Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Free rum and befouled snuff at a tobacco factory

Burt delivers a colorful description of work at the tobacco factory, including a boss who sent workers home with free rum, and his warning to his mother to avoid taking snuff, the fine tobacco dust that before packaging was trod and spat upon by factory workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

GLENN HINSON:
Could you explain a little more about what you were doin' in the factory when you first started there? About how you were takin' up the cigarettes?
THOMAS BURT:
The cigarettes come up here just like this at a little old trough about this wide.
GLENN HINSON:
About six inches wide.
THOMAS BURT:
They used that machine come right on up there. They had another machine settin' up there. Them cigarettes went right under there and went in somethin' like that. They went up against somethin' that marked the right length, and that thing cut them off just like that. It followed that trough on around a machine up there packin' them.
GLENN HINSON:
Was it a machine that was packing them?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, a machine puttin' them in the packs. Then somebody put the label on and seal them up. They'd go up there and turn right around and come on back down to a great big table—big old wide table. They'd fall on that table, then you took them up. They had little shelves just wide enough to put a cigarette pack in. You just keep puttin' them in there, different ones.
GLENN HINSON:
Was there different types of packages coming down?
THOMAS BURT:
There used to be a cigarette they called "Solomon" cigarettes, "PV" cigarettes. I done forgot the name of all them different cigarettes. They'd put them in different packs with different labels on them. You just pack them up in different places.
GLENN HINSON:
So you would pack
THOMAS BURT:
All I had to do was sort them out and start a rack of one kind and keep that rack goin', start a rack of another one… I reckon it was about three and one-half foot long. All them fell on the floor, you'd get all you wanted. You'd pick them up, they wouldn't say a word to you. You had a lunch bucket, you could fill that box full and they wouldn't say a word. The rest of them, they'd sweep them up in a pile and carry them back over there and run them over again. I used to go to the house and have a whole lunch box full of cigarettes—some of them that long (indicating the full length of his hand). Some of them that long where that machine would miss-cut—great long cigarettes, a whole lunch box full. They'd give you a quart of rum every night to drink.
GLENN HINSON:
Who would?
THOMAS BURT:
The bossman. They put that rum in the chewin' tobacco, and he had it there in barrels. It was good to drink! They'd give you a whole quart of it every night, to them that drinked. It didn't cost nary a dime. You'd go by there and if the man had some, they'd give you a quart. It drank near about as good as wine! They put that in tobacco and cigars. I come home and told my mother, "Momma, let me tell you what's so. If you could see what they do when they make snuff, you wouldn't never dip no more stuff. They hark and spit in that mess, walk all in it with their feet. You would never dip another dip." [laughter] There was a great big pile of dust out there flyin' from them cigarettes, that tobacco where they make cigars out of. Sometimes there was a pile of dust there half big as this house; that's what they made snuff out of. Yeah, that's right! That machine grindin' up that tobacco and that dust fallin' out there on the floor. They had it on a pasteboard or carpet or somethin' or other out there. Good God a-mighty, they'd walk around there, hark and spit right over in that pile of stuff. I've seen them do it more times than a little. Walk all in it, then they'd take that up and flavor it and make snuff out of it. Sure they done it! They'd grind up the tobacco stems; they'd grind them up and make snuff.
GLENN HINSON:
I didn't know that.
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, they take the stems out of the tobacco—that tobacco was stemmed. They'd make cigarettes and chewing tobacco out of the leaves, and they had a machine over there to grind that up and make snuff. Yeah, I'm tellin' you the truth. They'd make sweet snuff—liquid, some of it would be sweet snuff. That strong snuff, they had some different kind of liquids to put in that. It was all the same dust, but they just put the different flavors in it. [laughter] That's right! That's the reason I say, cigarettes about all the same, just different labels on it. It's all the same tobacco; they put a little different flavor in it. I don't know what they call that mess. They put that in tobacco when they grind tobacco for cigarettes. You see them put a little of that stuff in there all along—that flavor in the cigarettes. But it's all the same tobacco. That's right, there ain't a bit of difference. It was someting to see. Pauline used to work in the factory. She could tell you about it. Pauline worked in a factory at Oxford a long time. It's some sort of work goin' in a tobacco factory.