If you travel U.S. 278 to Rainbow Crossing, you will find a quaint little cotton gin called Rainbow Gin Co. Inc. It is not a fancy building, but it’s one that is vital to cotton farmers in and around the Blount County area.
Being local, cotton farmers have the convenience of the gin right at their back door, thus saving time and money for long transports. It also supports the local businessman, which in turn helps a small-town economy.
Built at its current location more than 50 years ago, Rainbow Gin Co. is jointly owned by eight producers of cotton fields. While there are many technicalities from harvesting to producing clean cotton fiber, the concept of a cotton gin is relatively simple. Cotton gins are machines used to quickly separate the seeds, seed hulls, and other foreign material from raw cotton fibers. This enables a much greater productivity rate than manual cotton separation.
Cotton gins have been around for hundreds of years. Created by American inventor Eli Whitney in 1793, the cotton gin pulls cotton through a revolving cylinder with wire teeth. It continues through a narrow slot that is too small for cottonseeds to pass through. To break it down a little further, once the field cotton arrives at Rainbow Gin Co., it is placed on what is known as walking rollers before heading through a series of events within the cleaning process of dryers, stick machines, lint cleaners, and the gin stand.
Once the clean cotton fiber is produced, it is sent on down the line to be baled into either square or round bales. A typical square bale at Rainbow Gin Co. weighs between 500 and 600 pounds. Those bales then create a module that consists of 15 bales. Long story short, a module weighs anywhere from 7,500 to 9,000 pounds.
After modules are formed, 18-wheelers transport them from Rainbow Crossing to a warehouse in Centre. Samples that include leaves and stems are also sent to Memphis, Tenn., for grading. Different grades affect the cost per pound. Once assigned a grade, the cotton gin has brokers to buy the cotton.
With production of clean cotton, the leftover product is called “gin trash.” Although it is trash, it does not go to waste. Farmers, from both near and far, use the gin trash to feed to their cattle. Gin trash has a lot of protein and cows love it. When given to dairy cows, they tend to produce more milk with a higher fat content. More than 1,500 tons is contracted out from Rainbow Gin Co. to farmers up north.
Any gin trash that is left over is set aside to rot and produces mulch that is on-site at Rainbow Gin Co. It is available for purchase for a nominal charge. A skid steer bucket load of mulch costs $5. Many locals come by with their pickup truck or trailer to add this wonderful compost to gardens and flowerbeds to help sustain nutrients in the soil.
From October to January, the cotton gin runs full force with the exception of rainy days that hinder cotton picking or in the event of a machine malfunction. Gin trash and mulch continue to be available through the end of May each year.
Not only does the cotton gin help local cotton farmers, it also provides job opportunities for two full-time workers and between six and eight part-time workers each season. Hiring residents also helps the local economy.
The cotton gin is an amazing invention, and Blount County is fortunate to have one within its county lines. The next time you put on a cotton shirt, who knows, you may be wearing a piece of Blount County.