Antique cotton picker part of one area farmer's legacy

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Rick Cohn, collector, (second owner of the antique cotton picker) and Erick Crews and his mother Betty Crews, the first owner of the two-row picker.

Not too many blue cotton pickers or two row pickers are around the Buffalo Island area today. However, in the early days of mechanical cotton pickers the Ben Pearson Rust Cotton Picker was among the first. Collector Rick Cohn of Monette is now the owner of a Rust picker thanks to the original owners, Betty Crews and son Erick Crews of Athelstan, near Manila.

The cotton picker was put in a barn after the last year cotton was planted on the Crews Farm in 1971.

Erick remembers riding the picker with his dad when he was six years old. He stood behind the driver's seat holding on to the seat or his dad's shoulders.

"Unlike the pickers of today, there were no cabs and not much room to stand," Erick said.

He also remembers how much he enjoyed being on the picker with his dad, Don Crews.

Crews purchased the cotton picker in the early 1960s. Erick said Mr. Crews' nephew bought one just before his dad did. It was purchased from Ben Pearson Rust Co. in Pine Bluff.

Betty said at the time her husband purchased the cotton picker he was farming about 200 to 300 acres of cotton.

"One of the main reasons we gifted the cotton picker to Rick is because we knew he would keep it," Erick said. "Most others would have taken it for scrap. I wanted the cotton picker to be part of my father's legacy. I tell my friends when they are traveling down Highway 18 to look at the Cutting R and see the blue cotton picker."

Erick and Betty remember their husband and father as a collector himself. He did not like to part with his equipment even when it had been replaced with newer models.

Rick met Don several years ago when he was interested in buying an old tractor.

"I visited Don and he was reluctant to sell the tractor," Rick said. "I wrote a check and left it with him. I told him I would be back in a week for the check or the tractor. Don called me a few days later and told me to come get the tractor Betty had spent the check."

Rick is not only an antique equipment collector, he loves history. He likes to research the background of the equipment. Cohn is the second owner of 95 percent of the collected tractors, cotton pickers and other equipment in his possession.

Cohn found the history of the Ben Pearson Rust cotton picker fascinating. He contacted a representative from the Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott, Ark., and received excellent information on the development of the Rust cotton pickers.

According to the information he received, the first Rust cotton picker, horse drawn, was developed in 1927. In 1929 the horse drawn machine of 1928 was rebuilt into a self-propelled model powered by a Model T motor.

By 1930 the Rust Brothers had moved their business from Weatherford, Texas, to Leesville, La. The picker was mounted on a row crop tractor and tested near Shreveport, La. It proved to have a few problems with timing. 1931 proved to be a red letter year for the company as the machine picked a bale of cotton in a day near Waco, Texas. Improvements were made and in 1933 their machine picked five bales in less than a day.

There was a concern in the 1930s the mechanical picker would displace too many workers in the South. There was even talk of banning the picker by law.

In 1937 records were broken once again when the machine picked 13 bales in one day. According to the history of the picker it was in the early '40s when Allis-Chalmers joined Rust to manufacture the pickers. They manufactured six experimental pickers but a strike and a shortage of materials prevented Allis-Chalmers from going on with its contract. From 1945 to 1948 Rust used the six pickers to custom pick cotton giving him the ability to work on and improve his cotton picker. In 1949 of the 100 manufactured cotton pickers by Ben Pearson, Inc., 99 were sold.

In 1951 the Ben Pearson Rust cotton picker was creating interest throughout the cotton belt.

Cohn found an interesting point in reading the history of the cotton picker that for the first time in history a mechanical harvester was used to help pick the first bale harvested on the North American Continent. It was produced by Ray Barnick of Mission, Texas. Mr. Barnick used his Ben Pearson Rust to help harvest it. The bale sold at auction, bringing a record breaking $6.50 per pound.

Rick found two pickers still in east Tennessee but he has not been able to locate another one in Arkansas.

A tribute to durability of the machine is the fact that even after 45 years stored in a barn, it took only a week to get the picker running again.

"It was a trip pulling it at about six miles an hour to Monette," Cohn said.

He was pleased the picker started on the first try when Betty and Erick came to visit. It certainly brought back a lot of good memories for them.

Erick said he thinks his dad would be pleased with the new ownership of his cotton picker.

Due to keeping it inside a good shelter out of the weather the cotton picker has undergone very little change. The color is still good. The logo in yellow letters can be read easily -- MFD. By Rust Ben Pearson, Inc., Pine Bluff, Ark.

Cohn expressed his appreciation to the Crews for allowing him to add the cotton picker to his "second owner" collection.

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