The Last Days of Hand Cornhusking


| August 2001



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Albert Hensler, shown here

For or a state and National Tournament, it is noticeable for what it isn't. There are no electronic scoreboards, no official-looking officials and no big fancy advertisements. You can look everywhere and not see an over-the-hill athlete in a gold sport jacket with a microphone asking the winner to face the camera. In fact, most of the contestant who will compete at this year's Minnesota State and National Cornhusking Contest, held this year on Oct. 20-21., at the Gilfillan Farm (located between Morgan and Redwood Falls, Minn.) are technically over-the- hill themselves and the only cameras there will be hanging around the necks of their family and friends.

Before the giant harvesters swept across the plaint of America's breadbasket, farmers - along with their wives, children and friends - picked their cornfield by hand. Many of these contestants farmed then and remember it like yesterday, not with euphoric recall, but very matter-of-factly.

So why have a contest?

Because there were always those who would brag about how many bushels they could pick in one day. Back then they were getting two, three, and something four cents a bushel. In a 10-hour day, picking 60 to 70 bushels was respectable; 100 was super

Most would start picking at the break of dawn. At noon they would shovel off the load of picked corn, have dinner and then go out into the field again. The would come back late that evening, shovel off again, have supper, sleep - and do it all over the next day.

The first Cornhusking Contest was held in December 1921, on a bitter cold morning in Iowa. Twenty years later, World War II ended those annual competitions. With the war, nobody had time for the contests. Besides, mechanical pickers were being perfected and were picking corn many times faster and 100 times easier than could be done by hand.