Dunleith Cotton Gin
Job, Wife, And Truck
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There are strange things done at cotton gins
By the men who bale white gold;
We ginners all have a tale or two
That’d make your blood run cold.
In long days and nights, we’ve seen strange sights,
But the strangest I ever did gaze
Was that night ole Jock parked at my dock,
With a load o’ bales — all set ablaze!
During the twenty years that I managed Dunleith Cotton Gin, I worried more about fires than anything else, having heard nightmarish stories about cotton igniting upon entering gins and rapidly coursing its way through all the machinery, turning the whole plant into a cauldron of cooking cotton and corrugated tin, caving in. Such fires inside gins are unforgettable, but my most unforgettable fire took place outside the gin.
Back then, bales were wrapped in jute bagging and bound with wide metal bands. Because these bales were larger than those processed nowadays, sixty was a truckload.
Once a week, truck driver Jock Jones, whose intelligence quotient wasn’t much higher than that of a cotton bale, backed his rig up to the gin dock. After being loaded, he chugged toward town to visit Maggie — who was definitely not Mrs. Jones — before heading out for an East Coast textile mill. Parking a truckload of cotton at the wrong address in a small Mississippi Delta town clearly indicated Jock’s between-the-ears deficiencies.
Dunleith was a tiny farming community, so far out in the country that one step in any direction was closer to town. At night, the only indication civilization existed beyond our wide spot in the road was automobile lights on Highway 82, four miles distant. That unforgettable night, more than lights spangled the highway.
“Boss, step out on the dock,” Hoover the pressman said. He pointed toward a roaring conflagration speeding down the highway.
“Must be a truckload of cotton afire. Looks like the driver is slowing down.”
“Yessuh, he’s slowing down all right … so he kin turn on the road coming to this gin!” It was Jock.
Though she remained exculpatory, word spread that Mrs. Jones spotted her husband’s truck in front of Maggie’s house and stuffed a smoldering “billet-doux” between bales at the front of his load. Innocent of the impending inferno, Jock jockeyed up to cruising speed as the wind turned his rig into a rolling Roman candle.
Realizing that a catastrophe was in the making, I raced to the control panel, stopped the cotton flow and switched off all the machinery, while the crew moved bales to the edge of the gin lot.
Even Jock’s Maker was probably surprised by his next maniacal maneuver, and it definitely convinced a growing crowd of spectators that his cogitative capabilities equated a cabbage’s.
He backed up to the dock, leapt out of the cab, and dodging straps flying in all directions from bursting bales, screamed, “Git them bales off my truck!”
When dawn broke, Jock lacked three things he had the day before: job, wife, and truck.