Making the Grade:

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Morecorn grader

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It's amazing what one can find when out rummaging in old barns and the like. Often, in our business (well drilling and service), we're called to close up abandoned wells for property owners. Many folks will allow us to go through the old buildings prior to destroying them. We have found some non-descript old items, which at first glance had no value at all. But cleaning up these old pieces is generally nothing more than time consuming and rarely involves a large outlay of dollars.

Since my wife, Joan, and I are building a museum, these finds are much appreciated. They're added to our collection, which includes corn collectibles.

A Sandwich earcorn sheller we found predates 1900. It was used to chunk up earcorn for livestock. When I was a kid, dad had us break ears over the edge of a five-gallon bucket. We always wondered how a cow got by in the field with a whole ear ...

When we tried out the Sandwich unit, it made a lot of shelled corn and cob chunks, with little corn left on them. Sandwich Manufacturing Company was later bought up/merged with the New Idea outfit, and hence disappeared.

Restoration of the sheller was accomplished with a good, oil-based wood sealer. Wood sealer seems to bring out the scrolling and lettering without causing any of the original paint to run.

Our Hero corn grader was made by the Twin City Separator Company of Minneapolis, Minn. We found this piece laying on its side in an old barn. Luckily, it had been out of the weather, so it survived nicely. We had a similar piece in poor shape but were able to use it for parts for the Hero.

This unit would allow one to create several sizes of kernels. Each size would be planted with the plates of a corresponding size, closely fitting the kernels, to ensure a uniform stand. Nowadays, with plate-less (or 'vacuum') planters, little attention is paid to seed size, as modern equipment will pick up almost any kernel.

Another grader, the 'Monarch Morecorn Sorter', would make four sizes of seed corn, allowing the user to drop the correct amount of kernels per hill 95 out of 100 times. (One wonders who had to dig up 100 holes to reach that conclusion.) The unit was said to pay for itself from the increased yield on just four acres, and after that, it was yours to make money with, all for just $9.95 delivered from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to your closest railroad station.

The Monarch Self Feeder Company also made a four-in-one germination tester. The tester had 100 cells in it, allowing you to test kernels from 100 different ears. This was a simple process: the cells were dampened, and a few kernels from each ear were placed in separate cells. When the kernels sprouted, you could decide which ears to butt and tip, and then grade for planting. A $3.95 germination tester promised to raise the bushel-per-acre well above the Corn Belt's 33-bushel-per-acre average in 1911.

Corn was no easy crop to grow at the turn of the last century. It was picked by hand in the fall, and the best ears were saved in a box on the wagon. Those ears were then hand-placed on driers and put aside to dry, safely beyond the reach of rodents. Later in the winter, a few kernels would be shelled from each ear and tested for germination. Ears passing that test were then butted and tipped, a process where each ear of corn was placed in a cone-shaped sheller on a hand corn shelter's main shaft, and the big and small kernels were removed. The remaining kernels, now a more uniform size, were then shelled and graded into three or four sizes, making it easier to select the correct size of planter plates for use in planting.

'When I was a kid, dad had us break ears of corn over the edge of a five-gallon bucket. We always wondered how a cow got by in the field with a whole ear ...'

For more information: Jim Lacey, Rural Route 1, Box 24, Dell Rapids, S.D., 57022.