Turpentining was king in Georgia for three quarters of a century. For those who don’t know what turpentining is, it is where you remove the bark of a Long Leaf or Slash pine and gather the sap in a tin cup. Once ‘dipped’ from the cup, the sap was placed in fifty gallon barrels and carried to Filtered Rosin in Douglas for distilling. We had our own still for fifty years but I only remember it operating once when the old timers including my Grandfather and Great Uncle Dan distilled some winter scrape, just to show us how it was done.
Turpentine trees, Catfaces or boxes, as they were known, were once common all over South Georgia. A ‘Crop’ of boxes consisted of around fifteen hundred trees. It took about seven of the eight gallon buckets to fill a barrel which, when filled, weighed around five hundred pounds. A Crop would yield around three or four barrels of sap. It was hot, nasty, hard work and good turpentine workers were prized. It took skill to ‘hack’ the bark from the trees and do it right. If the cut was too shallow, the sap would not flow. Too deep and it hurt the tree. Every good turpentine man carried a ‘cutter’, a three cornered file, to keep his hack sharp.
Ed Graham was an expert with a hack. I showed him a picture of an Anaconda once. The picture said the snake had swallowed a man. Ed said, “That snake try to swallow me, I gone take my cutter and make all kinds of do’s and windows in him and climb out.”
The turpentine business declined and by 1970 my Uncle K.D. Vickers was the only man around that still fooled with it. He did this because he enjoyed the woods and had one old hand, Colonel Corbitt, who could lay on a ‘streak’ and then come back and ‘dip’ the sap and Colonel wanted to work. Colonel used to say, “I was raised in the old way. Work is all I know.” He was a kindly man and loved to make walking sticks and slingshots.
Eventually, through Colonel, Uncle K.D. heard of a man over between Lakeland and Valdosta that wanted to work turpentine. His name was Tommy and he agreed to drive over every day and help Colonel in the ‘woods’.
One day, Tommy arrived to find Uncle K.D. and Colonel fixing an old dip wagon. Colonel was trying to drive a ten penny finishing nail into a board but hit the nail askance. It hummed like a ricocheting bullet, hit Tommy right between the eyes and stuck deep. He stood there with blood pouring off the end of the nail, his hands out to his sides, wide eyed, and pleading silently for help.
Uncle K.D. was a veteran of the 82 Airborne from 1940-46, and not one to get too excited. When chided about his easy going demeanor he would simply say, “I have already been excited enough for one life time”. Renowned for his frugality, Uncle K.D. looked at Tommy and said, “Tommy! I am glad you came today. If you hadn’t been standing there, we would have lost that nail for sure!”