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Reliving the cotton legacy at Gateway Farm Toy Show
Who hasn’t been caught humming the stanza to the song “Pick a Bale of Cotton?” The words go: “We’re gonna jump down, turn around/Pick a bale of cotton/Jump down, turn around/Pick a bale a day.”

The words are reminiscent of the hand-picking years portrayed at this year’s 32nd Gateway Mid-America Farm Toy Show, by Darryl Cox of Humboldt, Tenn. Darryl created a cotton scales and hoist and took time to educate the public about the time in the late 1960s when he was a young boy and worked on the Cox family cotton farm.

Darryl’s display began with a bale of cotton he purchased. Next, he added cotton scales he found at a tractor show: “These scales were used up to about 1975. That was about the end of people using scales like this.”

At another show he found a cotton bag from Bemis out of Jackson, Tenn. “They were a big textile cotton mill that had been in business since the 1900s. They shut down in the 1980s,” he said.

The Bemis Historical Society said the mill was located in its own community formed through the efforts of Judson Moss Bemis, who started the Jackson Fiber Co. that was later called Bemis Cotton Mill. Realizing his company’s bag factories must have a dependable supply of high-quality cotton, Bemis built a mill near the cotton fields, near a good railroad center to assure transportation and among people who would make dependable and efficient employees.

Built on the original 300-acre site donated by citizens of Jackson and Madison County, through county appropriation, the first mill of 21,000-spindle capacity was erected in 1900 and actual production starting the year following.

Darryl explained Bemis built houses for its employees and sold goods from the company store. While the mill is closed today, there is a museum in Bemis where visitors can go and learn about this unique village.

Darryl originally was just collecting cotton items and had not considered a display until his friend who hosts a BBQ festival said, “Let’s build this display.” Putting the items together, Darryl relied on a picture he saw on the Internet of a hoist.

Using this as a guide, he said, “I came up with a way to build the framework. I made the hoist like the picture showed. My friend had some cotton tongs that clamp the bale of cotton. They once had a cotton gin.”

Besides at the BBQ festival, the cotton display was exhibited at Darryl’s toy show. In years past Darryl has made some amazing cotton pickers, but this was the first cotton display of this sort he has created and shown at the Gateway Farm Toy Show.

Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.