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The 1st Gin in a Generation: Cotton is King again in Caddo County

CARNEGIE, OKLAHOMA -- One of Jeannie Hileman's problems this March, other than needing a louder voice on the gin floor, is that there is one of her to go around.

"We're on a much, much larger scale," she says.

As the manager of two cotton gins in Caddo County, including this one that just went online in February, she has her hands full of white fluff than can't be processed fast enough.

She takes a handful from a finished bale and smiles, "Good looking cotton. I wish all of it looked like that."

Take a look outside this new gin and you can see why she's adding shifts and getting ready to run this new gin 24 hours a day.

There are thousands of round bales waiting on 160 rented acres and farmers from way beyond Caddo County are still bringing their harvests in.

"The furthest we've brought cotton in from is Knowles, OK. That's up in Beaver County," she says.

A gin visitor prompts, "So suddenly it's a stampede to cotton?"

"Yes," she responds. "That's exactly what it is. Everybody is rolling to cotton."

This newspaper article from 1925 tells the beginnings of cotton's boom and bust around here.

Carnegie had 5 gins running that year and shipped a lot more cotton that wheat.

Boll weevils and the Great Depression changed that.

In fact, Jeannie was present 20 years ago at the low point when her gin, the only one left in Carnegie, barely processed enough to keep the doors open.

"We were at the point of almost losing our gin," says Hileman.

Run the trucks and conveyors to present day and her gins will shatter a Caddo County record for the number of bales like this that ship out to make T-shirts and dresses.

What changed?

New technology to fight weevil worms, better farming and harvesting methods, and better commodity prices for cotton, especially over wheat.

Jeannie thinks, "The acreage (in cotton) will be even greater next year than this year."

During most years the cotton gins of Oklahoma would be wrapping up gin work for the season.

In this record year it might be April before all this is gone.