I admit it. I am a cotton gin junkie. Many a family road trip has been interrupted with the wife left waiting in the car while I traipsed through tall Texas weeds hoping not to step on a rattlesnake, all just to get a look at an old cotton gin. You can imagine my excitement when my Cotton Board counterpart in the Mid South, Bobby Skeen, called to tell me about an opportunity to help run an old gin in Mississippi as part of the 2011 Fall Festival at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.
The old gin is only a part of an amazing re-creation of a complete vintage 1920s town with everything from a church and service station, general store with soft drinks in small bottles and a grist mill, to a blacksmith shop and doctor’s office – even a print shop for the local newspaper. These outdoor exhibits are just a part of the museum’s collection. An indoor section is filled with antique farm equipment and tools, along with everything else that plantations would have used to farm and raise their families in the early days of Mississippi. The facility even has rental spaces available for public meetings and events. This rental income is vital to the ongoing operation of the museum.
Lots Of Ginning History At Museum
The star of the show, at least in my opinion, is the reconstructed 119-year-old Bisland Cotton Gin, which was relocated from its original home in Cannonsburg, near Natchez, Miss. Originally constructed in 1892, the museum staff claim it is the oldest operating cotton gin in the United States. The gin is nearly all wooden construction and in amazing condition. It consists of three 70-saw Gullet gin stands with Gullet’s signature magnolia blossoms on the fronts and sides. It is operated completely by flat belts from line shafts powered by a huge 55-horsepower Continental single cylinder diesel engine.
Unfortunately, on my visit the old engine was under repair and inoperative this year. Fred Temple, maintenance director for the museum, is in the process of repairing the engine and promises he’ll have it ready for next year’s festival. Based on Fred’s determination, I don’t doubt that in the least.
Not to disappoint the 5,500 visitors during the event, Fred pulled out a 1920s vintage 10-saw Eagle gin stand, and we went to work getting it ready to gin cotton. After a couple of failed attempts to power this gin with some antique power units on which Fred and his son Matt had worked, an old reliable John Deere 1930s era Model “B” tractor came to the rescue.
With tractor power, a long flat belt and plenty of belt dressing, we were able to gin cotton for the school children who gathered around. Most had no idea about cotton production and/or ginning. They were amazed at the entire process, and all took home samples of the ginned cotton.
Telling The Story
The entire event was a great opportunity for two Cotton Board staff members to help tell the story of cotton and its importance to the history of not only Mississippi but the entire South.
Fred will have his engine repaired and running in time for next year’s Fall Festival, which is scheduled for Nov. 6-10, 2012. If you’re ever in Jackson, Miss., I urge you to visit the museum. The small price of admission is well worth the things you’ll learn about agriculture.
Bob Stanley is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the Southwest. He resides in Lubbock, Texas. Contact him at email@example.com. Bobby Skeen resides in Monroe, La. Contact him at (318) 372-0727 or firstname.lastname@example.org via email. Bob Stanley, who enjoys visiting old gins, checks out a gin press during a recent visit to the ag museum in Mississippi.