The Last Days of Hand Cornhusking
Albert Hensler, shown here
For or a state and National Tournament, it is noticeable for what it isn't. There are no electronic scoreboards, no official-looking officials and no big fancy advertisements. You can look everywhere and not see an over-the-hill athlete in a gold sport jacket with a microphone asking the winner to face the camera. In fact, most of the contestant who will compete at this year's Minnesota State and National Cornhusking Contest, held this year on Oct. 20-21., at the Gilfillan Farm (located between Morgan and Redwood Falls, Minn.) are technically over-the- hill themselves and the only cameras there will be hanging around the necks of their family and friends.
Before the giant harvesters swept across the plaint of America's breadbasket, farmers - along with their wives, children and friends - picked their cornfield by hand. Many of these contestants farmed then and remember it like yesterday, not with euphoric recall, but very matter-of-factly.
So why have a contest?
Because there were always those who would brag about how many bushels they could pick in one day. Back then they were getting two, three, and something four cents a bushel. In a 10-hour day, picking 60 to 70 bushels was respectable; 100 was super
Most would start picking at the break of dawn. At noon they would shovel off the load of picked corn, have dinner and then go out into the field again. The would come back late that evening, shovel off again, have supper, sleep - and do it all over the next day.
The first Cornhusking Contest was held in December 1921, on a bitter cold morning in Iowa. Twenty years later, World War II ended those annual competitions. With the war, nobody had time for the contests. Besides, mechanical pickers were being perfected and were picking corn many times faster and 100 times easier than could be done by hand.
Many of this year's huskers are grey-headed, but, in this sport, age seems to be an asset, something to be proud of. Few cornhuskers are overheard discussing plans to retire.
For those who think cornhusking has something to do with football: an explanation. Cornhusking is the process, in one move, of ripping an ear of corn off the stalk and out of the husk. The cornhusker moves down a row of corn as he throws the ears in a nearby wagon. The rules of the tournament reflect what makes a good husker. Weight is deducted for corn left in the field. (In the older days, corn left in the field went to the crows.) There weren't any second chances if you missed something the first time through. Weight is also deducted for husks left on the ears.