The Cotton Tractors of Port Avenue (free bike rides!)

The Cotton Tractors of Port Avenue; In the 1960s slow moving cotton tractors came from somewhere up Port Avenue "around the curve" we could not see where as were riding bikes and could not go past "the curve" of which I knew there was a FINA gas station and some big tall warehouses there at Agnes, and a railroad track that attached to "my railroad track" that ran parallel to Port, past our house, and down into The Cut.

Several of us on bikes would stalk the little cotton tractors, many times hiding behind Hasty Tasty at NE corner of Port at Leopard. These tractors slowly rumbled along, maybe 15 miles a hour. If that! As soon as it would pass us, we ride up on bikes and latch on, holding with one hand a cotton bale, and just go along for ride, would not have to pedal. A few times if police saw us we could break away and haul ass different direction or under I-37 between Buffalo & Antelope. A few times the police would just blast their siren 'BRAAAAPPP!' at us and that was more than enough to get us away from the bales. There was one time though, a cop came out of nowhere and surprised us. Used microphone on front of cop car and told us to stop, and we did. He got out, asked us where we lived and Mondo was already peeing on himself. He followed us back to houses on Doss & Antelope and he spoke to my mom first, then Mondo's mom. I can't tell you what happened at Mondo's house next door, but I came really close to getting the belt. And worse, got 'the speech'

about how some kid had fallen under the wheels and got ran over and his head decapitated. Well, that never happened but still heard it. Not only from mom's but also cops, and one time from tractor driver. Legs too. Same story just legs, not head.

When you poor, not a lot of things to do as a kid, especially in this neighborhood near Port & Leopard. We threw rocks at cars on I-37; played football on side of freeway on // angled hill near Hill of Death!, dug thru trash big rooms behind HEB Port & Leopard & Beil's on Leopard, and well, just rode bikes a lot. There was a old man who ate thrown away food behind Beil's looked like Jesus, was another Leopard Street Wino, we find him in there drunk, and would lock him in with the rats ha ha. God will have words with me one day for that. We affectionately called him 'the wino behind Beil's' but sometimes see him sharing food in trash area behind HEB, also saw him when driving with dad, walking along railroad tracks near Agnes & I believe 19th.

As for the cotton tractors, while I was forbidden to go into The Cut (as was most kids "our side of freeway" ) it was sort of exempt if you were on Port Avenue itself. At least I think it was, as we had strict rules to not go to north side of freeway then in 1960s. The Corpus Christi Police could come straight up Winnebago thru ghetto projects from their police station at corner of Brownlee & I-37, to Port, was just few blocks so we had to always be on lookout for that. Especially if hitching a ride on bikes to cotton tractors.

One 2-3 different occasions we rode them all the way down to the docks! And finally found out the mysterious area they went to. There were big long, green, warehouses city block or two long, filled with cotton for ships. The smell inside these places was exhilarating! A "smell" that you WILL NEVER FORGET, like Lichtenstein's ladies perfume area. Or smell of 5th floor Toy section downtown Penney's at Christmas! Or myrrh incense. Just wonderful smell!

The long warehouses long since faded into Corpus Christi history, there is fancy new, baseball park, Whataburger Field there, and boy, every time I come down in summer, we hit that place and there is another smell that will stick with you forever, Whataburgers in a baseball park.

The little cotton tractors had no license plate, no inspection stickers, just moseyed along down Port from dawn to dusk. Sometimes that would even bore us kids, we saw them, but eh whatever. And no one got decapitated, no one lost legs, Officer Mudd didn't chase us. It was just something fun to do a long time ago. Free.

Photos: Photo #1, a cotton tractor moseys along on dock next to water with iconic Harbor Bridge in background, looks like 7 or 8 small trailers behind this one. The cotton all wrapped in burlap like cloth. Easy to grab if hitching a ride. And the driver could not see us kids on either side farther back ha ha.

cc-cotton-tractors-1.JPG (995924 bytes)

Photo #2. This is a small postcard touting how much cotton goes thru port, check out those bales! I can smell them from here! Nothing like driving car down many back roads around my hometown, or up to Houston on hiway 59 and seeing the cotton before harvested.

cc-cotton-tractors-2.JPG (93489 bytes)

Photo #3. Bales upon bales of cotton these wrapped not only in burlap, but with metal straps, a new fancy design, and the straps could cut the hell out of you. These appear to be all sitting in the Missouri Pacific train yard which was at bottom of curve in The Cut, pretty much a 3 iron from the warehouses.

cc-cotton-tractors-3.JPG (205770 bytes)

Photo #4. The warehouses were long, dark, lit only by a few bulbs here and there. As kids, we could duck down and no one see us, and scurry about like rats. Problem with this was also easily get lost in the maze of bales. But only went into these warehouse maybe 3 times max in my whole life. And always was deathly quiet.

cc-cotton-tractors-4.JPG (302647 bytes)

Photo #5. Back of a old, really old postcard sometimes you can find these on ebay. It touts Corpus Christi's port, and sheer tonnage. This I believe is from the 1950s. Ironically it does not mention cotton. Or kids riding along cotton tractors. Never did find out where they came from around the curve on Port as it goes up hill southbound towards Agnes. Maybe 50+ years later I don't need to know. Can sit behind where Hasty Tasty was, now gas station & wait for another cotton tractor.....

cc-cotton-tractors-5.JPG (576025 bytes)