They had names — Meredith Farms, Smith Bros., Hudson Planting Company. At one time they numbered in the hundreds around a given gin community and in the thousands in many a county across the South. And they had basically one purpose, carrying cotton from the field to the gin.
Yes, I’m talking about the lowly cotton trailer — that steel-bottomed, expanded metal-sided wagon that, when loaded, would push a pickup truck into a ditch if the driver got careless.
The cotton trailer had replaced horse or mule-drawn wagons as a means of delivering cotton to the gin, but there were problems. While today’s younger growers may not have experienced the process, older ones will remember pulling loaded trailers to the gin and returning to the field with one or two empties. This was fine as long as the gin could keep pace. But with the crush of harvest a grower could find himself without empty trailers — not a good situation. About the only two options would be to dump cotton on the ground or shut pickers down. Not good choices when the weather could turn any day. So most went with what was probably excess trailer capacity and that added to the numbers.
I didn’t see the demise of cotton trailers coming on a fall day in Jefferson County, Ark., when I got my first look at a prototype of the module builder. This was in the early 1970s, a year or two after Cotton Incorporated had begun research work with modules — in conjunction with Texas A&M University — to try and find a way to increase cotton harvest efficiency. To say they were successful is an understatement.
It didn’t take long for modules and module hauling trucks to take over the transport of cotton from field to gin, but where did all those trailers go? They quietly seemed to vanish.
I still see one occasionally as a receptacle for used tires and such, or sitting on a ditch bank covered with vines. I’ve been told that many were sold into Mexico’s cotton industry, while a recent Google search told me, that with modifications, they make good portable chicken houses and with sides removed, good hay-haulers.
But I have a feeling they’ve been put to other good uses and would really like to hear some of those.