you this, but your kids are not likely to be worth a ‘darn’ when they grow up!” 

One of our guys called and said his permit was really out of date. He was concerned that TCEQ was going to catch him, and he would be in trouble. He asked me to set up a meeting and he would come to Austin to see what he could work out. When we got there, he raised his hands over his head and said, “I’m turning myself in!” The state folks then asked him what had changed in his gin. His answer was, “Well to begin with, you think my gin faces East, and now it faces South!”  

In one of our many utility cases, we had a ginner get called in to a deposition in Austin. This case was especially contentious, and the utility was pulling every trick in the book. The air conditioning was turned up in the deposition room, and it was pretty hot. What they didn’t count on was that West Texas cotton folks are used to the heat. Our guy seemed completely unfazed, but after a while you had to feel sorry for the young utility lawyer, who was sweating profusely the whole time. To make it even better, our guy kicked his West Texas accent into full drawl mode and was speaking at about half speed the entire time. This young lawyer spent the entire deposition sweating and trying to figure out if our guy was just slow, or if he was messing with her.  

Dr. Phil Wakelyn is one of the best people I have ever witnessed in a pressure situation. During an OSHA deposition, he was trying to explain to the OSHA lawyers about the original intent of the OSHA hearing standard. The lawyer asked him how he could possibly have an understanding of Congressional intent when they passed the original act? He replied, “Well, I was in the room and listened to the entire debate.” It is worth noting that the deposition occurred about 45 years after that particular debate in Congress.  

OSHA inspected one of our gins after a guy fell while installing a new inclined cleaner. The inspector was apparently fairly new. He issued a citation for not locking out the equipment. During the informal conference, the area director asked why we didn’t have the machine locked out. We explained to him that it is hard to lock something out that isn’t wired up yet. Some citations are easier than others.  

— J. Kelley Green
Round Rock, Texas

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to We look forward to hearing from you.

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