A History of Corn: Corn Planters and the Corn Belt's Check-row Revolution
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Whew, what a lot of hassle! John Deere books instructed farmers to 'whip' the wire, moving at least 50 buttons or about 11 rods (16 feet or so), over to its new location at each end of the field. I once read about a man who claimed his father could 'whip' 80 rods (1/4 mile) of check wire in his younger days — a truly heroic feat for any farmer.
If there were an obstruction — such as a tree in the middle of the field — it was handled in the following way. The farmer would plant to the tree, then walk to the far end of the field and pull the stake to slacken the wire. Then he walked back to the planter, disconnected the wire at a convenient button, pulled the two ends to the opposite side of the tree and rejoined the wire. Next, he walked back to the end of the field, reset the stake into its hole and adjusted the tension. Finally, the farmer drove the team around the tree, put the wire back into the trip forks and resumed planting, giving the team a nice rest. Photos of check-planted corn fields reveal a pretty sight, especially because cultivating fields in two directions leaves the rows clean and free of weeds.
The check-row corn planter has gone the way of the threshing machine and the farm horse, replaced by six-, eight-and 12-row — and even larger — planters that usually drill 30-inch rows, often with very little soil preparation. Check-rowed corn was the victim of chemical weed control, as well as corn pickers and combines, which work much better when the corn is planted in continuous rows rather than clumps of three or four stalks.
In a few more years, hardly anyone alive will remember what it was like to slowly ride across a field behind a good horse team, feeling the warm spring sun on the shoulders and listening to the rhythmic click of the planter, while watching the crows discover that the creosote-based Crow-Tox with which the seed corn had been treated makes it taste awful. At least there's a few handsome check-row planters left in private collections to bring back those memories of yesteryear. FC
Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery while growing up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.
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