The Corn Shock Tier

Before combines and mechanical pickers, shock tiers were used to gather corn stalks for later use


| February 2011



Jerry Kelly’s shock tier.

Jerry Kelly’s shock tier.

Farm Collector Editor Leslie McManus received the following e-mail and photos from reader Jerry Kelly: “I just purchased a corn shock tier and can’t figure out how to rope it.” 

Today, when 12- and 18-row combines chew swiftly through 100-acre corn fields, it’s difficult to imagine how, less than 100 years ago, a farmer and his son could tackle 10 or 20 acres of corn armed only with a wooden horse and a corn knife apiece, along with a supply of rye straw or a ball of binder twine with which to tie the cut stalks into shocks. In the account below, Mr. Steele doesn’t mention using a shock tier, nor do I remember my father or grandfather using such a device when they were still cutting corn by hand during the early 1940s.

In some areas, ears were hand-picked from standing stalks that were left in the field to be burned or rolled down before spring plowing. But many farmers valued the stalks as fodder or bedding for their livestock. Therefore, the stalks were cut about a foot above the ground, gathered into large bundles (or shocks) and left standing upright in the field to dry and cure. The shocks had to be tied securely so they would withstand the wind and not be blown over and scattered.

Some farmers, such as the Steeles, hauled the stalks into the barn where, as Frances tells us, the ears were husked in the evenings or on rainy or snowy days. On our farm, the shocks were husked in the field and the ears hauled to the granary and the stalks to the barn.

Trying to compress and tie a large bundle of corn stalks that one could barely reach around was tough to do – I wish I could remember how Dad did it – so, as always, inventive minds tried to solve the problem.

After searching through more than 1,000 patents, I found 101 (and I’m sure I missed some) for shock binders, compressors and tiers with the first dated 1860 and the last 1935, by which time corn pickers were coming into their own and shocking corn was falling out of favor.