Friday, August 10, 2012

Better Days

Oil on Linen
Plein Air and Studio
On Display as part of the
St. Mary's School Head of School Artist Series
Dec.14-Jan 30

Back in the late fifties harvesting peanuts consisted of stacking peanuts on a pole and pitch forking the harvest still on the vine into a stationary picker that would pick and empty the nuts into a burlap sack to be later hauled off by mule and cart.  By the Sixties, this process was slowly giving way to the pull behind picker that could be hauled by a tractor while it mechanically picked the peanut from the vine and stored it in a metal basket.  When the basket was full, it was emptied into the new Roanoke peanut trailer, like this one that has seen better days, and hauled to the farmer's drying shelter.  As this old trailer once replaced the mule cart, it is now quickly being phased out with eighteen wheeler trailers provided by the buying peanut companies.

Once a staple of the Eastern North Carolina Fall landscape,  the yellow or red Roanoke peanut trailer was made in Lewiston, NC by Harrington Manufacturing along with the yellow and white Roanoke peanut picker.  When the picker was full of peanuts, the person driving the tractor would pull along side one of these trailers and pull the hydraulic lever tilting the basket ninety degrees as the peanuts poured out bellowing dust into the air above the trailer walls like smoke out of a chimney.   The guy driving the hauling truck would climb up the trailer ladder and jump in with a shovel to level the peanuts as they were dumped to prevent the load from spilling out onto the ground. The classic peanut trailer could hold around 7500 to 8000 pounds.

Any seasoned "shoveler", who jumped in these trailers,  did so with extreme caution and with eyes peeled both at where he was stepping and up at that picker basket - ready to leap over the walls in a split second.  If he had shoveled long enough in his years, he would have witnessed at some point the terror of having a canebrake rattlesnake come flying out of the basket and landing right on top of the crown of peanuts.  At this time of year, these animals are most active as they are busy tidying up their breeding duties and looking for a good place to hibernate. Freshly dug peanut vines are a good shady resting place for a male rattler on the prowl, and before he can slither away to safety,  the indiscriminate highly mechanized picker can run him right through without a scratch. When he lands on top of a peanut mound, he's not exactly happy after his unsolicited joyride.

When the trailer was full and free of snakes, the driver would haul it back to a rusty tin roofed drying shelter and hook the back end up to a big metal wind tunnel that was heated by a propane flame and a big industrial fan.  There it would it sit while hot air blew through its grated floor filling the Fall crisp air with the unforgettable scent of freshly picked peanuts and the long lonely hum of the drying fan's motor.