While driving through the countryside in the eastern part of the country, one occasionally sees an unusual outbuilding at an old farmstead.
These long structures are narrow at the bottom with sides that taper outward at the top and are usually sided with narrow slats nailed on either vertically or horizontally. A shed or gable roof, a door at one or both ends, and a couple of small doors high up just under the eaves on one side complete the thing. The building is usually in a dilapidated and run-down condition, teetering on posts set in the ground, leaning one way or the other, and at serious risk of toppling over.
The buildings are corncribs. They were in common use back in the day when ears of corn were pulled from the stalk, husked and stored. Where corn fodder was used for feed or bedding, corn was cut, shocked and left to dry for a few weeks in the shock before husking. In areas where the fodder had no value, the corn was allowed to dry on the stalk before being pulled and husked, either by hand or a mechanical picker. This usually resulted in corn with moisture content of 20 percent or less when the ears were put into the crib where air circulation through the slatted sides dried it even further and prevented spoiling.
Customized to individual needs
The recommended size for a small corncrib was 4 feet across the bottom with sides about 6 feet high and tapering outward to a width at the top of 6 feet. With those dimensions, one could figure on space for about 25 bushels per foot of length (cribs were built in varying lengths depending upon the anticipated storage requirements). These long, narrow cribs had either gable or shed roofs and sometimes were built with vertical outside walls.
Corncribs were set 1 to 2 feet above the surface of the ground on wooden, stone or concrete piers, each of which was capped with a metal shield to deter rodents from climbing them. Wooden slats measuring 1 inch by 3 inches were nailed to the sides vertically, diagonally or horizontally, and spaced about 1 inch apart. An entrance door was placed at one end and smaller doors were placed under the eaves on one side; corn could be shoveled through those when filling the crib. On really long cribs, the interior was sometimes divided into separate bins and additional entrance doors were required. When mechanical elevators became common, hatches were often cut into the roof for filling. Corn was removed through small doors cut into the side at floor level, or sometimes through the entrance door.
Wide overhanging eaves and the tapered sides kept all but driving rain from penetrating the sides, while the narrowness of the building and the 1-inch space between the siding boards allowed adequate air circulation to completely dry the grain.
The battle against field mice and rats was constant. Sheet metal guards on post tops helped, and some farmers covered the lower side of their cribs with hardware cloth to further deter the pesky little beasties, but some would always find their way in.
Double cribs offered versatility
There were about as many variations on crib designs as there were barns. Where a lot of corn was grown, double cribs were built. Many of those are still standing and in use, although often just to store a few grain wagons.
Double cribs were built side-by-side, 11 or 12 feet apart. Two were joined at the top by a gable roof and a loft that sometimes contained bins for shelled corn or other small grain. Each crib was about 8 feet wide, and the loading and unloading doors typically faced the center driveway. Usually the sides were vertical but some were slanted inward at the bottom. Loaded wagons could be driven into the center drive where they were protected from the elements and could be unloaded even in bad weather.
For large operations the double crib could be equipped with a central bucket elevator to lift ear corn and drop it through a movable pipe into the desired bin. A cross-conveyor in the center driveway and a wagon hoist allowed a wagonload of ear corn to be unloaded and put into the crib quickly and without any hard scooping by hand. More elaborate installations had a drag conveyor running the length of the center of each crib. At corn shelling time, these conveyors carried ears to a mechanical sheller.
Lost to the march of progress
I have no photos of the corncrib on our farm nor are my memories of it very clear. It seems to me it had vertical sides and was wider than 4 feet with vertical slats on the sides. There were two small high doors on the south side (these I remember well, as I shoveled a good many loads of corn through them) as well as a walk-in door on the east end with two or three wooden steps up to it. There was also a loft that must have had a ladder for access. Once when we were small, my sister and I crawled up there. We found a couple of mysterious toys that we learned, much later, had been forgotten by an older cousin.
During the early part of the 20th century, manufactured round metal corncribs became available. Quite a few of these are scattered through corn-producing regions, some with sides of wire mesh with a metal framework and some of perforated sheet metal, with both covered by a conical metal roof. Many farmers, however, continued to use their old wooden cribs until picking ear corn fell out of favor.
Combines and the need to mechanically dry shelled corn has rendered the corncrib obsolete. Most of the wooden ones have collapsed or been torn down. It’s just another example of how modern farming practices have changed the farmstead landscape. Where once you’d have seen a corncrib, now you see one or more shiny round steel bins, sometimes connected at the top by a tall spidery maze of pipes. FC
Remembering the Wahoo-built corncrib
Keith Sommerfield, Orrville, Ohio, sent us a photo of an unusual six-sided wooden corncrib with wooden slats at a 45 degree angle and a metal roof. The crib is located near Milo, Iowa, and bears a metal tag that reads “Wahoo-Built, Wahoo, Nebraska.” The crib was made by a Wahoo firm named Economy Housing. Economy produced grain bins, corncribs, hog farrowing houses and portable farm buildings using a product they called “Presdwood.” The firm was originally called Nebraska Assembling Co., but became Economy Housing in about 1930.
Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at email@example.com.