Hot Time in the Summertime
Of all the jobs I have ever had, the weeks that I spent working in Fenner's Tobacco Warehouse were the hardest and hottest of all. The annual "tobacco season" was right in the middle of the hottest time of the year in Tifton, Georgia and Fenner's warehouse was the epicenter of heat and humidity. I was hired to be a member of a crew of six to eight guys who were to place the "sheets" of tobacco on the floor of the warehouse so that the tobacco sale could be held the following day. Now, Fenner's number one warehouse covered about an acre under one tin roof. The floors were made of rough cut lumber which had been abused for a number of years. It was not level and smooth. The warehouse would hold about 1200 sheets of tobacco and they had to be put in place the night before the sale. My crew reported for duty at 6 p.m. every day and we worked through the night to have the warehouse full of tobacco for the morning sale which would begin at 9 a.m.
Tobacco season was a special time of the year. All the farmers would line up their trucks for two blocks or more to get to put their tobacco on the floor for sale. Each truck would average about eight to ten sheets of tobacco and each of those would weigh anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds. Truck by truck our crew would take the tobacco off, place the sheet in a square basket made of strips of oak wood, put the load on a buggy which was manned by one of the crew and then the sheet was weighed and placed on the floor with the farmer's name attached to it. The buggies were made of heavy wood and were not easy to handle. The farmer would stand at the scales and inspect what was going on with his tobacco because it was his main cash crop in those days.
Every night after a sale we had to completely replenish the sheets of tobacco on the floor of the warehouse. Six of us would have to place the 1200 sheets on the floor in our twelve hour shift. When 6 a.m. came the following morning, we were all completely exhausted from the night's work. Many times we had to work on up into the day when there was a sale.
There has never been a hotter place on the planet that Fenner's warehouse number one. At night it was almost unbearable but in the daytime one could hardly stand it. The tin roof that covered that acre of warehouse radiated head well into the night. It was torture. In addition, the humidity in South Georgia at that time of the year was near 100 percent. Many times the temperature was 100 degrees and the humidity was at 100 percent. You could see the air! You could almost drown in it. One felt like they could swim in the air! It was unmerciful. People working in the warehouse were "wringing wet" all day and night. But, we were compensated for all this misery and that made it a little more bearable. Compensation back in 1957-58 was at the fantastic rate of 58 cents per hour. So, in twelve house we earned the grand total of $6.96. For a six day week we earned the astounding amount of $41.76 before taxes.
Many was the morning that I reported for work at 6 a.m. and found the warehouse totally empty. But, when my shift finished at 6 a.m. the next morning it would be packed. I have actually had the auctioneer start a sale from my buggy as I rolled it off the scales. That's how intense the situation was. Well, it was a Hot Time in the Summertime if you worked in a tobacco warehouse in Tifton, GA. And, there were six warehouses as I remember. Fenner's #1 warehouse had a sister. It was Fenner's #2. Not quite as big but equally as hot and required equal time and sweat. I worked there when we would fill up Fenner's #1 and have time left on the shift. Anyway, it was hard work. It was hot work. It was exhausting work. But, it paid for my 1949 Ford and for that I was thankful.
The second season I worked in the tobacco warehouse, I was rehired by the same shift manager, Mr. Marchant. We started off the season in familiar fashion, but about a week into the season, I was told to go to the office. Mr. "Shine" Fleetwood wanted to see me. Now, one has to understand that Mr. Fleetwood was "Mr. Tobacco" in that part of the world. He coordinated much of what happened in all the warehouses in town. I was wondering what in the world he wanted with me. I had done nothing wrong and I was a hard worker....didn't loaf. Well, Mr. Shine Fleetwood was getting older and unable to get about as he formally could. He needed someone to drive him around to all the warehouses so he could check on what was happening with the sales. So, he asked me if I would be interested in being his driver as well as working in the office for the season. Of course I was totally amazed at the offer and accepted it on the spot. No more buggies. No more unbearable heat (the office was air conditioned). Mr. Fleetwood owned a large black sedan. I think it was a Hudson. It was elegant and drove like a dream. It looked like the kind of car that the Mafia drove; big and black. I took him everywhere that summer. The guys on the shift couldn't believe my fortune. They just shook their heads as I would drive by. By the way....I also got a raise. About a dime an hour! But, I had Cokes from the ice box, snacks from the office and plenty of time to talk and fellowship with those around me. That second year was a breeze. Mr. Shine Fleetwood was a good man to work for. He took care of those who did their job properly and rewarded them. I was fortunate to be able to work for him during that Hot Time in the Summertime.
But, I can't stop there. The next season, my third, Mr. Fleetwood called about two months before the tobacco season started and asked me if I wanted a job. He warned me that it was a big job and must be done right. He wanted me to prepare both Fenner's warehouses for the sale season. I accepted the challenge and got started. The warehouses were always left in a mess. Trash and discarded tobacco left everywhere. Dirt and dust abounded. The office was a total disaster. The baskets scattered all around the warehouse, and the water barrels needed cleaning. One man to do all of that in both warehouses. I worked all day every day making it happen. When the season opened both places were ready to go with those huge floors swept clean, all the baskets stacked neatly, the office was spotless and the water barrels were cleaned and sanitized. Like to have killed me.
About two weeks after that season was over, Mr. Fleetwood called me again. He said that the tin roof on Fenner's #2 needed a coat of aluminum paint to seal the small holes and to reflect some of the summer heat. So, I got a crew of my friends together and we painted the roof of that huge building. It was almost an acre in area. We got the aluminum paint in five gallon buckets and painted that whole roof using mops as paint brushes. Now my friends, that was probably the hottest job I ever had. The sun reflecting off that shiny paint was cooking us in both directions: as it came down and as it reflected back up off the paint. It felt like one was in a convection oven. We had to stop every hour to cool off for about fifteen minutes. But, in about a week, the job was done and we all looked like cookies browned in an oven when the job was finished. Yes, sir!! Those experiences with the tobacco season and Fenner's warehouses permanently sealed it in my mind that tobacco season in South Georgia is a Hot Time in the Summertime.
William F. Harrell