By Joann M. Ringelstetter
In early August, we posted a blog entry about tobacco growing in Wisconsin. Last weekend, we returned to tobacco country (around Edgerton and Stoughton) to photograph the harvest. Most of the tobacco barns had their side vents opened up and some of them were full of drying tobacco, while others were awaiting the hanging of the tobacco.
Along the way, we discovered an antique tobacco setter and stopped to ask the owner, Sandra, about it. She was very gracious and gave us a detailed explanation of how the setter worked. There was a water tank with a seat on top of it. This is where the driver of the horse team sat. Later, the setter was converted to be pulled by a tractor. Then the seat on the top of the water tank was used by kids who wanted to ride along. On the back, very low to the ground, were two seats for the tobacco planters. Sandra said she sat on the left and planted with her right hand and her mother sat on the right and planted with her left hand.
As I talked with her, a car pulled in and her daughter got out and joined us. Sandra explained that I was inquiring about the tobacco setter. “Did you work in the tobacco field too?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I remember planting tobacco with that setter. Mom sat on one side and I sat on the other.”
In our blog post entitled “August Meanderings,” we mentioned our visit to the Cooksville General Store. Sandra told us that they used to buy tobacco seed that had been sprouted in wool socks at the Cooksville Store. She also showed us a very old and worn ax that was used to chop the tobacco plants off at ground level and several hand-made spears. The spears were placed over the end of the lath board and then 5 tobacco plants were speared onto the lath, which was later hung in the tobacco barn for curing.
Shortly after our visit with Sandra, we discovered a tobacco harvest in progress and another gracious owner, Dan, allowed me to photograph the process. He told me that it was very hard work and that he was only doing it because it was “in his blood.” Dan grew up raising tobacco and now continues the family tradition. He stressed to me that tobacco growing and harvesting hasn’t really changed in all these years. It’s still a very manual process, but today he hires a lot more help for the harvest than his family had when he was growing up.
As we mentioned in our previous Tobacco Time post, although we do not in any way advocate tobacco smoking or chewing, tobacco growing is a significant part of Wisconsin’s agricultural history. Therefore, we honor and respect the tobacco growers who toiled long hours in the tobacco fields to support their families.