The touch, the feel… of cotton

Emmett, Bella, and Arthur leaning against a wall of cotton

Emmett, Bella, and Arthur leaning against a wall of cotton

This was Eli Whitney on a grand scale. With too much noise to hear our tour guide, we just looked up at the three-story-tall cotton gins – two of them. Our friends in Georgia, Greg and Melissa Davis, with their children Benjamin and Irene, had agreed to take us to the local cotton gin in the community near where Greg pastors.

Cotton, in semi-trailer sized modules, went through a machine that loosened the cotton up, through a dryer, and fed into the gins through big ducts near the ceiling. The gin ran too fast for us to see anything except a white blur. Then it ran back up to the ceiling and over to the packing machine. It was out of order for a moment. Big wads of cotton – cleaned up somewhere in the process – floated down as workers pulled them free of the machine to make a repair. Bella, Emmett, and Arthur got to hold big fluffy cotton balls. Owen just stared around.

Clouds of cotton float down to the floor as workers clear a machine that needs repairs.

Clouds of cotton float down to the floor as workers clear a machine that needs repairs.

Emmett covers his ears. He could have stuffed them with cotton!

Emmett covers his ears. He could have stuffed them with cotton!

Arthur holds a handful of raw cotton.

Arthur holds a handful of raw cotton.

From the building housing the gins, our tour guide led us to the warehouse. 500 pound, plastic-wrapped bales of cotton formed neat rows 3 or 4 high. Back in near the gin, the packer was working again, so we returned to watch big pistons pack the cotton into the bales, which the workers shoved into plastic bags.

Bales of cotton fill the warehouse.

Bales of cotton fill the warehouse.

Ever since we got a book about him from our library, our children have been fascinated with inventor Eli Whitney. They even drew some pictures about him on a poster-board we found in some missions housing. A visit to Connecticut in December had given us a chance to see the Eli Whitney museum. (Not much there for us – mostly set up for school groups to do projects about inventing.)

Major uses for the cotton seeds picked from the cotton bolls include pressing for cottonseed oil and cattle feed! We were in Georgia at the Davis’ church (Hurst Baptist, near Sylvania) to do a weekend Bible conference. Saturday morning at the cotton gin tour, we met one of the church members who was there picking up a trailer load of cotton seed to feed his cows. We took him up on his invitation to visit his farm for the children to help feed the seed to the cattle. All the children perched in the wagon for a ride to the pasture. Although they’ve been on several hay-rides, this was their first ever cotton-seed ride. They really had fun climbing up on the pile, then coming down to help fill buckets to hand out as Mr. Danny, his wife and daughter poured the seeds out into the feeders.

Emmett still has a wad of raw cotton as a souvenir. We adults brought back some good memories of fellowship and worship, along with an appreciation for the needs, blessings, and challenges of rural southern ministry.