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Shoofly Hangers: 1939

Shoofly Hangers: 1939

July 1939. "Son of tenant farmer hanging up strung tobacco inside the barn. Shoofly, North Carolina." View full size. Medium-format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration.


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We were still doing it this way in Martin County, NC in 1984. There was usually a boy on the ground as well, taking the sticks from the pallet and bringing them in to poke up to the first guy. I seem to recall the sticks with bundled leaves of green tobacco weighed about 30 pounds each. The tobacco was very wet in the morning and it rained water and tobacco juice down on everyone in the barn until about 10:30 am. The "beams" they are standing on are called "tier poles." The highest one in the barn is called the "wind tier." Contrary to this picture, the man on the lower tier poles usually faced the opposite direction of the man on the upper tier poles to make poking the stick up easier. Once the higher tiers were hung, the lower man would come down on the ground, and things would speed up. The man up top was usually the senior man, because hanging the sticks correctly with proper spacing for equal curing was critical to the farmer. Also, he wouldn't get "rained on" as much up there. As a white teenager in the 1980s, I "helped" a local farmer every weekday, from 7am to 6pm, July through August, for $26/day. A black man, named Ralph, was the senior man in the barn, and he was the descendant of a tenant farming family that had lived on the same farm generations before. His son and nephew worked on the ground and the lower tier poles with me. At night, Ralph worked as a guard at a local prison, and I went to football practice from 7:30-9:30pm. Then we would get up and do it all over again. We road in the back of a pickup truck to and from the farm each day. It was grueling work. Some farmers used more modern "bulk barns," but many farmers believed the pole barns cured a better product. The sticks were much lighter, but much much dirtier, when they were pulled back out of the barn after curing.


My husband hung tobacco like this in the mid 70s. He says that temps got upwards of 120 degrees in the barns. He'd take off his shoes to grip the beams better. The white on the boy's overalls are salt stains from dried sweat.

Dirty Jobs 1939 style,

Dirty Jobs 1939 style, somebody get Mike Rowe a time machine!

white on pants legs

See those slanted wide white marks on the lower legs of his pants? Bet they are from being bleached by the sun where they were hung over a clothes line.

You can see the feet of the

You can see the feet of the hanger above in this great photo. It took two hangers working together to fill these tall barns. Top guy had the best job as he only hung his racks and did not have to pass the sticks up.

Actually, there's TWO people up there...

There's another pair of feet above the son's, so there's at least two people up there doing that.

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