Now that we have wool as a cash product, there is more to the collecting of the fleece than shearing the sheep. There were practices that were more or less standard thru the countryside in the shearing pen.
Most shearing rigs in the Erna area consisted of mostly a four-man crew. The sheep were gathered into a small area so catching would be rather easy and pads were laid down as a shearing matt. The belly area of the sheep was sheared first and then rolled to clip the sides and back. When one was completed, he would let the sheep up and a token was given to him for count. Usually, the tokens used were hard red beans from a bush, the mountain laurel, which grew wild in the most rugged hillsides of the hill country. As the next sheep was being caught, one person would roll up the fleece and set on a table and tie in a ball and drop in the bag.
The owner of the flock usually had two wool sack racks on which was hung a huge burlap bag and the wool was dropped into the bag and at about 1/3 full, and so on, the one tying would trump down the wool to pack trying to get about 250# of wool per bag. Once full, the sack was taken from the rack, perfectly sewed up with hemp cord with ears for handling and rolled to a corner of the pen for the day and moved to cover at quitting time.
Once the shearing was complete, the wool was transported to a local wool warehouse for storage by a wagon and team until a wool buyer would come by and make offers for the bagged fleeces after grading. About 4 bags were usually a load for a team so when the wool was transported, a caravan of 4 or 5 would form and travel together, because we had no mechanization about 1900. I think that Brady was the nearest rail center at that time. Once an offer of price was accepted, the buyer would pay the storage house and after storage fees, the owner would be paid.
Shearing was a backbreaking job and in 1900, a day’s work was light to light and one was glad to get to go home for a night of rest and ready for another day. Even in the ’30’s and 40’s, a day’s work was light to light. During this time, I can remember the work in a shearing pen as I usually had the job of rolling up the fleeces and stomping the wool in the sacks. I never sheared one in my life but I had some of the fun in working sheep. Sooner or later, a sheep would be cut and the fly smear had to be applied immediately and for a couple of days thereafter as we had blowflies ready to lay eggs and eat up the flesh. Most owners helped each other to pen sheep as no horses were used. We called it “foot back and walking” and for some reason, the Mexican Hat weeds always grew well around the pen area, now run an old ewe down to head her off in the weed patch. Thank goodness, then a fall was of no concern. Not like now as I had better fall near a post or a get up wall.
As I mentioned in my last article, Marvin Eckert had the first mechanical machine in the Erna area and I am not sure who his helpers were. After I became of age, I had a cousin, R. V. Hight that ran a rig and he had Les D’Spain, Wes Pearl and at times, “Red Nelson” and “Cub Hight” as his steady crew for several years. Sheep shearing was usually an annual event except for tagging in the late summer months to try to prevent wool worms. Then angora goats, hair goats, became popular in the hilly parts of the hill country so shearing became a six-month season as the goat was sheared in March and April and the sheep in May & June.
My cousin, R. V. was a Will Rogers made over. He was short, stooped in stature and always had a crude little, inquisitive smile and could come up with some of the most outstanding remarks not to have had more than 6 grades in the Little Saline School but that did not stop him from verbalizing. More about him in later articles, but now I have to relate a story about his shearing days. Awbrey Kothmann and I usually ended up our conversations about R. V. Hight and some of his off the cuff remarks. Awbrey told me of a story, as R.V. was shearing goats for his father, Goodall, at Tea Cup. Awbrey said that while R. V. was shearing a goat, Goodall stooped down and ask him a question. R. V. kept shearing and when he got thru, he turned the goat loose, stood, stretched and remarked “ I HAVE NO MORE IDEA ABOUT THAT THAN AN INFANT SPIDER WOULD, GOODALL”. That was strange due to the fact that he could always come up with some type answer to further the conversation.