One look at Darrel Heeren's collection of corn equipment, and you know he's a serious collector. But Darrel, who lives south of Hastings, Neb., delights in sharing what he refers to as "My corn-e hobby."
"I very much enjoy showing my collection to any and all," he says, "to those who have memories of these items, and those who know nothing about them. I try hard to share what I have learned, and then I have learned more myself."
Darrel's collection illustrates the evolution of corn planting equipment, ranging from hand-operated planters dating to the mid-1800s, to horse-drawn corn planting implements. It also includes a rich assortment of shelters, feed cutters, corn shock tyers, planter lids, cast iron tool boxes, and a variety of antique tools.
His oldest hand-operated planter dates to 1858. He uses it to show people that early corn crops were planted quite differently than those of today.
"They used to plant corn in grids, in hills 46 inches apart. They'd drop three or four kernels in each hill. The cultivator was little more than a couple of shovels," he says. "The hardest thing for a lot of people to understand is that they didn't always plant corn in a row, and it wasn't always a cash crop. It used to be a subsistence crop."
Hand-operated planters were used to the 1880s, he says, with later use limited to filling in gaps.
His collection of hand-operated planters illustrates the ingenuity of early farmers.
"There was something like 300 patents on corn planters," he says. "Of course, not all of those were actually made."
Darrel's collection includes "walk overs", push-pull mechanisms, and double box (one box for seed, one for fertilizer). One, with a patent date of 1880, even came with a pumpkin seed attachment.
"They used that on the outside rows of the fields," he says. "The corn kind of shaded the pumpkins."
As farm equipment evolved, corn planting equipment grew more sophisticated. By the 1870s, the earliest drills and mechanized planters – check-row planters – were in use. The check-row planter was the first equipment to plant corn in rows, featuring a unique marker that traced a grid on the field. One man drove the planter; another rode along to activate the lever, dropping seed at each intersection on the grid. The first check-row planters used knotted rope to set the grid spacing. Later, as steel wire became available, that replaced rope.
Hanging from the ceiling of Darrel's display trailer are samples of check-row wire, with what almost look like ornamental beads at regular intervals. He also displays two paintings of farm scenes showing planting with check rows.
"I wanted to be able to show people how it started, and a picture is worth a thousand words," he says.
Darrel's collection was born in 1987.
"I grew up on a farm, but we didn't have any of this," he says, "not one single thing."
His first purchase was a wheelbarrow seeder, which he got for $12.
"I fixed it up, and I thought 'this is fun.'"
"Then it went all to heck," he says. "But we're about stopped now; we can't find much that we don't already have."
Darrel and his wife, Marian, once went to as many as eight to nine shows a year. (Marian collects corn dishes and related household items.) But they didn't have to go too far to find their treasures. "We've found most of it within 100 miles of home," he says.
And he's been fairly selective.
"My collection's not about numbers," Darrel says. "It's about the quality." FC
For more information: Darrel Heeren, 1355 W. Oregon Trail Road, Hastings, NE 68901; (402) 463-8304.