John Robert Hasty

This collection began with the Kentucky Oral History Commission’s effort to establish oral history programs in each of the state’s 120 counties. County libraries worked with local volunteers to collect interviews. Since 1987, county oral histories have been generated primarily by recipients of technical assistance grants from the commission that provide training and equipment to volunteer interviewers. Interviews donated by independent researchers are also included. Original collection held at Kentucky Oral History Commission/Kentucky Historical Society.  Access copies available at Lincoln County Public Library. Authorization must by granted by KHS to use or publish by any means the archival material to which the Society holds copyright.

LINCOLN COUNTY ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW 

JOHN ROBERT HASTY INTERVIEWED BY WENDELL HAMM 

MARCH 16, 1984

 

Mr. Hamm: This interview is conducted by Wendell Hamm, history major at Somerset Community College, for the Kentucky Bicentennial History Project.  The interview was conducted at Mr. Hasty’s house on March 16th  (1984) at 11:00.  Mr. Hasty, first of all, I’d like to thank you for doing this, participating, and I would just like to ask you a few questions. 

Mr. Hasty: The pleasure’s mine. 

Mr. Hamm: If there’s any of them you don’t want to answer or so forth, just let me know and…. 

Mr. Hasty: I understand. 

Mr. Hamm: I’ll throw it out.  First of all, one thing that we’ve talked about before and I know…you can go into as deep of detail as you want to, but tell me about the time when you raised hemp for the Government for rope, back during the war. 

Mr. Hasty: Well, I don’t recall just what year it was.  It was probably in the forties.  We had a…the landlord, Mr. P.L. Back (sic), had a contract with the Government to raise five acres of seed hemp.  Well, I raised…I had around three acres of it and the other tenant on the farm had two acres.  And, it was quite an experience.  I had never in all my life witnessed any seed hemp being grown.  I had worked in hemp when they broke it for fiber…. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: And, my understanding is, that during the time prior to…just prior to this occasion, that they found that they could import the fiber from South America cheaper than they could buy the hemp.  So, they had done that, and so, therefore, the fiber, hemp industry, just died out. 

Mr. Hamm: Yeah. 

Mr. Hasty: And, the reason they brought it back, it was my understanding, that they was fearful during the war that submarines would disrupt the sea lanes, and therefore, they were preparing for this emergency.  And, the Margie (sic) Critt Corporation, known as the CCC issued these contracts, and the people raised the hemp, broke it, cleaned the seed and returned it to a station close to them, and they returned it to the ICC…to the CCC.  And, what they done with it, I don’t know.  But, it was preparing to go back into the fiber business was why they did this.  And, I raised three acres on Hanging Fork Creek, on the P.L. Back farm.  It was quite an experience. 

Mr. Hamm: What was it like, like raising in comparison to tobacco or so forth? 

Mr. Hasty: Well, it was similar in some ways.  You…what you did, you laid your rows off four feet apart, and you laid them off two ways, so you could plough it two ways in it, you see. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: And, you planted your seed where these rows crossed, and that was the full…and you grew the hemp, which grew to be…in my case at least…I had a river bottom that was close to three acres, and it grew to be 15 or 16 feet tall.  And, you had to go through it and keep it completely clean, and before it matured, you had to…if a morning glory climbed the stalk, you had to unwind that and break it off, because a morning glory, they claimed, would have enough strength in the vine to mature seeds on up and they were so near the size and weight of the hemp seed, they were impossible to clean out.  And, before you…there was a male and female plant in hemp.  And, one of them blooms, and the other one, I think, seeds.  And, when that plant bloomed, you had to go through and cut it out and just drop it on the ground…the one that bloomed, I think the male plant, and the female, then, bore seed.  You cut it in 24 by 24…12 by 12 hills…shocks, we called them, put them in shocks, set them up against each other.  And, that, naturally, created a 24 by 24 space between four shocks of hemp.  When you broke it…what we called breaking the seed out, you would place a 24 by 24 tarpaulin or a sheet, cotton sheet, and tear up stalks, clean off the ground, and place this thing down between four shocks, that’s two rows of shocks, and then you would turn these shocks over on the sheet and take a crooked stick and a pole and beat the thing until the seeds came out, and then you’d pick them up and run them through a sieve, and, partially clean them in the field and sack them up and take them to the barnyard where you ran them through a wheat fan and that was the end of it, and then you took it to the holding station for the CCC. 

Mr. Hamm: Do you remember what you made off your crop that year? 

Mr. Hasty: Well, I had a disastrous thing happen to me, I…after my hemp had matured and I’d shocked it and it dried, I had a very hot dry spell of weather with a hard wind, and it blew over…I had 109 shocks on that field, and it blew all of them over…partially over, but 11.  And, therefore, I lost a lot of seed on the ground; and actually, what I got out of it, I got a hundred and…I believe 109 bushels was all I saved.  And, I believe I sold it for…I forget what I got for it, but it was 48 pounds a bushel.  And, I got…I forget what it was, but the whole thing, by the time I got it cleaned, and recleaned, and then the holding station where I took it, they claimed to clean out 12 or 13 bushels of waste, and I think I got gipped there.  But, anyway, I don’t know that.  And, I wound up with about a hundred and some odd dollars was about all I got out of three acres.  However, I believe I would have made money if I hadn’t of had this hot dry wind that blew over my shocks and there was seed laying on the ground that you couldn’t pick up, because…. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes); it was just ruined. 

Mr. Hasty: Yeah. 

Mr. Hamm: Of course, the value of that has changed quite a bit today; (laughs) 

Mr. Hasty: Yeah, yeah, if you had to do that today, it would probably cost you five or six or seven times as much as it did me, because…fortunately, I was able to do most of the work myself. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: Because it came at a time when you could put it off between other work and that.  And, just about could fall back on that when you wasn’t doing something else.  In other words, when you got it in the shock, as long as it stayed dry and it didn’t blow over, any time you got that shock dry and turned it over on that sheet and beat it out, you had your seed there. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: Of course, you could have left it during the winter and it would have rotted, but, as long as you got it in the fall, you was doing all right. 

Mr. Hamm: Another question I wanted to ask you, you told me once before about a…remembering…I think it was…was it your mother and father or your grandparents who were making pipe tobacco? 

Mr. Hasty: Oh, that was later on.  That was…that’s not been too many years ago.  I had an uncle that lived in Pulaski County, just in the edge, Eastern edge of Pulaski County, little town of Mintonville (sic), and he and his wife both smoked a pipe, and they would take just the upper grades of tobacco, which is the bright or red, the heavier grades, and they would let it dry, and they would crumble it up to where it was smoking tobacco.  And, they would take water and brown sugar and make a light syrup…it was more just a…it really wasn’t a syrup.  It was just sweetened water.  And, they would moisten this tobacco…really wet it, and then they would put it in a pan and spread it very thinly, and put it in the oven of a cooking stove and dry it out, and they smoked it in a pipe.  And, I have done that in my lifetime.  But, you needed the upper grades of tobacco…that’s what you usually used, and…just leaf tobacco that’s been cured and not sold on the market.  Then put sugar…just water and sugar mostly…brown sugar.  And, it made a passable substitute for processed smoking tobacco. 

Mr. Hamm: Not too many people nowadays do that…. 

Mr. Hasty: It was really a poor man’s blend of smoking tobacco. 

Mr. Hamm: A lot of farmer’s twist their own that they raised…never before had I ever heard of anyone making their own pipe tobacco. 

Mr. Hasty: It used to be a habit in the stripping room, when you had a slack time, people would…even people who grew it or people who were working, as far as stripping by the day…there wasn’t no hourly work then stripping tobacco, you was stripping by the day, or stripped your own.  And, they would take some of the lower grades, bright and red…not the damaged grades, and they would stem it on the…at dinner time, when you was sitting there waiting to eat dinner, why they would twist that, and it was perfectly all right, if you was just working for a man to take a few leaves and make you a few twists and take it home with you.  In those days, they sold all the tobacco. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: There wasn’t no program then, where you were allowed to sell so many pounds of tobacco, and tobacco was…I sold a crop for 13 cents a pound. (laughs)  And, I remember my daddy, when he was a raising tobacco during…right after World War I, back in the previous year, during the war, had cost…had brought farmers around a dollar a pound.  And, he naturally assumed it would stay up that way, you know.  That’s the way people do, and next year, they just jumped in, the farmers, and put in all the tobacco they could possibly handle and hired labor at higher prices then than you had ever heard of, five dollars a day and board, and raised a crop, that they…when they took it off, many times, wouldn’t bring enough to pay…wasn’t worth selling it on the floor.  Two cents a pound wasn’t going to pay for the floor expenses. 

Mr. Hamm: Yeah. 

Mr. Hasty: And, they would bring it back home. 

Mr. Hamm: Of course, now things have changed, where they bail it and all…. 

Mr. Hasty: There was a joke going around the other day, when you take a load of tobacco up, you take a chicken with you to pay the floor expenses. 

(both laugh) 

Mr. Hamm: I think this here…this next question, I think it was pretty recent.  I’m not sure.  I know we talked about it before.  When you went to, I think it was Pulaski County, one time, for a funeral procession, and they still had the horses…. 

Mr. Hasty: Yeah, that was for this uncle that used to make the smoking tobacco, when he died.  Like I say, they lived in a little…they lived in…right at about a half a mile or a mile from a little town called Mintonville, which was right on the…might say, right on the Casey and Pulaski County line.  And, it’s just a small village.  Had a sawmill, maybe a couple of stores, half a dozen houses, and it was right out in the middle of woodland.  You just come up on it all at once, and you leave it the same way.  And, when he died, I went…we went to his funeral.  He married my mother’s sister.  His name was John Dye.  And, the funeral, he was at his home…the body was at the home, just like, you know…wasn’t at a funeral home. 

Mr. Hamm: Hmm mm. 

Mr. Hasty: And, when they went to take him to the graveyard, they took him in a two horse jolt (sic) wagon.  It was just a wooden wheel, old regular, old farm wagon.  And, most of the people around there, they rode bare…horseback or drove a buggy or like that.  I was down there one time on a Sunday morning…I was a leaving there, we had stayed there the night before, and it was about time to go to church, and the roads were just quite full of people going to various churches.  And, they were riding, buggies, wagons, horses and mules.  It wasn’t unusual to see a boy and his girlfriend on the same animal, him riding astride in front of her, and she sitting sideways in the back with her arms around him, you know. 

(both laughing) 

Mr. Hasty: That was in Pulaski County and Casey County.  Was that all…I’ve lost myself there…. 

Mr. Hamm: Yeah, you’ve covered that pretty good.  This next question, I really don’t know, it’s probably a pretty broad question.  You’ve seen major wars that this country has been in, in this last century…. 

Mr. Hasty: Wars…. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: Yeah. 

Mr. Hamm: World War I, II, Korean and Vietnam…. 

Mr. Hasty: Yeah. 

Mr. Hamm: You’ve seen the impact left on the country after each war.  You had a son fight in Vietnam, see action in Vietnam…. 

Mr. Hasty: And, a brother that was in World War II. 

Mr. Hamm: Could you just kind of briefly discuss some of the things that you remember of some of… 

Mr. Hasty: Well…go ahead…. 

Mr. Hamm: Like Pearl Harbor, I know you remember that. 

Mr. Hasty: I remember that day. 

Mr. Hamm: And…could you give us just a little bit on what you remember of that? 

Mr. Hasty: Well, actually in World War I…I was just…let’s see, I was born in 1912, and I suppose that occurred sometime around the eighteen or nineteenth century, which would have been 1918, 1919, and it ended somewhere close to that, so, I would have been around six or seven years old.  I was just a child.  In those days, it was very seldom you saw a car…an automobile.  The Back farm, the farm we farmed on, they owned one, and the fellow that owned the farm over about two miles from that one, they owned one, and that was just about all that I knowed of.  You hardly…well, you’d see an airplane maybe once in six months.  And, I…I don’t know too much that I could say about World War I because it happened, as I say, when I was a child. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes), but you…. 

Mr. Hasty: But, I mentioned awhile ago, that the tobacco that was raised the year after the war ended, and the prices, of course, tumbled, and the depression set in, possibly, and, as I say, I remember my father hiring men and boarding them for five dollars a day, which was unheard of at that time.  And, when he sold his tobacco that year, he came out nine hundred dollars behind.  It was just a washout.  Then, World War II was when I raised the hemp.  That was during that war.  And, that was when my brother James enlisted and served his time out in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the military police.  Following that war, there was not a great depression, but, of course, there was a change in the environment of the market and all, but not near as much as there was in World War I.  And, the I…during the Korean conflict, I was on the farm, that’s when John was born, my son.  I was on the farm working by the day.  I didn’t have any crops or anything, and I was working for a dollar a day.  Hogs at that time would bring around 38…28 to 30, to 38 cents.  That was a whopping price.  And, you could hire labor for, oh, three dollars a day would be a high price for housing tobacco, or setting, and that’s mostly, you could get a…hire a man to set tobacco for you by hand for ten hours for a 1.50.  That would be 15 cents an hour. 

Mr. Hamm: Whew (sic) 

Mr. Hasty: I cut corn during that time for 8 1/3 cents a shock.  That was three shocks for a quarter.  And, a shock of corn is either a 16 hill square, or 16 step square.  It would be 16 rows wide… 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: And 16 steps long or hills long.  And, then there was another type of corn cutting or harvesting and that was 18 hills square, and that would be 18 rows wide, shock in the middle of 9 rows, middle of 18 steps.  And, of course, I’ve shucked corn like that for 12 ½ cents, makes 75…. 

Mr. Hamm: That was pretty good money at that time, wasn’t it? 

Mr. Hasty: Well, you could live on it.  For two years I lived on the farm, when Johnny was born, I worked for a dollar a day.  That was the price at the time, and that was [ ] dollars and a half a week.  For that I could buy my groceries and keep a little gasoline, if I had a car, which I hardly ever did. (laughs)  And, that just briefly is as near as I can tell you.  And, then, come on up to…people of today…young people especially, people that did not live in those times, can’t believe the stories that older people tell…. 

Mr. Hamm: Hmm mm. 

Mr. Hasty: About how the way…about the living conditions, and what we heard that went on…of course, we cannot witness to it, because we were not eyewitnesses, we only read it in the papers or heard of it.  For instance, I read in the newspapers during the depression, down South, that when cotton was king down there, cotton went to…I suppose following one of the wars, maybe World War I or II, that cotton prices went just like tobacco prices did here.  The people down there in the South had done what the burley growers in Kentucky had done in the burley belt.  They’d concentrated on the money crop, which was cotton down there and burley up here.  Well, when this disastrous price depression hit, they was hit just like the burley growers were here.  And, one time down there, I remember reading that a man would rent 40 acres of cotton.  And, for that, he would be furnished a mule, a plow and a shanty.  And, he and his family…and he was also furnished at…on credit, a staple diet, such as what they offered…. 

Mr. Hamm: Hmm mm. 

Mr. Hasty: In the country store then, was just meat…well, they said they was, at the time, Huey Long was in power down there as Senator.   Whatever he was, but he was Senator, I think.  They called him the Kingfish.  He was eventually machined-gunned down on the courthouse steps, I believe, in Louisiana.  He was a fighter for, as we call it today, for human rights, I suppose.  And, he discovered, when he came into power, and into office down there, and began to investigate…of course he might have known it all along…that as high as three hundred families were living outside.  They had no place to go.  In thickets along the roadside; they were just out, like people going on a day’s outing.  That’s where they lived.  And, he said that he discovered children down there, young people, 15 to 16 years old, that was infected with a disease called rickets or pellagra, and he said it resulted from a diet that was a staple down there then of the three M’s he called it, meat, meal and molasses.  That was about all they offered in those plantation commissaries. That’s what passed for a grocery store, and the only place they could buy groceries because they were buying them against the price of cotton this fall.  It was what they called dry salt meat, which was fatback, and meal and a Louisiana product called blackstrap molasses.  It was New Orleans molasses.  They called one brand of them New Orleans and they were made basically for livestock.  They were bitter, but they were palatable enough that you could eat them.  And, he said that these children, the reason that they were in this condition, was they had been fed a diet of the three M’s, he called it, meat, meal and molasses, and therefore, they had…they didn’t have any…when they got this 40 acres, is what they got.  And they were furnished a mule and a plow.  They said to raise this.  Of course, the father plowed and the children chopped and picked and whatever.  And, there was no garden for vegetables because they were engrossed totally in raising a cash crop.  And, since then, of course, they have reformed that country down there to more modern needs and they raise vegetables, and stuff.  But, in those days, a man would just almost indenture himself as a slave to the plantation owner.  Well, neither one of them didn’t fair too good.  Even the one that owned the land, he had to sell the cotton, and if he couldn’t…if the tenant farmer couldn’t meet his bills after, well, then the landowner was stuck with his cotton crop.  There was some people that was able that had enough money, enough assets, or was able to borrow enough money to buy this cotton and store it, until the prices went up during one of the conflicts, maybe, then he was able to draw down and make himself a fortune. 

Mr. Hamm: One more question here I’ll ask you.  I know you read quite a bit.  I’m not sure how much you read by Kentucky writers.  I know you read some. 

Mr. Hasty: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hamm: Give me a little bit of which one…a little synopsis on which one you think is the best Kentucky writer? 

Mr. Hasty: You mean…Well, I have the privilege of two books, that I think you might have had something to do with them, I don’t know.  I know I received them as gifts on birthdays or Christmas, I can’t tell which.  One is by the noted author, Jesse Stuart of W. Hollow, who died recently. 

Mr. Hamm: Uh huh (yes). 

Mr. Hasty: And, I suppose that he would rank among the top authors in the state of Kentucky. 

 INTERVIEW ENDS ABRUPTLY)