From the Crib to the Kitchen: Using Hand Crank Corn Shellers

Before the production and popularization of portable gas engines and other small, fuel-powered machines, the farmer (and the farm wife) often depended on human power, as demonstrated by the hand crank antique corn shellers in Rowe Garmon's collection.

| March 2008

You never know what you'll stumble onto at a county fair. At last summer's Hardin County Fair in Kenton, Ohio, a display of antique corn shellers spurred the imagination of writer Jim Boblenz as he considered the labor once needed to convert an ear of corn into a kitchen staple. 

The Hardin County Fair provides a prime area for the county's two antique tractor clubs to show their equipment. Between the two clubs, nearly 100 antique and classic tractors were displayed, plus about 35 garden tractors and farm implements.

Rowe Garmon of the Hardin County Restorers and Collectors brought a trailer load of hand-crank antique corn shellers. A rebuilt quad-snowmobile trailer, covered with a vinyl shelter, is loaded with stand-alone and box shellers. Each piece is identified and a bit of history is provided. Instead of just walking by, folks stop to take a look.

When the pilgrims came to this country in 1620, Native Americans introduced them to maize (or corn). For more than 200 years, those pilgrims grew, harvested and used corn in much the same way they were taught by the Native Americans. Women learned many ways to use corn: fresh from the garden, parched corn and hominy, dried corn for winter storage, and corn milled into meal. All work was done by hand, even shelling.

Shelling one ear at a time

Most small corn shellers used in the home were hand-crank, hand-fed units that shelled one ear at a time. These were essentially upright, freestanding machines with a hand crank on one side mounted on an axle shaft. On the other side was a rather large flywheel that maintained momentum as corn was fed through the sheller.

Inside the box, on the axle, was a large wheel with many protrusions called a picker wheel. On the opposite side was a flat rubbing side with grooves to remove kernels from the cob. When an ear of corn was fed into the sheller, it was immediately caught up with the picker wheel and moved downward, being turned and rubbed as it passed through. Shelled corn dropped out the bottom and the cob was spit out through an opening at the opposite end from where it was originally fed in. Some units had a small cleaning fan to blow the cob dust from the shelled corn.