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Title: Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Stewart, G. Sherwood, interviewee
Interview conducted by Peterson, Sally
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 132 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-11-28, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0194)
Author: Sally Peterson
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002. Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0194)
Author: G. Sherwood Stewart
Description: 118 Mb
Description: 33 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 21, 2002, by Sally Peterson; recorded in Durham, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with G. Sherwood Stewart, September 21, 2002.
Interview R-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Stewart, G. Sherwood, interviewee


Interview Participants

    G. SHERWOOD STEWART, interviewee
    SALLY PETERSON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
SALLY PETERSON:
Okay, it looks like we're moving. Today is September 21, the last day of summer.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
[Laughter] Is it? Today is the last day of summer, isn't it?
SALLY PETERSON:
It seems like a fitting day to be at Duke Homestead, in Durham, North Carolina, and talking about auctioning tobacco. We're here today with Mr. G. Sherwood Stewart.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
Welcome, Mr. Stewart. Thank you so much for coming.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Good to be here.
SALLY PETERSON:
Mr. Stewart made a lot of contributions in our panel discussion this morning, so we're following up with an interview. I want to thank you, and I was hoping you would tell me a little bit about your career as an auctioneer and how you got into it and where you came up and what's your story?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, first, I was born and raised in Smithfield, North Carolina, Johnston County. My daddy was a tobacco farmer, tenant farmer. Raised on the farm, just a little country boy. And uh, he would go to sell tobacco, probably I was ten years old. When he went to sell tobacco, I went with him. It just fascinated me: the auctioneer would go down the row selling tobacco. It just — at the age of ten! A lot of people [they may say] that couldn't have happened. Yes, they did happen. I, uh, my Dad was a friend of a tobacco auctioneer that was doing the auction that day. And uh, everywhere this auctioneer was

Page 2
at, my Dad would sell tobacco. He liked him. They were good friends, and uh, I came back home that day and well, I guess it was about the first time I visited a tobacco sale— I'd say pretty near close, anyway. I told my Dad, riding back home—. He let me stay at the warehouse until the sale was over. I followed right behind him, looking. I told my Dad, I said, "Dad, I believe I'll be a tobacco auctioneer." He said, "Oh, son, now that's a whole lot now to learn and how can you do that?" I said, "I'll try." I began to try to make a chant, do the chant, at that age. I'd go home and I'd practice and do everything else. This guy that was auctioneering, we'll say he was a friend of my Daddy, he'd come by our house and visit. My Daddy told him, "That boy of mine went to see you sell tobacco and he just got it in him. He's trying to auctioneer everything around. He sold everything that's around here." He told me, though, he chanted off, you know. Well, I didn't know what I was doing but I was making the fuss he was making, but, oh, it went on and uh I kept right on continuing to do it, going to tobacco sales. I was about fourteen. I was fourteen years old. This man started a tobacco auctioneering school. He came to my house and I was the first one signed up. He said, "I'm going to sign that kid up in that school." He said, "I'm going to make a tobacco auctioneer out of him." His name was C.E. Stevenson. They called him Snoxic Stevenson. He would come out and he would mess with me. So he started a school! I went to school! I think it was six or seven weeks, something like that. We put baskets on the floor and practiced. I think there was thirty-two of us in that school. I was the youngest one in it. There was someone about forty years old there. Some of them seemed to think, you know, later on, said like, "Well, he'll probably be the auctioneer. He's so young. He's determined." I became fifteen years old before the tobacco market opened. I went with my Daddy to sell tobacco again. Snoxic came by and he said, "Look son, when we get to your Daddy's tobacco I'm going to let you sell it." He said, "You can do it." I said, "Well, look—." He said, "You come on over and you get right behind me and you watch everything I do. When we get there, I'm going to let you sell it." Now imagine a fifteen-year-old kid getting into a tobacco sale. [I don't know what I thought of everything he did?]. So we got to the pile. He stopped and he told the tobacco buyers, "I'm going to let this kid sell tobacco. I've had him at auctioning school and this is his Daddy's tobacco." He said, "Y'all help him." They didn't probably want me to sell someone else's tobacco,

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but Daddy said, "All right you can sell this." So I got in there and I was scared to death. Really, I was shaking. But something happened that day. Back those days, tobacco buyers, everybody wore cuffs in their pants, you know, and one of these tobacco buyers had an artificial leg. And he hopped. I was just shaking so bad, and scared at trying to sell it. He was trying to help me, but something happened. His britches leg caught on fire, while I was selling tobacco. And [unclear] and said he called the fire truck. Said Johnny Map's peg wooden leg is on fire. He said he had a wooden leg and it was on fire and he was going to burn up. And so, they stopped and he put it out. Everything was ok. It took the fright off of me. Everybody got to laughing at him and I went on and done a pretty good job. [I] sold [my first tobacco] that afternoon.
SALLY PETERSON:
So, he helped you out all right!
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
And I got out with Daddy's tobacco — sold good. They did. They helped me out. When we got through I got to go on back to the warehouse and they — every now and then — they put me in and let me sell a little bit of tobacco. Daddy's [tobacco], anyway. Every time he sold tobacco, I'd get in there and sell it, you know.
SALLY PETERSON:
You bet. That's so neat. He must have loved that.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, Daddy, he really wanted me to be a tobacco auctioneer. My mother wanted me to be a preacher. But, I'd get in there and I'd go down the row and I'd sell and I got better and better at it, you know? I got right much better. Well this gentleman who was here today was Jimmy Jollet. You remember him?
SALLY PETERSON:
Oh yes, very well.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
He sold tobacco in Smithfield. I said, I didn't know, uh, who was—. I didn't probably think there was but two tobacco auctioneers in the world: Snoxic Steveson and Jimmy Jollet. So I go up to Jimmy Jollet and some of the tobacco buyers on the sale said, "Jimmy, you got an auctioneer back there." Well, he looked back at me and went on.

Page 4
I'm a kid. Finally he let me sell a row of tobacco. I would go back to Jimmy and that's what I told him the other day. I said, "The farmer don't want you to sell his tobacco because you're learning how, see, and a lot of the warehousemen hate to put you in there because it might make the farmer mad." But Jimmy someway or another found out how to get me into the sale. I'd go up there just to let him put me in the sale and he got to doing it more and more, you know, as I was getting better. I got where I could sell tobacco pretty good. I got to visiting the other markets. I even went to Henderson and came to Durham, here, and got to sell some. I just, at a younger age—. I started selling tobacco young.
SALLY PETERSON:
You were young. By the time you were working with Jimmy and by the time you started visiting the other [markets], like Henderson, how old were you then?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Still in my teens — eighteen, nineteen. I think I was about twenty-one years old when I started selling regular.
SALLY PETERSON:
Anyone else that young working at that time?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
No. I was not working, but understand, I was getting in there practicing to sell tobacco.
SALLY PETERSON:
Yeah, get a line or two.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
My Daddy, he always hauled tobacco for different farmers. So, he loaded up two big truckloads of tobacco and went to Henderson. I went with him. We had a guy that worked with us on the farm. He'd always start [unclear] out on the farm, you know. I got to Henderson. I got all of it: men working the warehouse, which was labor. Early that morning everything got quiet and I went on across the row. There weren't no tobacco buyers. They were pretending they were. There were blacks, whites, them both and going down that row—. Really at that time, you know, you didn't see black tobacco buyers. We went down the first row. I was selling tobacco and we were just like a

Page 5
tobacco sale. Well, when I come out at the end of the row — this was early in the morning — this gentleman was standing there looking at me with his arms crossed, like this [GSC demonstrates]. I stopped. He said, "Come here, young man." He says, "Look, I was sitting down there in the office. I thought the tobacco sale had started." He says, "I'm Burt Moore, I own the warehouse." I thought he was going to get on me for doing that, you know? He says, "Son, I'm glad, you sound good. Have you ever thought about being an auctioneer?" I say, "Yeah, I have sold a few rows of tobacco, Mr. Moore." He says, "Well, I'll tell you what, you can sell a row of tobacco in this warehouse today." I say, "Yeah, I can." He says, "Yeah." I said, "My dad got a bunch of tobacco here on the floor. We put in on last night." He said, "Mr. Stewart?" I said, "Yes." He said, "He's your Daddy?" He says, "Well, there ain't no problem. You can sell tobacco rows today." He put me in the sale. I sold down there. I was way off. Well, the people that I knew weren't looking at me so I did a pretty good job. I went on down and sold to the corner of the row and stopped by the line there was a lady sitting up there in the front selling tobacco. She said, "My god." [She] told Mr. Moore, "Let that young man sell my tobacco." I was going to get out. He carried me on to the end of the row. I got to the end of the row. He says, "You go on back and sell to the other end." I sold back to the other end. He said, "Young man, let me tell you something. Anytime you want to sell a row in this warehouse, you can. Anytime you come up here, you can sell tobacco." He said, "You're going to be a good auctioneer." I said, "Thanks." Well, I kept right on until they hired me to pitch hit. They took me to Georgia. A man that I trained with took me to Georgia with him. I worked down there, came on back to Smithfield and worked with him and he would let me sell tobacco. In Georgia, now, his brother was down there selling tobacco and the last day he sent him home and then him stayed over to Monday and they were closing the barn. He let me be the auctioneer on Monday because he run the sale. It wasn't but a few piles of tobacco. It wasn't much, but I sold it. So I come on back and I got a job in Dillon, South Carolina, as a relief officer. These jobs was offered to me that I didn't ask for. They say, "We want you." In Smithfield I come back and I had a job relieving Jimmy Jollet. Jimmy made the decision to move. Smithfield market, that's home. They said, "You just as good as anybody as come out of here to try this job, but you're awful young." He said, "I'm sure we need to hire somebody. You work with

Page 6
us one more year and I think you'll be ready to go." Well, they didn't hire me and my dad was going to Greenville to sell a little tobacco. He said, "I want you to go down there with me." So, I left Smithfield. I went with him to Greenville and I got to sell some tobacco out of a—. The man told me the first day, "I want you to come back tomorrow." We didn't have a tobacco [sale] that day. He said "If you were to come back down here for the next five days — there were five sets in that town — and sell tobacco, I'll pay your expense. If you want to come down and stay five days, I'll pay all of your expenses." So, the warehouseman done that. He says, "I'm interested in hiring you," and he did. He ended up hiring me to sell tobacco in Greenville which—. That was a big market.
SALLY PETERSON:
That's pretty far to go, too.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, I was living in Smithfield. I went to Georgia and sold there a year and then came back to Greenville. Mr. Dixon Wallace told me, he said, "You know, Sherwood, Greenville's a big market. Most auctioneers start on a little market and go up to big markets. But you're starting your first job on a five set market." He said, "I'm just—. I feel for you." He said, "It's tougher than it is on a smaller market." I said, "Well, you know Mr. Wallace, the man offered to hire me. It's his own doing. They hired me to sell tobacco there and I'm going there to sell tobacco and do my best." I went there and sold it. I came back to Smithfield and he said, "How did you get along in Greenville?" I said, "Just fine." I said, "I had no problem at all." I said, "You know, I believe it's better to sell in a big market than in a little one." He said, "You know something, we should have hired you in Smithfield." It almost happened. He was trying to hire me back from Greenville. Then I got another job in Greenville, a better job.
SALLY PETERSON:
Did you say there were five sets in Greenville — five sets of buyers?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
In Greenville, at that time, yes. Well, see, Wilson was five sets.
SALLY PETERSON:
Durham was three.

Page 7
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right. But Wilson always sold the most tobacco. I came back and I told Mr. Wallace, "You know something? I'm starting in Greenville, you know it might just might make Wilson." And I used it as a—. Somebody would tell me on a Saturday night, "You're doing good, Stewart. You're doing fine." I said, "I'm going to make Wilson." I used to say that when I was young. When I was just a young man I said, "I intend to make Wilson, the biggest market in Georgia. I intend to make Lexington, Kentucky. I'm going to hit them all." Well, I made most of Georgia. That was the biggest. I made Wilson, North Carolina, that was the largest haul. I had the opportunity to go to Lexington and I turned it down. I was willing to sell tobacco or anything, but I didn't work that way 'cause, actually, the job I had away from there was better than what I got at [the warehouse?]. So, I never did go to Lexington, but I did sell in Wilson twenty-eight years. When I went to Wilson, it was tough. I mean, from Greenville I went to Winston. Sold one year. From Waynesville to Wilson. How it happened — I went to Wilson. I went up to Centerbrick [brook?] warehouse in Wilson and was selling tobacco. They was interested in hiring me to sell tobacco at Centerbrick. They sold more tobacco than any other warehouse. [unclear] warehouse in Wilson. Was right like with them. They sold about as much at double. In fact, they sold more. Mr. Grady Deems—. I went over one day to visit somebody in the warehouse, well now, my Daddy would put tobacco on the floor up there and sell it and he was at [unclear] and I was just trying out at Centerbrick. I walked in there and I wanted to meet Mr. Grady Deans. I didn't know him. I said, "Mr. Dean?" I asked, "Which one of you guys is Grady Deans?" He said, "That gentleman right yonder." I went over and introduced myself. He said, "Oh, you're Mr. Stewart's son." I said, "Yeah." He said, "You're selling over in Windsor now?" I said, "Yeah, and selling in Greenville." He said, "Are YOU the one that's been at Centerbrick last week?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "I'm going to stop the sale and come down here and put you in. I want you to sell tobacco." So, I got in the sale. He walked on the sale. His son was on the sale. He watched me sell tobacco. He said, "I want you to hang around here a little bit because we're going to have another set coming in and I want you to sell it. He told me, when I got through, "Come in the office, I want to talk to you." He made the offer to hire me. I didn't take it then. It didn't work out for what we was going to do then. That I go to work for him. But for the next year, I had hired to him

Page 8
and had to get out my job in Windsor. I went to Wilson in 1971. It was tough — the biggest sale in town. I said, "Look, this is Wilson." I said, "I just [unclear] at Wilson. I'm going to stay here." As it grew on a year—. Kind of little bit starting I was a little bit disappointed, but after it went on I began to get into it and I probably came to be one of the best tobacco auctioneers ever to have sold in Wilson. That's what they all say. [I'm] probably the one that sold about as long as anybody. I think I might have sold longer than anybody else there. I don't know exactly, but twenty-eight years is a long time — with the same people.
SALLY PETERSON:
Okay, you clearly love doing it.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Being I love it. I certainly did.
SALLY PETERSON:
Okay, what made you so good?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
What made me love it so good?
SALLY PETERSON:
No, what made you such a good auctioneer? I know that loving it was a very important factor.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well—.
SALLY PETERSON:
But there's some joy in it for you, too. Where does that joy come from?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, maybe it's this: I like the entertainment of it. I like being, I guess, in the limelight, certainly. I always try—. I said, "I intend to be the tobacco auctioneer. I don't want to be the second best. I want to be the best." There's auctioneers that might be better. but I did feel this way. When I learned how to sell tobacco like, I felt like I could go down the road. I could do it as well as anybody. In my mind, I didn't show it to people. I always congratulate: "You're the best." I felt like, when I'd go and sell tobacco, I wanted to do my best. I wanted to be the best tobacco auctioneer. And I loved

Page 9
it. I just love to do that kind of work. I'd get up in the morning and I could hardly wait to get to the warehouse. My whole career selling tobacco, I just could hardly wait to get there because I wanted to be there and to be selling tobacco. The only time in my career I was ever absent, was one week. I had to be out because I was in the hospital. [I only missed one week], in my whole career. I sold tobacco forty-two years. I started at a young age. I'm sixty-four years old now, but I've always taken care of myself. I may have a drink and do things like that, now. A lot of warehousemen all the time wanted to hire me. I had more opportunities for jobs, but I always got to a place they wouldn't let me leave, because [of my] reputation for selling tobacco—. Warehouse men are selling tobacco for farmers and a lot of times, if they got a good auctioneer, they say, "Hey, I got Sherwood Stewart selling tobacco for me."
They like it. The farmers like the auction. The auctioneer makes a lot of difference in selling tobacco. So, I perfected [my work] and as I was coming up as a young auctioneer—. I like Jimmy Jollet. I saw him and I would try to imitate him. And Les Hobb, I run into him. I tried to imitate him. Billy Clarke, in Greenville—. When I went there to sell tobacco, I said, "Wait a minute. This guy's tremendous." I said, "Maybe I ought to push Billy Clarke mine." But Billy was a comedian auctioneer. One of the finest I ever seen. He had a chant that would just entertain you. Somebody asked me one time, "you know something—" I said, "I've tried Jimmy Jollet. I tried to auction like different ones and be like them, but I decided there ain't but one thing to do: be one style, Sherwood Stewart. So, I became Sherwood Stewart's style.
SALLY PETERSON:
And has somebody imitated you?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes, oh I had them. I had a guy to walk up to me one day and he tells me—. I was helping him. He said, "You know, "I want to be just like you. I try my best to sound just like you." I said, "Don't do it, friend." I said, "I appreciate that, but the best thing you could do is take in, adopt, your own style." I said, "Every auctioneer—. I have never seen two that was exactly alike. Basically, we do the same thing, but there is different styles." I said, "You adopt your best way of selling tobacco that is your style." They all got different styles.

Page 10
SALLY PETERSON:
So tell me about your style.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
My style? Well you know how other people describe it? I have people saying, "You're the best entertainment auctioneer I've followed. You're not boring." Tobacco buyers tell me, "I'm not bored following you." Said, "I like your style. You are clear. You can understand it. I know where I'm at buying tobacco all the time and I know where you're at."
SALLY PETERSON:
But are you injecting little things as you go along. Can you give me an example?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Oh yes, yeah. Well, I pick this from an auction. Like, I'll be saying, "Ninety-two something." I'll be trying to buy: "Dollar ninety-two, two, two, two, buckle my shoe, [unknown], you know, that's so nice." I'll say "Ninety-six pick up sticks" or something like that. I put something like that in sometimes. I like to give me a—. [unclear] . I do that. A lot of that is some of Billy Clarke. All those in my style are doing it, than his style.
SALLY PETERSON:
So there's endless variations. I think you're right, the more you put yourself into it, the more you own it, the more you can do with it.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I had my style selling tobacco. I mean, my style is still there.
SALLY PETERSON:
You were quite young when you [figured out] what that style was going to be. Did you have fun when you were a kid and you were practicing on it, just sticking stuff in? When you were really young and you were working on that chant, did you play with words some?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes, yeah. I tell you something, I did. Excuse me, I'm going to take a drink of water.

Page 11
SALLY PETERSON:
Please.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I tell you something, I did. Catching bids—. When a tobacco buyer bids, they're quick. Well, you try to make it bid catcher. That's what makes a good tobacco auctioneer. I would get in front of a mirror and bid for myself. I talked to this guy one day. He said, "How you practicing catching bids?" I said, "I get in front of the mirror and bid for myself." He said, "Don't do that." He said, "I know a guy who did that and the only way he could sell tobacco was he had to have a mirror to look at himself." I know he told me that as a joke, but I said, "Well ok, I'd better quit that then because I don't want no mirror there," You know, the basic thing is style. To be a good tobacco auctioneer, is your style and your chant, your voice. That's what makes good and settles disputes. When something happens on the sale, like, you know—.
SALLY PETERSON:
Can you give me an example?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, sometimes a tobacco buyer along will say, "Hey, you missed me on that pile of tobacco." Could have happened. It could have not happened. He could have missed me, too. Sometimes, like they have it—. Like, the way to sell tobacco and something happened, well you say, "Now wait a minute, here." I told them one time, "The school I went to didn't teach it that way." So there was a lot of things that—. Sometimes I could be wrong, but when I was wrong, I corrected it. I would tell them, "Yeah, I make mistakes." I did tell a bunch of tobacco buyers one day, "You know I've been trying to—." It just hit me all at once. I said, in Wilson, North Carolina, "If you walk down these rows," I said, "I see tobacco buyers making mistakes all the time." I said, "Sometimes they buy tobacco wrong and I have to go over there and sell it over and give them a straight line." I said, "A ticket marker will mark one wrong." I said, "It's all right, you know, change it, everything's ok now." The sale's fine. I said, "The warehouseman started wrong and if I can't even sell tobacco for one hour and all at once I haven't made one mistake, the whole sale blows up."
SALLY PETERSON:
That's right, everyone comes down on you.

Page 12
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I said, "Why? Why?" Everybody stood there and looked at me. Then they'll ask. So I went on and started selling tobacco. But things like, like getting along, and you know—.
SALLY PETERSON:
Yeah, well I guess the auctioneer is supposed to be kind of the ultimate in fairness.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah, right.
SALLY PETERSON:
So the expectation is that if you make a mistake, then you're not being fair.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right, well, you know sometimes if there are people there that's got just as much of an important job, like a ticket marker, as auctioneers. But he is the star of the sale and I don't say that because I was a tobacco auctioneer. If somebody come from California and never seen a tobacco auctioneer, their focus is always on the tobacco auctioneer. They didn't pay any mind to anybody else. Companies oversee that everything is bought by the buyer. The auction — sixty percent, I think — was entertainment. Another thing I did — always liked to use it — I liked singing. I sing with bands. My wife is sick right now. She told me one time—. Of course, I was an auctioneer when she met me and married me and when she found out I did a little singing with bands, she told me, "Well I can tell you something, if you just went out and put as much energy into being a country music singer as you have did a tobacco auctioneer, you'd be one of the best." I said, "Well, I'm glad you feel that way, but that ain't what I want to be." You want to be something. You know, some people wants to be a ball player. Some people wants to be a guitar player. Some people wants to be—. I want to be a tobacco auctioneer. I size it up. If you take a baseball and you lay it out there on the ball diamond, it's nothing but a baseball. It's just sitting there. If you line up the players, the first baseman, and the pitcher, and you put them all in there, you got a team. So, that little ball, it's nothing but a baseball.

Page 13
SALLY PETERSON:
I think I understand. I think the role of the auctioneer, from what I've been able to gather from listening this morning and from things that I've read, is that the auctioneer, like you said, settles disputes, you know. You're the one that keeps it even.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right.
SALLY PETERSON:
[Keeps it even] between the price the farmers can get and the price the buyers want, the amounts, and who's spent all this much already and deserves to, you know, who bought the bad stuff so now they deserve some good stuff. you got to keep all that balanced.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes, you got to keep all that.
SALLY PETERSON:
I think that it is a pretty important role in the whole tobacco exchange.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes, it is. Well, I work with a man that owns [unclear] . One morning I sold fifteen hundred and eighty-eight batches of tobacco. I sold them at three different warehouses. I started one at nine o'clock. He told one of the workers in the warehouse [that] I had sold all the—. At nine o'clock that morning I got through about two o'clock that evening. I [unclear] buyer's warehouse. But on the first row we sold, the warehouseman told the guy to get up there and bring him back who bought the third pile on the sale. I say, "Hey, you ain't got to send him out. I'll tell you. I know who bought it." He said, "There ain't no way." I said, "I know who bought the third pile." He said, "You ain't being—. That pile of tobacco sold at nine o'clock this morning. You've now sold fifteen hundred baskets of tobacco and you're going tell me who bought the third pile on the floor?" I said, "You ain't lose them, I'll tell you." I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll tell you who bought the first one, tell you who bought the second one, tell you who bought the third one, tell you who bought the fourth, fifth, sixth, and the seventh."
SALLY PETERSON:
How do you do that?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It's the tobacco seller and the auction allocation. A lot of people don't understand it when they talk. It stays that way. Sometimes it'd change. Might change next week to a higher price, could change to a lower price, but ever since I've been selling it, you auction it. Most of those things that's going, farmers using machines and everything, because that's more of the same type. It used to be laid out in different grades. It's because this is when I was in the allocation and I knew that row of tobacco being auctioned at allocation and I knew who I knocked the first one to and who I knocked the second one to and who I knocked the third one to. He said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. If you'll put down on a piece of paper how many, in seven piles of tobacco, I'll bet you a steak supper you can't. It ain't right." I said, "I'll bet you I will." So I wrote them down and he went out there and a man went out there and said, "Tommy, you just better take him out to eat, because he's right." I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll go fifty piles. How many piles of tobacco in the first row?" He says, "There's a hundred and two on the first row." I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll go over to the other end and I'll give you a chance to get that steak supper back." I said, "I'll sit down here in my office. I'll figure it out. I ain't going to say I'm going to get them all right, but I won't be eight piles off."
SALLY PETERSON:
Out of a hundred and two?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes.
SALLY PETERSON:
From twenty-four hours ago.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah, well—.
SALLY PETERSON:
And after another thousand?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah. He said, "I'll tell you what to do. Give me the first—. Do it on Twenty-five." I said, "No, twenty-four." I went out there and they both come back and I got the twenty-four of them right. He said, "I see you want to go all the way. What if you went at this rate, you won't be able to go the whole sale because there's eight hundred on that whole sale. I said, "Well, I doubt I could get all eight hundred, but I remember that the first row of tobacco was good tobacco. It's the reason I can do it. It's top grade tobacco." I said, "You got to remember when you're selling tobacco, how much, who bought what, the whole sale. If you're going down the row—. The man said, "I remember one year, out of Kentucky, all the tobacco in my market brought the same

Page 15
price, every dollar. You can turn on the TV station says the auctioneer and the companies is framed up to pay the same price on all the tobacco. But to tell you, I heard it said on TV and it was on my sale the other day." I said, "Look, you told something that wasn't right." I said, "Because I ain't framed up with no companies. What happened was I had companies that was buying the sorry tobacco to get the good tobacco, if you really want to know the truth." I said, "If you go check my, if all the tobacco, divided it up yesterday, the companies would have got about equal the same thing. I got eight companies." I said, "Look, that ain't the way it is. One of them got three percent, one of them got twenty-eight per cent, one of them got twenty-two per cent, one of them got fifteen percent." I said—I went down the list—and I said, "Now, I haven't even looked at the papers, the figures from yesterday, but these peoples is not dishonest. Go in now. They can give it to you right off now what the percentage was." Well, he went in there and he come out to me and said, "How you done it?" I said, "I haven't even looked at the percentages." I said, "I sold tobacco yesterday, so I know how it went." Then he said, "Well how do you do that?" I said, "You're not saying to explain that to you. Now over and over and you still wouldn't understand." I said, "I'll tell you what you can do now." I said, "Look down this row, now." I said, "From here, down you to that big pile of tobacco where you look, there's eight buyers out there." I said, "When I start here selling tobacco, I'm not going to have but about two companies bidding on this one—tobacco here to that big pile. When I get to that big pile, then I'm going to have every one of them—everybody, from one end of the row." So I said, "You walk down behind me," and I said, "I'll go on down there." It was under auction, most time, you know, auction in between two kinds. Or the other ones were just looking across the warehouse. They wouldn't even bid. We got to that big pile, and oh yeah, everybody come. I said to the TV man, "What would you do now?" He said, "To tell you the truth, I don't know what I'd do." He said, "I started in the front of it." I said, "Uh, uh!"
SALLY PETERSON:
Give it to the ones that have already bought—.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right. You know, you try to—. You keep them because if you didn't—.

Page 16
SALLY PETERSON:
They kind of paid their dues.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
They was buying all the tobacco. You know, you got the controversy going now. But what grows a lot of tobacco is—. I told a man one day, "I never sold tobacco but one year that started on it." But that was in burley. The first pile brought the same price on opening day as on closing day and everybody bid the same amount. That's the first time I ever done it. Never did manage—. The hurricane came through and destroyed a part of the flue cure. It brought a dollar ninety-two. It never started off. As I tried to tell somebody, I started on one year tobacco bring a dollar seventy-seven. It eventually went to a dollar eighty. It was the auction system that carried it there, you know. So, although I believe it's the best way to sell tobacco—always have believed [in] it, the price support system. I've always believed in that. It's a good way. The farmer has the best thing in the world going for him. I hope it continues what it's going to, but I don't think it will. But, it's being a tobacco auctioneer, I don't regret it, no.
SALLY PETERSON:
Oh, it doesn't sound like it!
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
No. I'm not doing it now. Last year was my last year selling tobacco. Not because I wanted to. I knew I was getting close to the time that I could retire. But, it's the time that they started contracting. I probably could've hung over a few little sales, but it wasn't enough. I just stepped out of it. It mean, it was more easier for me to step out than it was for some younger guys. You know, they're thirty-five, forty years old—ain't old enough to draw social security. We didn't have retirement. We don't have all that stuff. As far as being a tobacco auctioneer, I don't have any ill will against the companies or farmers, either one. The companies drawed a contract. The farmer made the choice. If it's better for him to contract, then I understand. He can get more money out of a contract than [if] he is under auction. If the auction would give him more money, then I say he's a fool to sell under contract. That's the way it is. Now what's going to continue after the tobacco auction is gone? I don't know.
SALLY PETERSON:
I guess I'm curious about what it will do to perceptions of quality.

Page 17
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Quality—. Well, I think, really and truly, that's what the company can do, is trying to be closer to the farmer under contract to produce a better quality tobacco and foreign matter free. In fact, I'm with a company now. I'm with Universal Lee [League?]. My job is looking for foreign matter in tobacco. They call me a NTRM specialist. That is, non-tobacco related material. There's a lot in there.
SALLY PETERSON:
Is there really?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes, sir. They—. Yes, ma'am.
SALLY PETERSON:
Is that because of the mechanization now?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah, a lot of it is mechanization. A lot of it, I assume, they don't care. They just dump anything in there. I find a whole lot of it. Now they are recording and checking it out if the farmers have got it in it. [There is] more than I really thought was in it, 'til I got in this job looking at it. That's what I do now.
SALLY PETERSON:
But when it was all out on the floor in piles, that would just be so obvious.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It was in it then.
SALLY PETERSON:
It was in it then to the same degree, do you think?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, not as much, because they sold more tobacco in the sheets. But they did put it in there. It got in there. But then the company had a right to reject it on the floor. But somehow, enough of it didn't get rejected all the time, you know. Then they went to bale tobacco. There's no person, in the world, that can stand there, and look at a pile, a bale — a eight hundred pound bale of tobacco — and tell what's inside of it. I tried telling people that. You can't. You can bust it open or the man who packed it, he can tell what's in it.

Page 18
SALLY PETERSON:
So, how would you salt something because you'd want the outside to look solid?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
And it goes through a baler, right? So you'd have to feed it into the baling machine, or something?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah, but there's a way you can put the stuff in the middle. I'll tell you something that happened this year. [Was] a lot of this tobacco dry weather tobacco this year? It's hard to judge it in bales because them balers leave the tails of tobacco out, and the stems in. A lot of it looks good, and the bale gummies it up, it's green halfway to the leaf that you don't see in them bales. That's one thing, the pile of tobacco looks good outside, but when you open it up, it's half is green. It's a bad crop this year. We've got a mean tobacco crop.
SALLY PETERSON:
You think—. Is that [because of] the drought?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Drought — that's right, a lot of it. There's a lot of farmers farming tobacco out there that don't look at it. They've been around for years and years. When I was auctioning tobacco, you run into the farmers that really took care of it and looked at it. They had good tobacco, all the time. You had the same farmers just about every year that had bad tobacco. They're going to have bad tobacco. It don't make no difference, they just know how to mess it up. I mean, they don't take the pride in—.
SALLY PETERSON:
But they get different prices for their tobacco?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah. Well, they have in the past.
SALLY PETERSON:
They have in the past, but with this contracting—?

Page 19
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
[With] this contracting, they want the same thing the others get. I don't know how, what's going to keep on going. You always had the price support system to go back to, which you don't have that under contract with the company. They are turning down some of these tobacco contractors now. Turned down a lot of them on the auction market, because it's not good. But the auction system was put in—. I think baling it up in big bales hurt the auction system because you can't, don't even looking at it, you know.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, how does it get inspected if it's baled?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, the government graders grade it and inspect it. Just like I said a few minutes ago, there's nobody here. He grades it the way it looks in them bales.
SALLY PETERSON:
Just in the bales.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
But he don't see everything that's in it. But the farmer's not supposed to put it that way.
SALLY PETERSON:
yeah, but they weren't supposed to salt the kegs in the 17th century either, but they did.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah, as that man said when he was talking about nest tobacco and everything, "You don't put good apples on top and the rotten ones in the bottom." But, it really—. And a lot of things — green stems in tobacco. Well I had someone, a man said, "How about green stems?" I call them "spoiled stems." I said, "That's what rotted, that pile of tobacco." I said, "They were put in there green. They weren't cured out." And he said, "Well, why would they put it in there?" He said, "Do you think it was deliberate to put it in there?" I said, "Well, you know, if you keep finding tobacco with green stems in the middle of a pile, how come it always end up in the middle? Sometime it ought to end up on top, or somewhere." He said, "Well, that's a good answer." I said, "Well, you know, if you put them in the middle of that pile, it's going to get hot and rot that pile of tobacco. It will do it every time."

Page 21
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yes. I reckon because I had—. I'm not, you know, bragging on myself, but I must say you got to the top. You got it all. Now I could walk in a tobacco sale, I see auctioneers that, it's a good auction. I went to one the other day, good auctioneer, you know, knows the mechanics. He knows everything, but he don't have that voice.
SALLY PETERSON:
He wasn't putting the spirit in it.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right. He can't. I mean, he just don't have it. When he did, lot of people don't think he's good auctioneer, but he is. He knows the chants and he knows how to do it, but he don't come over.
SALLY PETERSON:
It sounds like you put that little extra spark of yourself that probably in another age, in another setting, you would have been a stand-up comedian, or you would have been a government orator. You could have been a speech maker, or you could have been—. It sort of sounds like you have—. Or [you might have been] a great entertainer. It sounds like part of you, really enjoys that exchange with your audience. You know, the more they react to you, the more you react to them. You create something between you, sort of.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I think there's some days, you know, I could have not not sold tobacco. Just everything follow my way. I mean, it just looked like everything come to me like you would want it to. And I had days that don't, you know.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, tell me about a good day. What a good day would look like?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
What, selling tobacco? It's a day when you walk out on that floor, on that warehouse floor, to sell tobacco, and—.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

Page 22
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
— everything's just falling your way. Tobacco selling [is] good. You turn around and them farmers is smiling. They're happy. The warehouseman's happy. Everybody's happy and you walk out there. That's a good day. But if you go out there and the prices is dropped, the farmer, he says, "What's happened?" You know—.
SALLY PETERSON:
Everybody's under stress.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's a sad day. You change. I've seen you do it all at once. I've walked up to sell a day of tobacco selling and everybody happy. You go back the next day and all at once tobacco is ten dollars less than it was the day before and the farmers is just, you know—. You look at them. They're sad, but as long as it's selling, you and they're happy. I told somebody sometime, "When I get in the rhythm of selling tobacco, it's like doing a dance. [It's] like the waltz or something." I've had buyers about here about dancing, me selling tobacco, sometimes. I had one, one day; he was the supervisor for the company. He came in and we're selling tobacco just that moment, you know, and he got in the sale, tobacco and everything, seventy-six cents, a dollar seventy-six, something like that. All at once he just took up seven and I knocked it to him. Then he go to eight and I knocked seventy-eight. Well he was buying it all. About halfway down the row, everybody else said, "Well why in the world would he do it?" The supervisor would tell me, "What in the world is going on here? I ain't set seventy-eight for that buyer." He said, "I ain't got the seventy-six." He said, "I'll tell you what." He said, "The ticket marker said you bought half of the row, seventy-eight or seventy-six, He said, "I don't know what it is man. I'm going to put the man back in here then I'm going to get out." He said, "I'm going to have to go back to take it" and the warehouseman took it back. But he said that he got in the sale and my chant just got—. I got the auction. I had everything I wanted and the first thing you know he just, he started—. He said, "I know, I had all my mind focused on you all at once."
SALLY PETERSON:
He couldn't resist it. He just had to get in the act.

Page 23
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
He got in it and didn't realize what he was doing, he told me. He says, "You know—."
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, what's the longest—? I don't expect you to really answer this, but [what is] the longest you've gone just selling without it being stopped or pulled or anything, just going?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I've near about sold whole sales that we didn't stop. Then I've sold sales which stopped ten times on the row.
SALLY PETERSON:
And there's no way to predict?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
When the demand is going and the tobacco's clean, there has been these tobacco crops. In other words, we've had two years in a row that the tobacco has been good and those kind of crops when you got them, you can't hardly make a mistake buying. That's easy. When you got a crop like, this man had rain down the road and this man didn't, he has dry — like it is this year - it slows things down. It's not the same. Still, I enjoy doing it. That's another thing, when you go to selling these crops, auctioneers that can get down and move it on, he becomes a good tobacco auctioneer. Of course, I would learn something everyday. You don't never learn it all.
SALLY PETERSON:
Towards the end of your career, what kind of stuff were you learning that—?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, there's something new about it. You pick up something right on, because everyday changes. You know, I hear so much about tobacco bring the same price. You know, the farmer put tobacco on the floor and if he got practically the same grade of tobacco—. I'd seen this, that the tobacco companies, he'd have two piles didn't bring much. Hey, it's the same thing. Just like the other one. Well, sometimes they will put it on and make it bring the same thing after it's been sold. They didn't have to, but they would. Then a lot of times they wouldn't, if it weren't same. According to the farmer, it was the same, you know. But, [I've seen] a whole lot of things. I'll go back tell you that

Page 24
in Franklin, Kentucky, I went to the burley that sold at Springfield, Tennessee to help at another auction one year. I got a job in Franklin, Kentucky. This auctioneer quit and was not going back. He recommended that this market to hire me. That was back when I was younger. I never had had a job of my own. I had sold some flue cure and the burley. The man called me. I called him on the telephone and told him and this auctioneer he had written a letter of recommendation for me. The tobacco board of trade wrote a letter. The man I worked with in Greenville wrote a letter to the tobacco board of trade out there and the tobacco companies wrote the letter recommending me. So as an auctioneer, you know that I do the job. They read all these letters. They never seen me before. I talked to them on the telephone. I ain't told them how old I was. I didn't tell them anything. They looked over the recommendations. There're four warehouses in town. They all got together and said, "Yes, this is the man we want." They hired me. Well, I'd just gotten there. Remember my wife? She went out there with me. We drove to Franklin, Kentucky. I had to go to Louisville to get a license. I come back there and I was to meet him at the warehouse and I got there late at night, so I called him. I didn't know where the warehouse was in town, but I found him. He came to the warehouse and he walked in the door and looked at me and said, "You can't be the auctioneer?" I said, "Yes I am." I said, "It's not my wife." He said, "Okay." He got talking to me about it and everything. He said, "Well, in the morning and everything, I'll take you around. We're going to sell tobacco the next day." He said, "I'll take you to meet all the warehousemen." He told me that they come to him and say, "Mr. Smith, what in world have you done? You have hired a kid to sell tobacco. Do you know this man? Can he sell tobacco? This is a young man." He said, "Well, you all read the letters like I did. There's people that recommended him. Do you think the man we had would have lied to us?" They kept getting all upset, he told me. He said, "That one is nothing more than a young'in." He said, "Are you sure he can sell tobacco?" He said, "Well, they all said he could." So Mr. Smith got up the next morning. [He] was starting his warehouse on Monday morning. He was shaking. He was nervous. He come to me. He said, "You know it's been twenty years since I started off with a new auctioneer." He said, "All of these warehousemen standing over and looking at me. I just hope everything goes all right." I said, "Mr. Smith, I'm supposed to be nervous, but you are nervous." He said, "Well, I'll tell you,

Page 25
I'm in a spot." He didn't tell me why. We started selling tobacco. We sold the first row. Come back down the second row. At the end there was a long distance out of the end. He just kept right on walking and turned right around and opened both arms up and I walked right into his arms. He just grabbed me and hugged me. He said, "My problems is over with. I love you." He said, "I don't care if what we had last year don't never come back." He said, "Oh man," He said, "I am happy." I continued to stay there fourteen years selling tobacco. He said, "You don't know. They might not believe that a young man could sell it, but I found out you could. It just took everything off me."
SALLY PETERSON:
Now I find this really, really interesting because a part of this I heard this morning, and now from you. Part of the auctioneer's kind of authority, you think, comes with age? People don't expect a young man to be able to maturely judge who's got what and how to play it out and be fair? That only could come with years of experience?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Experience. Some learn quick enough.
SALLY PETERSON:
You seem to have been a quick study.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, if you say quick, I was up there. I didn't go to work on the market until I was nineteen years old. The selling that I did, you know, as a fact, was just practice selling. I was selling, doing the job, but I didn't—. I wasn't responsible. Actually, I was about twenty-one or two when I started selling regular. I had it just about pat myself before I had a job selling - [before] I could sell it. And in fact, I didn't ask for the job. They asked. They wanted me, so I started selling. You know, selling at twenty-one—. I believe I started at twenty-one. You start at a young age and age selling tobacco. I had picked up a whole lot and was ready when I started, you know. I had sold four or five years in flue cure. I looked young. I always looked young to what I was.
SALLY PETERSON:
Actually, you were probably more experienced than a lot of people older than you.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right, right, that's true.

Page 26
SALLY PETERSON:
Starting at fourteen, really seriously studying the business.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, round it to fifteen years old when I started selling the first now. I even was chanting and practicing before that. The funny thing was, I had started selling tobacco in Statesboro Georgia. There was a tobacco buyer down there named George Ruffin. He was from Roxboro, Oxford, I believe. Might have been that. Well, I had been down there waiting that year and I was selling in Greenville at that time. When the market closed one day in Greenville, I went up in Oxford to see him sell tobacco. They weren't closed. George Ruffin was one of the sale's tobacco buyers. It was in this old man's warehouse. He says, "Stewart, what are you doing up here?" I said, "I just come in to see the sale." He said, "Well, we're closed." He said, "Well, auctioneer sales is just not here. He's out. But the man they got in there, he ain't no auctioneer." I said, "Well, I don't know about that." He said, "You want to sell a row in here?" I said, "I don't know. They might not let me sell tobacco here." He said, "Well, I'll get you in to see him." So this old man run the warehouse. I'll never forget it. He said, "Look, I'm going to get you into the sale and I want you to fake it on the first pile." I said, "What do you mean? Just fake it like I didn't even know how to do it?" And he said, "We're not going to cost the farmer anything, because we don't—." He said, "Nobody here knows you, but me. I know you can do it." So he asked the warehouseman to let me sell tobacco. He says, "He wants to sell a row." The warehouseman looked at me and said, "Oh George, I can't do that. We're not running a school." He said, "I'll tell you what I'll do: I promised that boy, that kid, down there to sell tobacco." He said, "Buying for American, there's a lot of good American tobacco there at the end. I'll go and tell you it will sell all right, if you let him sell it." He said, "I want him to sell tobacco." He said, "Well, if that's the case, when the man that had the buyer sell it, let the man sell it. The man want to sell it." So, the old warehouseman, Mr. Curry, he said, "Get on in here, young man. We'll see what you can do." He said, "You know these buyers?" I said, "Well, I think I do." He says, "Well, let me tell you this. Take your time. They always start just like you did." Me, I'd already been selling tobacco five years by that time. You know, he said, "get down there and do your best and take your time." I started you know, on the first three or four piles,

Page 27
acting like I didn't know what I was doing. Get on down there after four or five and the old man sat there and he say, "Now they enjoyed it." I don't feel bad at the warehousemen. I mean, companies and everything would contract the farmer, you know. But I look back on my career. I enjoyed every bit of it and I wouldn't take nothing for it. Had to do over, I'd probably do it again.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, I think that's a really wonderful closing statement. That's great! Well, we're really pleased to get a chance to talk to you. Is there anything else you want to add or want to continue—?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, is there anything else you want me to—?
SALLY PETERSON:
Not unless you've got some salty stories you wouldn't mind sharing that I don't know!
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, I'll tell you one more. I been selling tobacco, I reckon, in Greenville seven years. Probably on Wilson about five years at that time. I paid a visit to the border belt just to see the market open. It was opening the week before we opened the next week. I went to Fairmont and I went over to Mullins, South Carolina. Bud Janet was selling. It was kind of hot that day. He come out at the end of a row and he saw me. I'd made him a fool. He said, "Stewart, how about selling a row for me?" He said, "You get to practice up for Wilson." So I said, "Well, okay." I got in the sale. I started selling. I went down to the end and sold back. He thanked me and said, "I needed a rest." There came this young guy up to him. Come up to him and said, "Look, I wanted to talk to you." He said, "You know something, I believe that you'll make an auctioneer." I said, "You do?" And he says, "Yeah." He says "I'm learning—."
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

Page 28
[audio missing]
SALLY PETERSON:
Can you hold that thought? Can you pick up where you left off, do you think?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Yeah. He walked up to me and told me that he was going to be—. He learned to be a tobacco auctioneer himself. He said, "I certainly believe you could make one," He said, "because I'm sure that's what you're doing, learning." I said, "Well, I learn something every day, but I been selling tobacco in Wilson five years. I sell tobacco and I'll be selling next week." I thought well, you know, a young man, he's kind of let me down. He thought I was learning, too, you know.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, he probably didn't have the skills to recognize your skill. He saw you just coming in and doing a row like he sometimes got to.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I did have one in Georgia. I was sitting at a motel that had good food. I sat there eating one night and an engineer for the Coast Line Railroad, he came in and sat down to eat and he said, "Fellows, I'm going to tell you about something I did something today. I visited tobacco sales. There's no way in the world that nobody can understand what that auctioneer is saying going down the row." He was talking [and] two auctioneers come talking to the man who was talking to me. I said, "Oh yes, we do. We know what we're saying." And he said, "There's no way." He got to arguing with us. Said, "There's just no way. I can't understand none of it." Well the ticket marker came in and he had told us right much about it. He said, "Fellows, I'm going to tell you, I can't get nothing out of it." Well, the ticket marker came in and he said, "Look, fellow, you see two of the guys we got here?" He said, "They're tobacco auctioneers." And he said, "They've convinced me that they know what they're saying when they're selling tobacco." He says, "Oh." He says, "They do." He says, "You know what? I'll write down what they say." He says, "Excuse me, fellow. I'm leaving from here right now. I don't want to even get talking with you if you write down what they say." He was ready to get out of there! He says, "I don't want to talk to you." One time they had two of us in Georgia and there comes some tourists in. They was from California. I got to walking behind. I won't say I jumped to

Page 29
listen. It was two women and this man. They said, "What in the world is that auctioneer saying? What is he saying?" The guy come back and they were figuring to leave. He said, "I'm just following them around. I figured it out. They got this group of men going down and everyone of them trying to figure out what he's saying." He said, "Every once in a while you see them wave the hand like that to stop him to saying that he got it, there ain't nobody saying." And then, after a while, he'd just shake his head and all. He didn't know either. And they went out the door. I could never get in the conversation with them.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well you know there is a real aura about the auctioneer. I'm sure a lot of it is the "Lucky Strike," but the verbal facility really is remarkable. It really is admirable. It clearly comes from a lot of skill and ability. I mean, you don't stumble over your tongue?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
No, not much. It's really clear. I tell you what those people are. They go into the warehouse and they listen to the ring of the chant. They're not concentrating on—.
SALLY PETERSON:
They can't hear the words.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
They really don't know.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It is nothing but words spoke fast. As I say, we speak five hundred words a minute. That's probably right. When you put them together into a chant, I mean, it comes out that way.
SALLY PETERSON:
You can get more out for a longer period of time if you have a structure that you can always follow and plug to.

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G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
It's like you say: "Ninety-one, one, one—." I say, "Ninety-one, ninety-one, I mean a one, ninety-one, ninety-one." I'm bid [unclear] . You know, "ninety-one," all I said was, "ninety-one," and it got to get in a chant, see? And I'll say, "Ninety-two, two, two, two, little do, ninety-two, two, two gone by ninety-two, now bid Taylor."
SALLY PETERSON:
It really sets the pace, though.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right.
SALLY PETERSON:
It really is the pace setter, because there is no—. I can't see them using just straight speech to get people to act that quick, you know. They have to follow the rhythm of the song and there's places for them to insert themselves with bidding. Once you know that and you're familiar with that, it's—.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
You know, I talked with a man — I believe it was the University of Kentucky or somewhere — one time and he said, "What is it that makes you think?" I said, "I don't know. I cannot walk down this row of tobacco and put it, like just talking to you. But, there's something, when I start, chanting, that I can just think, something's happening here [points to head]. I think that makes me think. I don't know what it is."
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, you know there have been theories about thought. I'm probably going to get this all wrong, but the whole idea—. It's been studied by people who study trance, what they call trance. If you can keep a certain motor activity, like almost on auto pilot, it sort of frees the brain to do a lot of thinking. So with your chant, you can connect everything together, but your brain is free to dictate it, to observe and to calculate.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Right. You know, there's a lot of time when I'm selling tobacco, and if someone got my attention, I might be looking right across the row, and I not even see them, because I'm concentrating on what I'm doing.

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SALLY PETERSON:
That's right. You have such—. You know, it's sort of like something like typing or driving. Once you've learned it, you can just do it and you can do a lot of other stuff at the same time. You can do that with your aural language.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right. It's a great profession. It's been a great tradition.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, what do you think is going to happen to it?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I wondered [that] myself. I think that when it's all over and done, someday the farmer will look back and wish he had it. I do think that probably the tobacco auction drew foreign trade to this country. I probably been—. Friends from all over the world — different places — send me things. From Germany, they showed me on TV in Germany and different places. It's something that just went with tobacco. I don't know, I couldn't say—.
SALLY PETERSON:
There's a lot of mystique around tobacco, you know — a lot of romance.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Oh yeah, it's a money product. From the farmer, there isn't anything a farmer can grow that returns as much money as tobacco.
SALLY PETERSON:
And you don't—. You can do it in a family context.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
That's right. There's hardly any jobs—. Or, when I come along, you had to get tobacco beds. That's why I went to tobacco auction. In other words, it was to make money. That's the name of the game.
SALLY PETERSON:
Oh yeah, it's a way you could make that money without having to farm all the time.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
And be somebody. To answer that question, you be somebody that you're doing something, that everybody's looking at you, you know?
Hey this man—. I mean, people do this. I've had people to come to me—. You know they have a film of me here? They

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showed it out on that TV, which is about [unclear] . But I was in a Cracker Barrel in Bowling Green, Kentucky and sitting there one morning. This guy come over. He said, "Oh, there's the auctioneer." I said, "Yeah, well—." He came and sat down and said, "Buddy, I want to tell you. I really enjoy a tobacco auction." He said, "I'll go down to the warehouse sometimes just to see you sell tobacco." He said, "I want to tell you something." He said, "I had to go down to Durham, Duke Hospital for things. I stayed down there a week at the motel and I was just thought of something I wanted to see, hang about some." He said, "I visited that station." He said, "They had a tobacco auctioneer on that [station.] Man, he sucked." He said, "You're a good auctioneer but you're not as good as he is." I said, "No, I'm not." He said, "You know him?" I said, "Oh yeah, I know him." He said, "He's good, ain't he?" I said, "Well, yeah, I think he's right good." I said, "Well, if you ain't like me second to that man, I'll be happy." He said, "Well, I'll say you were right next to him, but you ain't good as he is." Said, "This guy is terrific. I went back out there about five times just to see that auction." He said, "He's a good auctioneer." He kept right on talking to me without really realizing it was me. I said, "Well, I know that your auctioneer is good, so I'm going to tell you, I ain't kidding no longer." I said, "That's me." He said, "What?" I pulled off [my] glasses. I said, "I didn't wear glasses. My hair was black as smut, I weighed about 120 pounds." I said, "That was me." He said, "Do you know what? I believe you are him. He's got really big eyebrows." So, he was up there telling me how good this guy was.
SALLY PETERSON:
Isn't that funny.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Really, that was true. I run into things like that. I have a lot of people—. You know channel Five had me on TV the other night. Did you see it?
SALLY PETERSON:
I didn't. I heard about it.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
I had people come up to me—. My wife said they said that film which they showed of me was sixteen years old. I mean, sixteen years ago. My wife looked at it and she said, "There's no way that film's older than that because you didn't look that young

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sixteen years ago!" I don't know. I'm tempted to say it might have been a little older than that because I think it was in the seventies, sometime that film was made. So, I don't know. Of course, a lot things change in sixteen years.
SALLY PETERSON:
It doesn't take very long for certain things to change, no.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
So I reckon that's about all. I probably think a whole lot more, but that's about all.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, you know, we'll come back another time. We'll get more. I really want to assure you that, if anybody asks you, "Has anybody ever interviewed you about your career? You can say, "Yes, but there's still more to say." But, I think this is about all we have time for today. I want to thank you so much for coming.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Okay, do you got anybody else?
SALLY PETERSON:
No, I think that's it.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, it took a long time, didn't it? We're going to sit here and tell all day.
SALLY PETERSON:
Are all auctioneers good storytellers?
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Well, they should be. Some of them don't want to.
SALLY PETERSON:
Well, they've probably seen enough to tell some good stories. Well, thanks again.
G. SHERWOOD STEWART:
Okay, well, I enjoyed it.
END OF INTERVIEW