Thursday, June 13, 2024

It Don’t Get Better Than This

By George D. Hodge

I started picking cotton when I was 10, Mama made a pick sack out of a 25-pound flour sack, and I was expected to fill it up, empty it and pick another. All the kids at that time started picking cotton at an early age and were expected to pick, not play. I thought it was fun because Mama cooked dinner (lunch), brought it to the field and started picking herself. At 12 o’clock, she spread an old quilt on the ground, and we ate. By the time I was 13 or 14, I realized this was work, not fun, and no matter how good dinner was, I didn’t like it.

In 1959, Dad bought a cotton picker. A one-row John Deere mounted on a model A John Deere. No power steering, a lousy hydraulic system and no cab. Normally, 12-15 people were picking two bales a day, and now I could pick two bales a day by myself. It don’t get better than this.

After graduating from Auburn and serving Uncle Sam, I came home and had to finish Dad’s crop due to his illness. I continued to farm after his death and eventually traded for a used two-row picker. It had a CAB! No heater or air conditioner, but it had a CAB! No more trash going down my neck, no more wind whipping me, no more getting wet when I tried to go another round with rain visible in the distance. It don’t get better than this.

Eventually, I got up to four two-row pickers, but one day when two drivers faced each other on the same rows and came within five feet of a head-on collision, I knew it was time to change, so I bought a used four-row picker. Man, now I was picking four rows at a time and rolling out the cotton. I had a better cab, and it was more comfortable to drive. It don’t get better than this.

As I rented more land, I needed more picking capacity. Despite advice not to do it from a good friend, I spread my planter to five rows and converted the four-row pickers (I had two now) to five rows. After trying this for a couple of years, I realized it CAN get better than this. It was time to trade again, so a 12-row planter and a six-row picker was purchased. WOW! I had a cab, a heater, an air conditioner, a better seat and a radio. I purchased a second six-row picker, and we were picking 70 acres a day. It don’t get better than this. 

Almost overnight, module builders replaced trailers. After getting all the necessary equipment for building modules, I thought, it don’t get better than this. 

Just when everything seems to be stable, IH came out with a module-building picker followed by the “roller” picker by John Deere. Even though I never owned one of these pickers, I thought, it don’t get better than this. But it probably will. After picking cotton in some form or fashion for 72 years, my time has come to let younger farmers discover the next thing ‘that don’t get better than this.’ I’m sure it will come, just as it has in chemicals, seed and all the technology associated with farming over the past several years.

In 58 years of farming mostly cotton, I have gone from chopping and picking cotton by hand to chemical weed control, the eradication of the boll weevil and equipment that can literally run itself. Watching from the sidelines, I can’t wait to see what gets better than this.

    — George D. Hodge
Northern Alabama
gdhodge4@gmail.com


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 csmith@onegrower.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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