Day Seven – I Think I Passed Home Economics

Today’s adventure found me creating bales of tobacco.  The process I was exposed to today may appear simple on paper.  

  1. Bring in unusable tobacco that’s been collected throughout various processes in the factory, which has already been conveniently deposited into open boxes
  2. Weigh it to 120-lbs
  3. Press them into a bundle
  4. Sew the bundle shut thereby creating a bale of tobacco
  5. Stack the bales 

It was not that easy.  Let me take you through the process.

First, the press is prepared, then the sides are erected, and then the tobacco is placed inside.  

From time to time our team lead determined if the tobacco needed rehydrating.  As I’m finding out the tobacco is constantly under observation and at any time, if it is deemed to be too dry, it will be rehydrated.  Today we didn’t take it to one of the rehydration stations.  My team simply used a portable system.

After this the tobacco is loaded into the press, one open box at a time up to the 120-lb limit.  This wasn’t the hardest part of the day.  There were actually two parts of the day which were challenging for me.  One of those was spinning the wheel at the top of the machine to bring down a central pin whose primary purpose, in combination with a pressing board, is to compress the tobacco.  I have to tell you that I have never felt cramps in my arms, much a kin to a charlie horse, like I did today WHILE spinning that wheel.  My forearms literally look like Popeye’s at this point.  All that’s missing is the now politically incorrect anchor tattoo on each of my forearms. 

This is what the machine looks like when filled with tobacco.  And all it takes is fortitude to spin that wheel.  Did I forget to mention it takes two?  

After the tobacco is compressed, the machine is dismantled in such a way so as to keep the tobacco under pressure which can then be moved to the next station, SEWING.  When I was in school, middle school that is, the county I lived in believed it necessary that all kids take home economics.  I could barely sew then, and I sure had trouble doing it today.  Why all this babble about sewing?  Well, the compressed tobacco is sewn into burlap.

Again, these young men showed this old man just how simple a task is only to discover that I was, simply put, challenged.  The twine used cut through my hands in a few places and that’s okay.  I’ll call them my war wounds.  Not only that we were using a needle whose size was massive.  You can still see the needle in the picture above so just imagine pushing that through two layers of overlapping burlap.  And no one needs to ask, yes, I poked myself with that needle more times than I could count today.  After a while it became clear to the team that I was most effective, even at being ineffective, sewing the bales.

Was any of this easy? Not in the least.  I just don’t have the endurance these young men display.  Perseverance is the word I would use about today.  My host, Ricky, stopped by after lunch to see if I wanted to rotate out and onto another task?  I honestly considered it but in the end I wanted to finish the day with team I started with and that’s just what I did. 

I didn’t keep count of the number of bales we created today.  There was just a never-ending procession of boxes of tobacco needing our attention.  

The day ended early when around 5:00 PM I looked up from sewing what turned out to be my last bale only to discover the whole of the room was in clean up mode.  I guess there’s a silver lining after all as I chose this moment to quickly clean up my work area and say good evening to the room’s leader.

Oh.  It’s something like “T-minus 36 hours,” give or take a half an hour, until I reach the 100th hour.  

Until tomorrow… Long Ashes!