I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by cotton gins. I enjoy going through different operating gins to see how they are engineered. I especially like walking through an old abandoned gin, with or without the equipment.
The stained concrete floors, the old steel and the expanse of the building always make me pause.
I did a series of photos of abandoned gins years ago. I'll go out of my way to go into an old gin. I even found an old gin operating manual from 1959 in a dumpster once.
Many old gins are now farm shops. I've seen a few turned into stores and even a couple that were converted into homes.
In my hometown I've been part of discussions to turn two old gins into either a co-op store or to use one as part of a city complex. It would have been cool, but both have now been torn down, unfortunately.
It's sad no cotton gins now stand in the incorporated area of the town which once supported four running gins. Development and consolidation pushed them out.
In that part of the county in the 1960s and 1970s there were at least 20 operating gins. Today, I can count the running gins in the entire county on one hand.
There is a sharp contrast between an abandoned gin and a running gin. The abandoned gin is quiet except for the occasional pop of the tin as it adjusts to temperature. Birds and other critters love the space, build nests and make it their home.
A running gin is a live animal. It roars. It digests. Most ginners take great pride in keeping their animals in good shape. They can tell by sound if it's running well.
They spend a great deal of time making sure it will run well during the season. When prepping for harvest, the guts of the gin are spread throughout the building as parts are replaced or retooled. It is an operation.
A gin is a reflection of its operator. Some gins are work horses; others are thoroughbreds. Either way, the operation is engineered to process cotton efficiently.
Every ginner takes a little bit different approach. Some are more inclined to make sure it runs well and not worry too much about how polished it is. Others paint the floors once a year.
The bottom-line in most operations is efficiency – don't let the saws get too worn or run the line too fast or slow. The raw power to produce the soft, comfortable product that comes out the back end is amazing.
I guess that points back to the empty gins – the quietness and peace of an old gin site that once ran powerful machines, often 24 hours a day in season.
Quiet, abandoned old gins are powerful engines for imagination.