Often times, the simplest combinations are the best. Such was the case at this year’s corn shucking contest near the community of Good Intent in Atchison County, Kan.
A great autumn day, a field of dried corn still on the stalks, and a crowd of enthusiastic shuckers combined to create a memorable old-time farm event. Never mind that Mother Nature had delivered a drought crop of short ears — which cut into the competitors’ tallies. The gathering was more about fun than about winning.
Tools of the trade, according to Charlie Wagner of Atchison, who helps organize this annual event, are thumb hooks and palm hooks (Charlie favors the thumb style), and a strong arm.
Three vintage corn wagons pulled by teams of Belgian draft horses were equipped with ‘bang boards,’ against which an ear of corn often banged before it dropped into a wagon — like a bank shot in basketball.
Charlie explained corn wagons are built to particular dimensions so they hold precisely one bushel for every inch. Standard height is 26 inches, which yields 26 bushels of corn. However, by adding one extra board around the top, the farmer could achieve a 30-bushel capacity. Two wagonloads a day was about anyone could manage in the old days, Charlie recalled; farmers would work on a single field all winter long.
The Atchison County event was held on a farm owned by Mike Slattery and farmed by Henry Scherer, who helped out by driving his John Deere 50 over the shucked stalks, so contestants had easier walking. But Henry chose not to compete; he claimed he preferred to harvest corn ‘six rows at a time, sitting in a cab.’
Four categories offered something for everyone: ‘Shucking for Bucks’ (a fundraiser for two local boarding schools), ‘Intermediate,’ ‘Youth’ (the youngest contestant was 5 years old) and ‘Experienced.’
‘ Each contestant had 10 minutes to shuck as much corn as he or she could; timekeepers walked along the rows, keeping track.
The veteran shuckers moved along without even looking up, shucking and tossing with every step. Among them was 92-year-old Herman Pomperien of Holton, Kan., with a pacemaker in his chest. He said he last shucked corn in 1928 in Nebraska — but he sure hadn’t forgotten how. His load this day weighed in at 40 pounds. FC