Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cotton Gins and Ice Cream

It was an overcast day Wednesday when headed out to Burton,Texas.  Our basic plan, after a cotton gin tour there, was to take a road north of Burton where reportedly there are fields of wildflowers. We then would end our day at the Blue Bell creamery back in the Brenham, where our home is now parked.  The cotton gin which we toured operated from the years 1914-1974.  Our guide was quite thorough in explaining the whole process and showing us all the equipment involved in ginning cotton.  We first saw the 1925 "Lady B" internal combustion engine which powers the drive shaft of the gin.  It is the only engine of its vintage still operating in America.  In a couple of weeks it will be fired up for the Annual Burton Cotton Gin Festival.  On our tour we also saw the 1883 air system which vacuums the seed cotton from the farmer's wagon and brings it up into the cotton gin.  By the way, the yardman who did that job was the lowest paid worker at the gin- he was called a "sucker".   On the second floor of the building are 5 Lummus 5/80 gins which separate the cotton seed from the lint.  The lint is then packed into are large box from which it is later removed after it was further compressed and metal straps tied around it.  The whole process for one bale took about 12 minutes. Most of the bales averaged a weight of 500 pounds.  At 20 cents a pound in 1920, a bale could bring in about $100.00 for the cotton farmer.  Nothing was wasted in the process- the husk of the cotton boll could be mulched up, some of the seed was used for next year's planting and also set aside as a supplement for cattle feed.  Our guide gave us a handful of the cotton lint as well as some seed.  He encouraged me to plant the seed and gave specific instructions how to care for the plant.  After hearing how involved that process is, I doubt that I will be growing cotton anytime soon!   Cotton is a cousin of hibiscus and okra.
 We left Burton and then pursued our wildflower trail, I will discuss that part of the day in the next posting. 
 Fortunately the rain held off until we arrived at the Blue Bell plant in Brenham. 

The above statue can be found at the creamery, it is one of the trademarks of Blue Bell.  The company has two other plants, I believe in Alabama and Oklahoma.  However, this one in Brenham is its largest and employs about 800 people.  We got in on the last tour of the day.  We toured large rooms of the plant were the milk was piped in from trucks then homogenized and pasteurized.  The cream is then placed in large mixing containers where flavorings are added.  From there the cream is moved into another area where fruits and nuts are mixed.  Blue Bell has 55 different flavors of ice cream.  What was most fascinating to me was to see the slushy cream poured into one-gallon containers, after which the ice cream is placed on another conveyor belt to have its lids dropped in place.  If I remember correctly, 52 half gallon containers of ice cream are packed per minute.  The factory operates five working days a week, the ice cream is mainly sold in our southern states-  who eats all that ice cream???  During the tour our guide commented that one of her favorite slogans of the company is "we eat all we can and sell the rest".  Employees are allowed to snack on the frozen treat free of charge while they are at work. At the end of the tour we received a serving of ice cream.  Guess I know a few people who eat the stuff- including me!

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