Days Gone By - stories from the past

In a cottonseed oil plant, every part of the cotton was used in 1939 -[vintage pictures]

(Transcribed and unedited story from a WPA (Works Projects Administration) writer, William P. Burke – Truly an Alabama story from the 1930s.


(Short story)

written by

William P. Burke

ca. 1938

Jackson County, Alabama

“Morning, Tom; come on in and rest yourself. Here, take this rocker; them straight backed chairs are purty hard. You know, Tom, I shore found out some things yestiddy when I went to town. I had some cottonseed I aimed to trade for meal and hulls for my cows, and so I drove around to the oil mill to trade ’em.

“Well, when I got there the mill was running, with a whole passel of men a-working like the devil beating tanbark. They got a railroad sidetrack runs right up by the mill; and the sidetrack was full of freight cars plumb full of nothing but cottonseed. Some men in one of the cars was scooping the seed into a great big bin, using these pitchforks with a whole lot of teeth set close together to do the scooping with.

Sam Burns took him on a tour

“While I was watching, sort of goggle-eyed, here come a tall, lanky feller named Sam Burns.

“Here, fill up your pipe with some of this here homemade, Tom. I’ll get you a coal out of the fireplace. There hain’t a match on the place; I told Mandy to get some matches from the peddler but she didn’t. Said she didn’t have enough eggs to get matches and sugar both, and Mandy can’t drink coffee unlessen she has sugar in it.”

“Oh, about Burns and the oil mill? I’ll tell you jest as soon as you git your pipe fired up. Burns was weighing the cottonseed and talking all at the same time. Just as he give me the slip with the weight wrote on it, he said, ‘Do you use compound lard?’ and I said ‘yes, why?’ He said, “Well, that is where this mill pays expenses.”

“I was already interested in all that zipping machinery, and when he told me that I just couldn’t hold out no longer, I asked him if he could let me look through the whole shebang. He said he thought so, and for me to wait a minute. I waited, and purty soon he come back, saying he’d go along and tell me about it.

Worked like a sausage mill

“We started right there at the freight cars, where them car unloaders, as Burns called the cottonseed chunking men, were trying to fill up the big box.

Truckload of cottonseed coming into cottonseed oil plant. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Marion Post Wolcott Nov. 1939 (Library of Congress)

Down in the bottom of that box they was a whopping big screw that kept the cottonseed going out in a steady stream. The thing worked just like a big sausage mill, only they weren’t grinding plates at the bottom end of the screw. It had a clever contraption that Burns called a bucket elevator. It was a wide belt with a whole lot of buckets fastened to it with big frame bails. These bails would hold each bucket under the screw-end till it filled with cottonseed. Then the belt would move up till the next bucket was under the screw-end.

Linter cotton from lint left on seeds

“This belt was carrying the buckets of seed upstairs so we went up to see what it did with ’em. Well, it was just dumping the seed into big bins in what Burns called the storage room. They got another belt up in the storage room that runs all the way across the room in what they call a tunnel. Two men were in there shoveling seed onto this belt, and the belt was carrying them away. The next time the seed stop they are in a cleaning machine. These cleaning machines take out all the dust and dirt. Then a conveyor yanks the seed to a gin and doggoned if they don’t gin ’em all over again. They get lots of cotton off them seed with this linter gin; and they bale this linter cotton and sell it.

Rolls of lint from the cottonseed used in making of ammunitions and various cellulose products. Oil plant, Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 Marion Post Wolcott (Library of Congress)

That was the first time I ever knowed what ‘linter cotton’ is. And I’ll tell you something right now: if John R. don’t get rid of his old wore-out, snaggle-toothed gin I’m not going to let him keep on ginning my cotton and sending a third of the lint to the oil mill on the seed.

Rolls of lint from the cottonseed used in making of ammunitions and various cellulose products. Oil plant, Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 Marion Post Wolcott (Library of Congress)

Oil mashed out

“Under the linter gin another one of them conveyors ketches the seed and throws ’em into the hopper of what they call the hull separator. This is a machine that bites the insides out of the seed and throws the hulls one way and the meats the other. More of them conveyors are there to ketch each one of them.We follered the meats first.

“That conveyor poured the meats into a big pot that Burns called a cooker. The feller that runs this pot is the cooker operator. He stays there and adds water as they need it while these meats are cooking. It takes about an hour to git ’em cooked done.

“They take the cooked cottonseed meat to a big hydraulic press, and that press mashes ever’ bit of the oil out of the meat and leave the meat in hard cakes about as big as Mandy’s biscuit pan.

Oil being pressed from cottonseed in plant near Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress)

I forgot to say that when the cooked meat is put in the press it is wropped up in a kind of cloth that Burns said they called camel’s hair cloth. Fust I knowed or their making cloth out of camel’s hair too.

Removing Chinese hair mat from cake of cottonseed meal. This meal is fed to cattle. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress)

When the cakes are took out of the press they skin this cloth off and put them in a breaker machine that breaks them up in little pieces. Why do they use the breaker machine? Why, Tom, them cakes are just about as hard as rocks after they are pressed.

Pulling out cakes of cottonseed meal from press in cotton oil plant. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress)

Bran added to cake pieces

“After the cakes are broke up another conveyor takes the pieces to a storage tank that sets right by another tank full of bran. They mix this bran with the cake pieces and put it in a mill that grinds them into cottonseed meal. What kind of bran? Why, its just real fine-ground cottonseed hulls, that’s all.

Cakes of cottonseed meal which is fed to cattle in oil plant. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress)

“The fresh cottonseed meal goes through another conveyor to a great big hopper over an automatic scale. That scale is one of the durnedest contraptions I ever seen. A man just sticks a cottonseed meal sack over the end of a chute and, wham! That scale shoots a hundred pounds of meal into the sack. All the feller has to do is sew the top of the sack with that heavy cord they hold it tight with and the meal is ready to sell.

Bagging the cottonseed meal in oil plant. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta Nov. 1939 (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress)

Hulls also saved

“What happens to the hulls? We went back to see about them. After they leave the hull separator their conveyor shoots them to the hull packer. There they are sacked and the sacks sewed, about the same as the meal is done. Sam said some of the oil mills have hull grinders to grind the hulls into the little pieces they call bran, but this mill ain’t got one. They buy the bran that they mix with the cake to make the cottonseed meal.

“Here comes Mandy with some of them teacakes I been smelling all morning. Here, try some, Tom. I think if anybody can make good teacakes it’s Mandy. Don’t hurry, Tom, we’ll have dinner after awhile.

Cottonseed oil in lard buckets

“The cottonseed oil? Now, Tom, you know I plumb forgot to see what happens to it before we can buy it back in lard buckets. I got to ask Sam about that next time I see him.

“You want to borry my crosscut saw? Sure, it’s out under the woodshed; just pick it up as you go by. Watch out fer old Nellie and don’t let her bite you. She’s tied under the shed.

“Say, you-all goin’ to the singing Sunday? Yeah, guess we’ll be there.

“Well, come back when you can set longer, Tom. Bring the family over and make us a real visit.”

Washington Copy


S. B. J.


Once Alabama was admitted as a state of the United States of America on December 4, 1819, a great wave of immigrants from other states and countries came by flat-boats, pack-horses, covered wagons and ships to become the first citizens of the state. ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Statehood presents the times and conditions Alabama first citizens faced in lost & forgotten stories which include:

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Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. I love cotton seed oil lip balm

  2. Great technology for that era. God bless America!

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