Mason County News
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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 • Posted November 6, 2013

I am sorry that I missed the month of October as I had an un-expected appointment with the Fredericksburg Hospital and their staff due to the fact that I suffered a near fatal blood clot in the right leg during the month. Thanks, due to the care I received, I am up and going at about l/3 throttle at present.

Back to the gin at Erna. Because my dad worked in the gin during the ginning season, I had the run of the gin more or less from the time I was 6 to 13 at which the gin shut down in, I believe, 1943. Looking down the isle from the engine area to the press section, there was flat belting running vertical and to the right side of the gin proper, from the central main shaft. The water well was at the extreme west end, then the wood fired boiler and the steam engine beside the boiler, was the prime source of power for the entire gin operation.

The boiler was fired with cordwood in approx. four ft. lengths, which was operated by Felix Hahn in my days. He grubbed the post oak trees on his farm and cut into cordwood and delivered to the gin prior to the season start up and farmed his place while doing the cutting of wood. It was his job to keep the boiler pressure up to run the one cylinder steam engine and man the engine as well. It was constant monitoring in order to keep the pressure regulated in order to maintain the proper RPM’s to the main shaft, which was transmitted by series of flat pulleys and a flat belt. I am thinking that this was a 12inch belt drive. In my days much later, in mechanical engineering, we called the engine the prime mover, or driver, and the main shaft was the driven, but I was dealing with individual electric drivers with v-belts or direct drives.

In looking down the main shaft from west to east, the main shaft now becomes the driver and all the units receiving power from it becomes the driven. At the west end was the water well which was pumped with a pump jack driven from the main shaft thru a flat belt and this supplied the water for the boiler and a water trough for the teams as they came with the cotton to gin. I think that the grinder system for the making of corn meal was next to the pup jack.

Next in line was the engine driven pulley and then a drive system to operate the suction to unload the cotton, which was operated by Bob Mogford, from the wagon. A flat belt ran from the main drive pulley to the suction fan drive about 20 feet to the right. In fact, all the driven equipment was to the right of the main shaft. As the suction picked up the cotton, it fed into two stands from the top, which were in fact, vertical saw mills as the saws removed the lint from the seed. Tom Jacoby was the ginner and he kept the stands free from clogging and if this happened, he used a heavy stick to remove the wad of cotton. However, he failed to use the stick on one occasion and it cost him his left arm below the elbow. If I can remember correctly, there were about 20 flat belt drives total in the gin. There were no belt guards or barriers to prevent falling into the belt system and I never heard of any major accident other than Tom Jacoby’s. If the belt drive needed to cross the work aisle, a vertical belt went up to a jackshaft and then across on the horizontal to the driven. The main shaft was only about three feet above the floor.

The seed from the stand, fell into a trough where a screw conveyor carried them out to a seed house. Most of the time, the farmer would claim his seed but if need be, the ginner would keep the seed as payment for the ginning. As the lint was sawed away from the seed, it was blown into a bale press, which was located on an upper level, in form of folds to properly fill the press. The press drive was the final drive on the main shaft and it was powered by right angle helical gears in a gearbox, which in turn, operated a vertical screw that pushed the floor plated upward to compress the cotton into a bale, which weighed approx. 500 pounds. My dad, Jess Hight, operated the press, strapped the bales and weighed each bale, tagged and rolled it off the platform in the bale yard ready for transport to Brady by the cotton buyer, Ed Jacoby.

When the gin was built about 1900, the flat belt was the means of transmitting power from one source to another. All the bearings were split type, Babbitt filled as the friction pad of the bearing. The bearings were angle split so the load was not on the seam, so to replace a unit, one did not have to remove all the pulleys and bearing on line to get to the trouble spot. The pulleys were two-piece as well for the same purpose. Each bearing had an oil pot (reservoir) with a spring-loaded cover on top that could be filled about every four hours. The jack-shaft (driven) had the same type bearing and oil system, and it also was the responsibility of the engine man to keep every thing in oil.

Of course, the gin functioned as a gristmill for grinding corn into meal for the coming year. I cannot remember who operated the grinder and I think that there was a special day late in fall, set aside for grinding the corn. I don’t think that there was a sheller of corn on the cob as that was the job for the kids to shell corn from the cob to make ready for the Big Day, as this became a social event. I know how much trouble we now have keeping meal free of weavels (I guess that Websters thinks the bug has been eradicated as I did not find) and one can only imagine what the meal contained after 6 months of storage so I know now why every kitchen had a sifter in those days. I learned recently, that you can place a few tickle tongue leaves in the meal and the bugs stay out. Also, while you are gathering them, take a taste. Oh well, I think that a little protein was a good thing.

There is not much left of the gin site to indicate that there was ever an activity on the spot. There still remains the unloading hopper, standing, and a rock wall where the fire box was for the boiler. The site was just to the north of the wye of Erna Road and 377 and on property belonging to Alice and Dudley Cardwell.

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