Hanaba Munn Welch, | For the Times Record News
Feb. 24, 2018
Cotton gins and their perfunctory water towers once gave credibility to the skylines of many rural communities across North Texas and Southwest Oklahoma. Some still do. But many of the hulking structures are now shells of their former selves – no longer operational. It’s progress.
Many of the gins that once sent the sounds and dust of their industry into the air, day and night, are now dark and silent. Cotton still rolls into gins across the region – just not into as many gins. Most are cooperatives. Like mom and pop retail on Main Street, independent gins have mostly vanished, much the way retail has evolved into big-box operations. Economy of scale. But no matter the size of the gin, it’s still the same business with the same product – bales of cotton fiber, each weighing about 500 pounds or coming close.
Today’s bales are smaller and wrapped in tough plastic instead of burlap. But a bale is still a bale. Across the areas, lots of picked and stripped cotton has been rolling into gins and lots of bales have been coming out – a plus, along with livestock, for an otherwise lackluster area farm economy, although both cotton and cattle are facing tough times in 2018 for lack of moisture. In the world of ginning, Jud Byars of Wilbarger County is an independent gin owner-operator, making him an exception to the rule.
“The number of independent gins in Texas is, I would say, holding,” Byars said, taking time for an interview at the office of Fargo Gin, 10 miles north of Vernon. Staying in business depends on “how well they’re run, the commitment they’ve made,” he said. The same holds true for all sorts of gins. “Cooperatives also have to be well run,” Byars said.
It’s a business with ups and downs and breakdowns, even when the equipment is new. Byars is still working out the kinks in an off-season upgrade he made in 2017. “We had a lot of old machinery in the gin,” he said. “I thought it was time to upgrade.” Byars not only installed new gin stands but also remodeled the building to accommodate the new equipment – the machinery that separates the lint from the bolls and seeds.
He left the old brick wall that separates one end of the gin from the other, both for sentimental reasons and because tearing it down would have added one more expense to the project. Byars believes the old wall dates from the turn of the previous century, when the gin was established by three brothers who’d moved to Texas from Minnesota.
At the time they bought the land and built the gin, Fargo was making its transition from the next-to-the-last village on the cattle trail before Indian Territory to a farming town dependent on cotton. “This gin has a rich history going way, way back,” he said. Byars bought the gin in 1976 from the Wall family. They’d owned it for decades. Now his own son, Emory Byars, helps him run it. Both men also farm.
Did her ever look back?
“I’ve looked back a lot of times,” Byars said, smiling. “If I didn’t have Emory, I couldn’t do this any more.” If the day ever comes when the two men give up ginning, Fargo could turn into one more community with an abandoned gin. Meanwhile, things are humming and will be into April or May, processing the bountiful 2017 crop. “Last year we ginned 11,320 bales,” Byars said.
“That was the most we’d ever ginned. I thought farmers wouldn’t plant as many acres this year as they did last year, but they did.” The bale count at Fargo will probably reach 17,000 – another record. “We were blessed with a good crop,” Byars said. “Divinity intervened considering the hard shape farmers are in.” It was the second year for a good crop across the whole region.
At Rhineland in Knox County, the co-op gin wound up the season early in February with a bale count of 53,600, compared to 46,000 the year before. Rhineland gins cotton from Baylor, Haskell, Knox and Throckmorton counties. At O’Brien in northern Haskell County, the O’Brien Co-Op finished ginning on Feb. 12 with a count that nearly matched the total the year before – 19,310 bales compared to last year’s 19,760. O’Brien receives cotton from roughly the same area plus Stonewall County.
“It was a good crop – about the same as last year,” said Terry Utley, gin manager, working late on a February night. At Elliott in eastern Wilbarger County, just across the Wichita-Wilbarger border, Elliott Producers Gin is having a good year.
“An excellent year,” said Justin Butler, manager. “Double the production.” The gin handles cotton from both Texas and nearby Oklahoma. It’s the easternmost Texas gin along the Texas-Oklahoma border for a long stretch – from Elliott to Honey Grove, which is about 200 miles away in Lamar County.
Producers ginned 26,502 bales last year – close to the 2010 record of 27,918. This year the count was 33,757 on Feb. 15, with ginning expected to continue at least till the end of April. “We’ll finish out close to 60,000,” Butler predicted. “We’ve had good luck.
Harvest conditions have been good.” At the Farmers Co-op Gin in Vernon, the bale count was 19,641 on Feb. 15 with the gin still running long hours and module-hauling trucks still crossing the scales and ginning expected to last at least through March.
The gin yard is a typical scene: rectangular and round modules, taped and packaged in an array of colors, awaiting their turns to go into the maw of the loudly purring gin. It’s the kind of linty landscape that captures the energy of a good ginning season – a time when the forces of nature and mankind and machinery combine to boost agriculture-dependent economies. Some years it’s not much of a boost. This year it is. (Source: timesrecordnews.com)