The History of Toters and Chits

October 12th, 2020 | Posted By: Stephen Douglass | Posted in News, Turner History | Tagged , , , , ,

A Little Turner Farm History First


The Turner Farm was founded by my Great Grandfather, Bert, sitting in the picture between my two great aunts, Harriet and Lucille.  With the help of the older six sons, they grew produce- specializing in strawberries.  Up until the early 1970s, Southeastern North Carolina was the strawberry capital of the world.  In fact, the local Wallace, N.C. radio station’s call sign was WLSE which stood for “world’s largest strawberry exchange.”  Eventually they all left the farm for greater fortunes except my Grandfather, Manley, who is standing in the back row second from the far right.





Turner Chits (a.k.a. “checks”)

Long before the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakimoto came along and created Bitcoin, people created their own currency in much the same way.  That is, they pegged the value of a coin to a certain amount of work performed.   Whereas Bitcoin created a virtual mining scheme that required CPU cycles performed to create a Bitcoin, the value of Great-grandfather Bert’s TurnerCoin (let’s call it) was pegged to the value of the labor required to pick 8 pints of strawberries.  Those 8 pints were harvested and carried in a “toter” – pictured below.  To confuse the word “toter” even more, there was a guy at the end of the row called, yep, The Toter, who paid out the chits to the harvesters.  He actually had a much larger wooden toter that held 5 smaller ones (40 pints.)  When that was full, he carried those 40 pints off to be packed.

Keep in mind that during the 1930s and 1940s, actual currency supply could run scarce and this is why entrepreneurial farmers coined their own money.  Laborers used Turner Chits in the local stores, and those store owners redeemed the coins in US Currency from Bert at the end of the month.  If you look closely at the Turner Chits in the picture you can see the initials “BJT” stamped into them.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the ancient origins of currency -particularly non-governmental money, I highly recommend a fascinating little webpage created by Nick  Szabo, an early computer scientist, cryptographer, and legal scholar whom many people think is actually the Satoshi Nakamoto.  Szabo has updated the blog since I last read it, and I can tell you it’s the most informative and fascinating single blogpage explanation/lesson about currency you’ll ever read.

The TFF “Toter”

The Toter is a tray, of sorts, designed to hold and carry 8 pints of strawberries.  My Grandfather, Manley, built them from reclaimed wood around the farm.  The slats along the bottom and bottom edges are rip-sawn 2″x4″s. The vertical end pieces are definitely made from leftover German lap siding.  And the handles are all made from tobacco sticks – sharpened down a little on the ends.

Grandaddy built at least 50 of these, but there aren’t many of the originals left.  My mother would take them home, and after painting them (usually black,) she’d put them on the front porch of her house with small potted plants on them.

Most of the Toters have gone to the Turner diaspora over the years as they are poignant reminders of the old homestead, but I’ve given a few of the originals to CSA Members that liked them.  With so much old reclaimed pine around here, I may set up a jig in the shop and make some of my own for the rest of the Membership.  That sounds like a fun Winter project!   🙂  —-  Steve