A History of Corn: Corn Planters and the Corn Belt's Check-row Revolution
Let's Talk Rusty Iron: In this last installment of his history of corn planting technology, Sam Moore examines farmers' use of the check-row wire planter in the large fields of the Corn Belt.
Massey-Harris Power Drive Corn Planter
Courtesy Sam Moore
Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series about planting, cultivating and harvesting corn, and focuses on mechanical check-row planters. Click here to read part one, or here to read part two.
Looking out at the flying leaves and spitting snow here in Ohio, it's difficult to think of spring planting. However, to continue the corn theme for one more month, here's the story of planting corn in check rows, a method used in most of the Corn Belt until herbicides replaced mechanical weed control.
In western Pennsylvania where I grew up, corn was drilled in 42-inch rows and not check-rowed. The average width of a horse was 42 inches, and a horse had to fit between the rows of corn to pull a cultivator, so the rows were planted 42 inches apart. We originally used a horse-drawn John Deere 919 two-row planter. Later, we cut off the planter's long tongue and pulled it with a Ford-Ferguson tractor. Ultimately, the planter was converted again for use with a three-point hitch.
Sam discovers danger lurks in the corn field
I was probably 4 or 5 years old the spring Dad nearly killed me. He was planting corn with a John Deere 919 drill-type planter and a team of horses in the 7-acre field just over the hill from our barn, with my Granddad Moore (who we kids called Nandad) and me as keen observers.
The two-row planter was equipped with a marker on each side to scratch a line in the dirt. This line guided the driver so the next two rows were the correct distance from those preceding them.
Each marker consisted of a steel disc on the end of a 4-foot-long steel pole that was hinged to each side of the planter. Levers, at the rear and just below the driver's seat, raised and lowered each marker. When the planter reached the end of the field, the driver raised the marker that had been down, turned his team 180 degrees to head back along the newly marked path for the next two rows and released the opposite marker lever, allowing that arm and disc to fall.
On this day, Dad reached the edge of the field, raised the right marker and swung the team around. As he started back into the field, he dropped the left marker and — there I was! The falling disc caught me right across the center of the top of my head from left to right. The blood started to flow immediately, and I screamed and headed for home as fast as I could run, with Nandad doing his best to keep up.
Mom heard me coming, but when she saw the blood streaming down my face, she fainted. My aunt and Grandma Moore patched me up — no stitches in those days of course. To this day, I still have a scar and a dent across the top of my head.
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