Not long ago I went to see my nephew at his farm. Upon arriving at the field, he was harvesting corn. Riding high above the crop in the cab of a Case-International combine with an eight-head picker, he was driving about five miles an hour harvesting 190 bushel per acre corn. Can you imagine driving that fast combining eight rows of corn at a time with such a yield?
This was hard for me to comprehend. I was raised in a different time when farmers’ equipment was different, methods were different, and, of course, crop yields were different. It was a slower-paced time when we had time to play mental gymnastics to keep our minds alert.
In my time, fields were smaller, crops were rotated between corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay; yields were much less and almost every farm had a range of livestock and every farmer had chores to do. Corn pickers were just becoming more prevalent on many farms. Few had mounted pickers. Most were pull-behind one- or two-row corn machines. Before a farmer could begin picking, he had to open the field – that is, to husk sufficient rows to operate equipment and not run over and knock down standing corn.
Ours was a one-row New Idea corn picker with rear delivery that dropped ears of corn into a wagon pulled directly behind the picker. We husked four rows across each end of the field to turn, two rows along each side. Then we husked two rows for every twelve rows standing throughout the field. This allowed the picker make six rounds in each land before moving to the next land. We used the six round method so we didn’t waste idle time at the ends for turning.
Husking tools had been around a long time. There were husking pegs, husking hooks, palm huskers, studded gloves, and husking mittens. Each tool had its advocates. As for me, I preferred a one-hook palm husker.
Palm Husker for right handed folks
It seemed easier for me to use than a husking peg or hook. I never used a studded glove although I did use a mesh thumb guard to keep from wearing through the thumb of my glove so fast when husking corn from the shock.
To open a field, we drove the tractor and wagon into a field just far enough so we could husk the ears and still toss them into the wagon. When we had husked up to the wagon, we moved the rig ahead and started again. This was a long and tedious process, but we had ample time to think our farming operation through, plan for the future, and try to figure out better ways to spend our time than shucking the husks from ears of corn for crying out loud!
When we started picking process, depending on the yield, the weather, and sturdiness of the corn stalk, we could drive about two to two-and-a-half miles an hour – unless stalks jammed the snapping rolls. Then it’s stop and clear the plug. After clearing it, we got back to picking again.
When all our wagons were filled, we headed to the barnyard to begin the tedious task of shoveling the corn from the wagon to the waiting corncrib. But my nephew’s combine hopper held 250 bushels of shelled corn. He augered it into a waiting semitrailer and started combining again. When the semi was loaded, he hauled it to a waiting bin or directly to market.
It is so much easier than in my day. But I wouldn’t trade him. His is a nerve racking job. He has to be alert every minute that big machine is running. He has no time to dream. No time for mental gymnastics. More stressful. Am I being nostalgic? Did I really enjoy my life that much?