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Thursday, May 19, 2011


Sunrise in the Arizona Mountains...absolutely nothing to do with today's Blog...just a nice photograph.

SPIA often waits for me as I walk out a few miles and return. Often, she must sit beside the main highway as in the above photograph of US 87, a bit South of LAMESA, TEXAS. I do not like to leave SPIA exposed for many hours each day, but there is no alternative. So far, someone has tried to force SPIA's main door open, bending both the top and bottom (I sealed it with massive amounts of adhesive-backed foam weather striping; the second damage was a water balloon thrown through one of SPIA's main windows, shattering it...I replaced the glass with heavy plastic.

I stopped by the UNITED GIN COMPANY located South of LAMESA on US 87. This Company receives the "picked" cotton from the many fields in the area and processes it into finished bales.

I was shown an excellent DVD of the entire operation; then given a personal tour of the facility. No cotton is being processed until October thru December, and many of the massive pieces of equipment were being repaired or otherwise maintained.

The whole process is very complex. My walk-thru was very detailed and I tried to take appropriate photographs. I did not, however, do a very good job...30 minutes to learn an entire manufacturing process is a bit much...I did, however, thoroughly enjoy my tour. Chris Rhodes, the Manager, was my guide, and was most accommodating and patient with me and my stupid questions.

The above photograph is the Receiving area, where raw cotton is unloaded with large suction pipes and placed on a Conveyor leading to the first of many processing stations.

Cotton is picked in two manners, depending on the condition of the plants at time of picking. The first and most desirable picking method is to use an automated Cotton "Picker", which picks the Cotton BOLLS (not Cotton Balls), leaving the main plant in the field.

The second - lesser desirable method is the Cotton Plant ""Cutter" which cuts off the plant, Cotton BOLL and all.

The difference is based upon how much water the cotton plants receive during the growing season. The area of West Texas where I am now walking has very little water. Many fields receive NO WATER AT ALL. If it does not rain, the plant will NOT grow and there is NO crop. In that event, the farmer has "some" protection, receiving support from the US Government and "Insurance" if they purchased it.

Receiving a little water allows the cotton plant to grow, but it is limited as to height and cotton quality...and required that at Harvest Time, it be harvested by a Cotton "Cutter". The plant is too low to the ground for the Cotton Picker to reach the Cotton Bolls.

Quality of the cotton is dictated by the USDA and is graded as to color, length of cotton threads, among other things.

I had tried to give a step by step of the manufacturing process, but it is much too complex. Let me say that the process includes up to four (4) drying processes; a number of "stick" removal processes, and a final "Ginning" process (to Gin = to remove the cotton seeds from the cotton threads. This is the LAST process prior to the cotton being baled.l

Cotton is processed through the plant fully automatically. Human hands do not touch it at all until in the final baled form.

It is essential to remove ALL of the moisture from the cotton. It is also equally important to remove all foreign objects such as stems, leaves, DIRT (sand), and not to damage the threads.

There are four (4) ways the cotton moves through the factory: 1) It is "blown" through large metal tubes (ducts) and vertical chambers of hot air; 2) It is "sucked" through the tubes; 3) It is allowed to "fall" by gravity; and finally, 4) it is moved by large "screws" called "screw conveyors.

Three large rooms are used in the UNITED GIN COMPANY facility. It all looks very confusing, as most unfamiliar things usually are. But, the cleaned and dried cotton does eventually reach the Ginning Station for Seed Removal...then on to the final station of bundling / baling...strange as it seems, water is added just prior to baling...this to give it a bit of weight and humidity to allow the strands to better bale.

The primary method of separating the cotton strands from unwanted items such a stick, leaves, sand, & even metal (one station has magnets to remove any metal ) is to use large rollers - or Cylinders with hundreds of tiny sharp teeth. As the cotton reached each "knife cylinder" - and the entire system has many stations using knife cylinders, the cotton is grabbed by the knives on the counter-clockwise rotating cylinder and held firmly as the knives - cotton and all - slip between grooves just large enough for the knives to pass, dragging the cotton along behind. The unwanted sticks, etc, are too large to fit through the grooves, and are thrown off to fall into a bin in the bottom of that particular station. The cotton is then "removed" from the Knife cylinder by a second roller with stiff short brushes. This cylinder is also rotating counter clockwise close to the spinning knives,..but just a bit faster than the knife cylinder. This allows the brushes to "sweep" the cotton off the sharp knives, allowing the ever-present air flow to move the cotton on to the next station.

The knife cylinder - brush cylinder act is repeated several times throughout the manufacturing process.

In fact, the final station, the Cotton Gin - of which Chris has four (4) such Gins in his final station - the same technique is used to remove the tiny "seeds" from the individual strands of cotton.

This photograph shows the blue "grooves over-laying the spinning knife cylinder. the cotton goes through the grooves, but sticks, etc., do not and fall into a waiting bin below.

Another knife cylinder station early in the cleaning process.

I do not attempt to put the equipment in chronological order...I simply do not remember the details and would surely make a mess of it.

This photograph is of a "Screw Conveyor buried in a pipe. It rotates moving the cotton along to the next station.

Here, a series of Screws are used together to move large quantities of cotton along.

This photograph shows a Vertical Drying Chamber. The cotton is allowed to free fall through this chamber of hot air before being collected by the rectangular pipe at the bottom....wherein it is sucked - or blown - to the next station.

This photograph shows the outside of a processing chamber of two knife cylinders and one Brush Cylinder - plus two small cylinders which I forget the purpose. The top and bottom larger sheaves (turning wheels) are attached to and rotate the knife cylinders counter clockwise. The smaller sheave (wheel) rotates the Brush Cylinder which is extremely close to the rotating knives. The brushes are moving a bit faster than the knives, and simply brush the cotton from the knives, allowing them to fall or be blown / sucked along to the next station.

This photograph shows the detail of the Brush Cylinder. Click click to enlarge the pic.

In this photograph, a knife cylinder rotates behind the curved slotted bars; the knives with their cotton attached, come completely through the slots where the cotton is removed. Unwanted twigs, leaves, etc, cannot pass through the slots and drop down into bins below.

I am not exactly certain what that small cylinder at the top of the pic if doing.

Please say HELLO to Chris Rhodes, my guide and Manager of United Gin Company.

Chris is standing in front of one of four (4) "Ginning" machines. This is where the final processing step is completed; i.e., removal of the seed from each cotton strand. Chris has four (4) such machines standing side by side with a large screw conveyor above. As the cotton is "screwed" along, a selected amount is dropped into each machine to complete the Ginning processes. The first machine in line does as much work as the other three combined. The fourth machine in line is often not running at all unless there is lots of cotton moving through the system.

This completes my report of Chris' interesting work. I, for one, did not know what a Cotton Gin did or how it did it's work. Hopefully my presentation...the result of 30 minutes of Chris' closely monitored guided tour has given us a better understanding of how our T-shirts and shorts begin their life.

And before the Cotton Gin can do it's work, the fields must grow the cotton.

This photograph shows last-year's crop being "worked" to receive this year's planting. The right hand side is plowed, ready to plant. The left hand side still has the cut-off stems in the ground.

Now for the kicker:A ;young man driving a pickup truck made a "U" turn and pulled off the road beside me as I walked. Even tho I failed to take his photo, please say HELLO to CORNELIUS, the Son in a family of lease-hold farmers running Cotton on land owned by a local resident of the small village of ACKERLY, TEXAS.

I am not sure what made Cornelius stop to talk to me...I do know that he shared with me the most important bit of irrigation information I have received on my entire walk.

A bit of background: as Bob explained to us, a SECTION of land is one mile square. The entire United States has been surveyed with actual Medallions placed in the ground at the corner of each can even find these medallions on Islands in the San Juan Island Group near my home is Bellingham, Washington.

A SECTION has 480 Acres. Talking to some local farmers a few days ago, I learned that the typical field is 1/4 of a SECTION; i.e. 1/4 mile square. Cornelius' family farms 1/4 of a SECTION.

I asked Cornelius about water. I have learned that this part of West Texas has very little water...not near enough to irrigate even a small percentage of the land under cultivation.

Cornelius told me in great detail by drawing in the dust covering his Pickup Truck what his family has done about irrigation.

It starts by being fortunate to have a bit of water in the aquifer under their 1/4 SECTION. They have installed ten (1) water pumps drawing water from the aquifer 185 feet below the surface. But, what they have also done is the key:

They have divided their property into two equal parts, each part a rectangle of 1/4 by 1/8 mile.

Along the 1/4 mile side they have buried a plastic pipe 15 inches deep. Connected to this pipe is a "drip pipe" running perpendicular to the large pipe. Spaced at 36 inches apart, also 15 inches deep, the drip pipes run clear across the 1/8 mile width where they connect to another large pipe...a twin of the first one.

The "drip pipe" is an invention of Israeli farmers. It is 1 inch in diameter and has built into its thin wall, a "non-return-valve". As water is pumped through the pipe system at from 15 to 25 psi (pounds per square inch), water is forced out the hundreds of non-return valves into the soil.

The 10 pumps force water into the system, controlled by automated equipment measuring the water (wetness) of the soil above the burried pipes.

This system allows controlled watering at the roots of the cotton plant...not on the surface where evaporation takes a large percentage back into the atmosphere. So, there is not a drop wasted.

To keep the system "clean", the large pipe opposite of the "input" pipe has a water feed which reverses the flow of water for a short time, cleaning any contaminants which may have blocked the non-return valves.

Using this system, Cornelius' family achieve bigger cotton plants, cotton of better quality, and harvesting by the Cotton Picker method, taking only the Cotton BOLLS, leaving the entire plant in place in the ground.

Cornelius' family have also changed the method of preparing their land for planting. They do NOT plow under the old plants. They are left in place where they naturally return to the soil. Instead, Cornelius runs his tractor / disc equipment over the field, cutting a single disc groove, dropping in seeds, pulling along a "scraper" which pushes the seed gently into the soil, followed by a "v" shaped scraper which covers the new seed, and a set of rakes - very similar to a bamboo garden rake which "furrows" the soil over the seed, and finally a spray of water over the raked give the seed a boost into germanination. The water pipe system assures even constant wetness of the seed - come - plant and the best quality and output of Cotton BOLLS.

Cornelius tells me that the watering system is not used very much by others. Readers of this Blog may recall that the Wine Grape farmers of Northern California, as well as the nut growers, use a similar "above-ground" watering fact, I immediately recognized the "drip pipe" non return valve to be the exact same one used by Cornelius.

Flash floods are not as common in West Texas as they are in desert country...but they do occur. The above photograph shows one as it enters under US 87.

Cotton field - perhaps already planted - with a farm house in the distance. water, NO COTTON. Let's hope this farmer has a watering system...there has been NO rain in this part5 of West Texas since last July (July 2010)

Cornelius tells me they have reached the red clay at the bottom of their aquafier...very little water is down there...and they are thinking of drilling another well.

Rain is needed to refill the aquafier as well as water the top soil.

Tractor with multiple plows. The "seeder" in not installed on this equipment. When it is, the tank on front will supply water of spray the wee seed to give it a boost into life.

Business is NOT thriving in ACKERLY, TEXAS. I am told by locals that oil is keep them alive. Numerous oil wells are pumping away nearby the tiny village...and plans are afoot to drill another 400 or so in the local area. Many ranches have oil wells pumping in the back yard only feet away from their home.

A local ACKERLY, TEXAS street.

A home in down-town ACKERLY...about 2 stores and a Post Office...a magnificant School, tho, with Graduation being this Friday...Hey, that is tomorrow.

Methodist Church in ACKERLY

The ACKERLY Post Office.

The local Restaurant - and Water Tower.

I was walking up this street towards SPIA when my Kidney Stone made it's presence known.

The EMS folks who drove me in the ambulance to LUBBOCK, TEXAS for the night...and what a night is was.

The bus I rode back to LAMESA, TEXAS.

DAILY UPDATE: Walked 24 miles

SEE YOUR IMPACT.ORG: Credit 24 miles @ $0.02 = $0.48 for the day.

Tomorrow (today) plane to walk South on US 87 to BIG SPRING, TEXAS (where SPIA is parked in #2 space of an RV Park


Anonymous said...

I am a local resident of Ackerly, Tx. the old gas station pictured is being restored to its original glory. there have been several new business open up in town also. Ackerly is a wonderful town with an amazing community to go along with it. Please, stop by and visit with us soon!!!!!!!!

Kerry Lee said...

I remember that old gas station was a Cosden station at one time. A distant aunt, Maybelle Niblett owned a dry goods store there for many years.