Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Baling Pinestraw Is a Hard Way To Make a Dollar

Baling Pinestraw Is A Hard Way To Make A Dollar !

Ambling Along
By Jay Hudson

Everytime I see a beat-up old pickup truck plodding down the road with a load of pinestraw, my mind drifts back in time to the early sixties, and Patrick, South Carolina.

Patrick was such a small community back then. It didn't have much going for it. It didn't even have a caution light. But it had a crossroads, a general store, a tar paper shack right up next to the Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracks, a swimming hole dug out in the creek, and hundreds of acres of pine trees, and a bunch of rambunctious teenagers.

Some of them were Patrick natives. Others were from Richmond County, NC.

I was one of the others.

It was the summer of ' 61, or maybe it was ' 62. My memory is beginning to fade like some of my jeans.

My uncles and I, and several other boys were baling pinestraw for a Richmond County man. He had rented a shack for us to live in while we worked in Patrick that summer.

If you ever had any of those terrible dreams where you are about to be run over by a train, just try sleeping in a shack that is less than fifty feet from the tracks.

The nightmare is almost real then.

The first night we stayed there, the early morning train came roaring through the night without any warning. It sounded like it was going to run right through the shack.

How would you like to be awakened from a bad dream, by a loud train horn, and the house shaking so bad you thought it was going to collaspe on top of you.

We managed to bale a lot of straw anyway. We baled straw from gray in the morning until gray in the evening.

Then we hit the swimming hole until after dark.

After supper, we played penny poker until midnight. Sometimes the pile of pennies would grow to five or ten dollars.

I don't know how it happened, but the man we worked for won the pennies almost every night. With such a little amount of sleep, it's a wonder we were able to bale any straw at all.

Sometimes we baled two tractor trailer loads of straw a day. We didn't have the fancy equipment that farmers have today either. It was hard manual labor with a pitchfork and a willing back. We worked so hard the ticks and redbugs didn't bother with us.

We did have a tractor that towed the baler. The baler had a large opening where we forked the straw in with pitchforks. The straw came out in rectangular bales. A fellow at the back of the baler would run tie-wires around the bale before the machine spit them out.

That thing would work you almost to death if you were the one stoking the straw in the hole.

I wonder if teenagers today have ever seen a blister on their hands !

The farmer paid us such a ridiculously low wage, I won't even mention the amount. Yes I will too. He paid us $5.00 a day. I guess he figured the fun we had was part of our pay.

And we had fun at the local swimming hole. The local boys must have heard that we were coming, so they dug out a very large hole in a nearby creek. It was about fifty feet in diameter and at least twenty feet deep in some spots.

Don't ask me how they got it so deep.

Well, dynamite was easier to get in the fifties and sixties.

The swimming hole became the entire focus of our summer in Patrick.
We headed straight to the hole as soon as we baled the last bale each day.

It would take several books to list everything we did there, but I will mention just two.

A large pine tree was growing right up to the waters edge. It must have been about sixty feet tall. Some enterprising boy had tied a rope about halfway up the tree. With a few short pieces of wood nailed to the side of the tree, we could get up it real quick.

If any of you ever watched the Dukes of Hazard, you know that swinging out over the water and dropping, was a favorite stunt.

Sometimes it became extreme sports if you know what I mean.

The bravest, or the dumbest, depending on which side of the state-line you were from, was a local Patrick boy. I forgot his name, but it rhymed with Garth, so I'll call him that. He decided that it would be fun to dive from the top of the tree.

He climbed as far as he could go without breaking the top out of the tree. Giving a loud Tarzan yell, he leaped out as far as he could. His body twisted in the air as he fell, so that he hit the water on his side.

It almost killed him, but the only permanent damage was a torn-up ear drum. He was permanently deaf in that ear.

Another sport at the swimming hole was to fill an empty drink can with water, and then add a cherry bomb for the fish. I think this kind of fishing is illegal now. Might have been illegal then too.

It is amazing what a shock wave will do.

The boys around Patrick were the equal of any that I ever knew around Ellerbe or Rockingham. The pranks never ceased.

One night during the summer, they decided to steal a watermelon from a nearby farmer's field. They didn't just steal one. They stole a whole car load. They were driving a convertible with the top down. The entire back seat was filled with watermelons. They drove right down main street with the melons shinning in the moonlight.

This was a crime no doubt, but it was done just for fun, no evil intent at all like criminals now days.

These boys must have had relatives at Gettysburg in ' 63.

They often bragged that some of their distant cousins farmed the government timberland at night, using chainsaws. I know that had to be illegal.

I never did hear a chainsaw running at night while I was working and playing in Patrick. But then, some of the places we were baling straw had bare spots where a reasonable person would think a tree should have been.

Copyright-(c)-2005-Jay Hudson-All rights reserved. No reproduction without expressed written permission.


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