By Norris Chambers

             When Clifton and I first began to hear the word gin we only associated it with gin tank. We knew what a gin tank was because there were so many of them within our hunting and exploration domain. About every three or four miles apart were nice dirt tanks ideal for a cool dip on a hot day. We spent much of our spare time enjoying the swimming pool attributes of these tanks. We didn’t care why they were called gin tanks. We just assumed that they were built for livestock to drink from and for nice kids like us to swim in!

            As we grew older we found that gin had other meanings. The word engine was often shortened to just plain gin. Of course there was the alcoholic gin and the cotton gin. We even knew a girl in school who was called Gin. Her real name may have been Jenny!

            With the knowledge of the various meanings of the word we discovered that the gin tanks were at one time part of a very important operation in the country, cotton gins.

            Most of the early settlers planted many acres of cotton. Cotton was in demand both locally and for export and provided the essential money crop for the farmers. Because it was essential that cotton be ginned (have the seeds and trash removed) and baled industrious entrepreneurs built gins within easy wagon driving distance of the cotton farmer.

            My grandmother told of raising cotton for making cloth for their own use. She said that there were no gins in their area and during cotton picking season each member of her family was required to pick his shoe full of seed from freshly picked cotton after supper and before going to bed. The cotton was then “carded” by hand. This process was performed with two flat brushes using steel bristles. The purpose was to get the fibers stretched into the same parallel position and to remove any small trash from the cotton.

The carded fibers were then fed into a foot pedaled spinning wheel and converted into cotton thread. The thread was used in a hand operated loom to make cloth. All clothing was then made from the hand woven cloth.

            In case you have never given a freshly picked boll of cotton a close examination, it resembles a fuzzy ball about one and a half to two inches in diameter. It has opened from a round boll and the contents have fluffed out into a beautiful, white ball of cotton. 

            Cotton had many uses besides clothing. In the old days it was used for making lamp wicks, stuffing mattresses and pillows, chair cushions, some harness padding and even a nice bed for Sally, the family cat. The green bolls were often used by southern farm lads for field fights in much the same manner that snowballs are used by northern kids for snowball fights!

            Cotton seed, saved for animal feed by the farmer, produced a rich flavorful drink and when properly churned and seasoned yielded a superior butter product.

            This wonder crop also had a more sinister use. It was used in the manufacture of explosives and was sorely needed by all nations at war or in the preparation for war.

             Since there was so much demand for cotton it is easy to understand that the farmers needed nearby gins to get their prepared for market. In most areas it was necessary to build a dirt tank to furnish water for the boiler. Hauling water to a gin without a tank required extra time and labor. There were a few gins without a convenient water source. But to Clifton and me the gin tanks meant only one thing, fishing and swimming!  Most of the gins were gone but the tanks were still in use by the land owners!

`           I remember at least one funny gin tank episode. Clifton, his brother Clyde and I had just finished a nice afternoon swim and were in the process of getting our clothes on when Clifton started jumping around like a cat with a grass burr between its toes and uttering some foul language. He had placed his clothes neatly on a large log and while we were examining the cool water a horde of wood ants were busy examining the inside of his clothing. When he started the dressing process they must have thought a three course meal had arrived and began feasting on Clifton! Both Clyde and I thought it was funny –

            I sometimes wondered about Clifton’s sense of humor!