Charles Scott Harkey
February 29, 2004
Conducted by Joe Liles
Now, there’s a place near here called the Harricanes. If you want to find that place, wherever you stop to ask directions, it’s just a little bit farther up ahead. After you cross Highway 50, and you get on the other side of the lake, you are more less in the Harricanes. If you go down 98, you’d make a left and go back in here around Stoney Hill Church, and back in there is what they called the Harricanes. But they always said you would never find it because it was always just a little farther down the road. I don’t know where that name came from, I can’t tell you.
Everybody in this area farmed, back in the thirties. Later on, some of ‘em started working at Liggett Myers. When we were first married, everybody in our country church was farmers, everybody grew tobacco.
At one time I had me 1000 acres of land in Wake and Granville Counties. I had six tenants. Back then, we ran it on what you call “half shares.” I would furnish everything ‘cept they would furnish the labor. They would sell the tobacco and I got half of it. Sometimes I worked a good 20 hours out of 24, but I enjoyed it.
Many of the farms out here came with a tobacco allotment. Sometimes I would buy a farm just to get the allotment on it. This was basically permission from the government to grow so many acres of tobacco. I would bring that allotment over here, some place close by. Because over here, I built these irrigation ponds. I was one of the first around here to irrigate tobacco. It would make a big difference. I made money in tobacco, and I wasn’t even raised on a farm.
I sold most of my tobacco in Oxford because it brought a better price. You see, there is an art to selling tobacco. When you put it on the warehouse floor, you want the light to come over the buyer’s shoulder because it looks much better that way. If the light is hitting the tobacco from the front, and it is coming up into his eyes, if there is a green leaf in there, it will show up just like a new penny. In Oxford I had enough connections that, if I was going to be on an afternoon sale, I would be on an odd row. If I was going to be on a morning sale, it would be on an even row. I had it figured out which way the light was going to be coming so that that light would be right on my tobacco. I had a reputation as being the most curious man in the warehouse, but you would be surprised how much difference it made. It made the biggest difference in the world.
In the tobacco barns, you had a brick-lined flu down the middle of it. When the flu gave out, you had a pipe made out of real heavy gauge iron. You see, that smoke had to get out of there. The more pipe you could run in that barn, the more heat you could get in there. Now, the pipe would go out back yonder to a stack and that would draw your smoke out of the barn. Some of ‘em used a long flu, a sixteen foot flu, but some of ‘em used an eight foot flu and had more pipe in there. But if you had a stick of tobacco fall down from your barn and fall on the pipe, it would catch on fire. There was a lot of tobacco barns that burned down.
We used mostly hardwood. You would get your fire started and, after you got a good bed of coals in the flu, it would go easier. I would say it usually took about five days to cure a barn out. It all depended on the weather and everything, but five or six days and your tobacco would be cured.
When I started farming myself, I hired me a retired farmer, and that’s what he done, was cure the tobacco. I called him my boss man because if we were priming on a farm, he would come over and say, “You need to be over on the other farm.” I had 25 barns, and he looked after ‘em. He would go from one barn to the other. He cured tobacco for me 12, 13, maybe 15 years, and we never lost a barn.
I would usually get up at 4:00 in the morning and go until maybe 8:00 at night. I would need a little rest every once in a while. So this man would look after things, and I wouldn’t have to worry.