Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hey Grandpa

What the heck is that?

Do you know what this is?

Yes, the thing on the right is a glove; I put it there to give our readers an idea of the scale of the tool on the left. I actually do know what the old rusty tool is, but I am interested in finding out if this style of implement was used in your area of Appalachia.

You are certainly welcome to guess if you don't know what it is but I am afraid we have no prizes for the winners aside from the universal hillbilly cheer of “Yeah Buddy!” A hint should be that it was used for something that was more commonly associated with Appalachia than the other regions of the country.

If you do know what the items is, please give me some history of its use in your area.




CSL said...

Oh, that's easy! Clearly it's a tiny snow shovel for garden gnomes.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

I can't say I definitely know what the shovel is, but I have a guess. I think that it is a coal shovel, perhaps designed for cutting into a small coal vein? I'm certainly not sure, but that's my guess - of course, it also reminds me of a kind of shovel I've seen archaeologists and paleontologists use when conducting digs, though admittedly particularly old digs.

cechols said...


It's a tobacco cutter.

I haven't seen one in a while, but they're definitely still to be found in the tobacco barns I used to spend my summers in. I've also seen them in a variety of shapes that vary from that one.

J. Michael Mason said...

I seem to remember seeing a large animal vet using something similar to the one pictures to clean the hooves of cattle and horses. So, my guess is that it was part of a barn-yard cosmetic kit.

CSL said...

I've changed my mind - it's for mucking out the stalls of those miniature horses.

Jeremy Peters said...

It looks like a shovel I used to use as a kid to get ashes out of our coal fired furnace. I can still remember the strong sulfuric smell of the fine ashes as I scooped them out and into a bucket. This shovel is much smaller, however, so my guess is that while it was used for the same purpose of removing ashes, it was used for a wood fired cooking stove.

cechols said...

I'm telling you, folks: it's a tobacco cutter. Not a shovel.

Michael Tod Ralstin said...

It is indeed a tobacco cutter or as it was called in my area a tobacco knife.

My family stopped growing tobacco three years ago and sold their tobacco base last year. We had been growing tobacco in Adams and Scioto counties, Ohio since my ancestors came with Nathaniel Massie into the Virginia Military District in 1790.

I have been encouraged by family and friends to gather up as much information about old burley tobacco farming as I can. Outside of some interviews I did with my grandpa for a folklore project in grad school this is my first bit of research.

Cechols, I would be real interested in hearing more about the distribution of the tobacco cutters you are familiar with as well as their various forms. My dad reports that the metal shaft was often bent.

I thank you all for your replies and look forward to any other information you have concerning burley tobacco.


cechols said...


I'm certainly no authority on Burley farming or the history of the tool, but I can tell you my limited experience with it.

I grew up in Greene County, Tn, where Burley was one of the primary sources - if not the primary source of agricultural income for generations. Many of the tobacco farms and barns are over 100 years old, and still house the original tools of that trade. From what I've seen, I think many of the tobacco cutters were fashioned by hand - or perhaps modified by farmers after they were bought.

The ones I've seen were already rusty and long-since used, so I'm not an expert on their usage. But they do come in different shapes. The pic you posted is push-style, I think, meant for cutting the tobacco stalk at a down angle. I've seen the bent-handled ones you mentioned more often, though. The bent-handles are pull-style cutters, and the sharpened edge of the knife is actually facing the handle. You reach down, put the blade on the back side of the stalk, and pull...cutting the stalk at an up angle.

It makes sense to me that this is an easier motion, and less tiring over the long days in the field, than the push-style cutter.

I really don't know much about these things. It just happened that I'd seen them as a kid - and I would say most any rural Greene Countian could tell you the same.

If you're interested in Burley, I know lots of aging farmers you could talk to. And Greene County was built by Burley, so there's a long history there. You can contact me at cechols at gmail dot com.