What is in this article?:
- Bisland Cotton Gin β 120 years old and still running
- Engine cooled by water
- The Bisland Gin's new home is the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Miss.
- It is the oldest operational gin in America, and is cranked up each year at the museum's fall festival, held in November.
- The gin, built in 1892 by Peter Bisland, has three Gullett gin stands powered by a 1929 engine built by Continental Gin Co.
VOLUNTEER GINNER Fred Temple wraps up about 20 minutes of work at the Bisland Cotton Gin.
Engine cooled by water
The massive engine is cooled by water, pumped from a water tank. After the water runs through the engine, it is pumped to a huge, vertical cooling tower outside the gin and drops back down into the water tank for reuse.
On a recent day, during the museum’s five-day fall festival, the engine is carefully cranked by volunteer mechanics Matt Temple and Chaston Bullock. When the engine’s two big flywheels are spinning fast, they blast the whistle once to let the ginner, Fred Temple, who is Matt’s father, know they’re ready. The ginner responds with two blasts of his own. Cotton begins flowing through the plant.
On hand to help Fred Temple run the old gin during the festival are Bobby Skeen and Bob Stanley, Cotton Board regional communication managers for the Mid-South and Southwest, respectively. “It’s truly fascinating and a must see for anyone who has a passion for both history and agriculture,” Skeen said of the gin.
In the old days, to get started, mules or horses pulled a cotton wagon under the suck pipe. A person was always holding the reins on animals to keep them from bolting and running away. The Gullett fan delivers about 4000 feet of air per minute to suck cotton into the gin.
Incoming seed cotton from the wagon or storage houses is separated from the airflow by a curved perforated scroll and a rubber sealed vacuum at the bottom of the separator. The seed cotton drops onto a flat belt containing steel spikes which convey the seed cotton to the storage hopper above the feeders. A gate at the top of the hopper controls the flow of cotton to the feeders. The saws that pull the lint from the seed are 12-inches in diameter.
The lint flows to the battery condenser and then into an 8-foot deep box, where it is compressed, wrapped and secured. It is weighed, then pushed down a chute to an empty wagon.
The gin will surprise no one with its speed, partly because it was built to gin hand-picked cotton, and the ginner has to reduce speed for the extra foreign material. But even at full throttle the gin ran slow. Even so, it had all the bells and whistles of the time when it was erected by Peter Bisland.
Of the cotton running through the gin at the fall festival in Jackson, three picker basket loads were donated by Thomas Hairston, a 16-year-old, third-generation cotton producer from Silver City, Miss. He harvested the cotton with his John Deere, one-row cotton picker, (a Model 60 tractor with the picking unit mounted on top, which was built in 1958) that he restored himself. Thomas, along with his grandfather, Peter, the first business manager at Midnight Gin, Midnight, Miss., Thomas’ father, Robert, a current board member at Midnight Gin and Midnight Gin Co., ginner Robert Royal were also on hand to watch the gin run.
Delta Farm Press will feature Thomas Hairston’s successful rebuild of the old cotton picker in a future issue.
After the doors closed on the gin in 1954, it was sold to Charles McMahon, who had hopes of turning the gin and the nearby small general store into a museum in Cannonsburg. However, the gin sat for another 28 years before McMahon decided to donate the gin to the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum, in Jackson.
The original 2,890 square-foot rough cut, heart pine building that housed the gin had deteriorated too badly to be restored. However the gin machinery was well preserved. The gin was moved to its present location by Greenville, Miss., gin mechanics Bobby and Hilton Tarver and their father. The Tarvers then spent several months returning the gin to operational condition. The move was completed in 1983, and the first bale of cotton was ginned at the new location on August 14, 1984.
In Jackson, the Bisland Gin sits in the middle of a small town created by the museum. It features a fully functioning grist mill, black-smith shop, replica of a frontier doctor’s office and period homes, functional country store, barns, stables and church.
Once again, the Bisland Gin has found a home.