Just found this thread and enjoyed reading it. I grew up in a little community called Golden, Texas which was known for growing watermelons and sweet potatoes. A lot of them. Golden totaled a post office, a small store, and a set of truck scales. The land around Golden ranged from sandy loam to fertile loam and the farmers harvested watermelons in the summer and sweet potatoes in the fall. They had a few steady workers but a lot of the labor was the community children and teenagers. We had no child labor laws in this area but all us kiddos worked because we enjoyed it and made some money. Farmers would pick us up at school and we would work until dark. We worked on Saturdays from dawn to dusk. We did what was needed for that crop at that time of year.
In late winter the farmer would prepare his (sweet potato) slip bed by cultivating and digging out an area to plant last years potatoes saved for seed. These would be covered with soil and then covered with black plastic to draw warmth. The plastic was removed as the sprouts broke ground and by “setting time” in April/May the slip bed would be a solid mass of sweet potato growth. Select people would start at dawn and “pull slips” stacking them in a “tater crate”…a square slatted box that held a bushel volume. The slips were packed in the crate root down and in a good year they were about as long as the crate was high. These crates were taken to the field for planting. This is where the kids came in. I don’t know how old you had to be to work the fields but I know some were probably as young as 9-10 with others being teenagers. We worked in pairs with usually a younger child and a teenager. Some of you may be as old as I am and remember setting slips before the tractor pulled a “setter”. The actual planting was quite interesting.
The row was freshly plowed and mounded up in a high row. A tractor with a dredge would prepare the row. The dredge consisted of box that flattened a row followed by a wheel that had two projections on it that marked the row about every 18 inches or so. The team of “setters” consisted of a “dropper” and a “puncher”. The dropper’s job was to place a slip in the center of the row with the end of the root on one of the marks. The puncher carried an aluminum stick that was flattened on one end and had a wide blunt smooth tip. A puncher would place this blunt flattened end on the tip of the tough root and push the plant into the soft plowed ground bringing the slip upright. Then the puncher would bring his foot up stepping next to the slip to firm up the soil around it. Drop. Punch. Step. Acres and acres.
As I got older the farmers were having tractors pull equipment that dredged the row and two people rode in seats alternately laying the slips into a belt driven area that took the plant down and set it into the soil. Usually the older boys got to ride the setter and they were paid 10 cents an hour more to ride–and deride–the rest of us.
Just a little trip down memory lane…good times…