Hands-on husking contests give glimpse of the past
Fall harvest time brings a different kind of show. With cooler weather, visitors and exhibitors are more willing to participate in varied activities. Soybeans are being combined, corn is dry and ready for harvest, and colorful fall foliage provides a beautiful panoramic view as you travel. Summer may be over, but good shows are abundant in the fall.
An Ohio show - the Wyandot County Corn Harvest Festival in Upper Sandusky - is a classic fall festival. In past years the club has hosted Ohio Corn Husking competitions. In 2007, the event featured a 'just for fun' hand husking competition divided into amateur, professional, gender- and age-based categories.
The show is held annually the second weekend of October at the Wyandot County Fairgrounds. (Of interest to historians, Wyandot County is the home of the last Wyandotte Indian Reservation in Ohio.) It's often cool or downright cold during the two-day show, but it is generally pleasant enough to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the grounds or a shuttle ride to the field where corn huskers demonstrate their skills.
The show offers a familiar lineup of antique tractors and equipment, including corn harvesting equipment. Probably the oldest piece displayed at the 2007 fall show was a Scientific corn cutter. Hinged steel wheels on each side held the cutting knives. With both wings down, it cut two rows of corn at a time. When enough had been gathered for a bundle, the stalks were tied and dropped in the field. Later, individual bundles were placed in upright shocks. When the shocks were large enough, they were bound tightly and left standing until the corn was dry enough to husk.
Also on display were corn binders, husker/shredders and an early homemade corn picker/sheller. John Eyestone of Upper Sandusky designed, built and used what he calls 'the first documented 4-row self-propelled picker/sheller.' He used an Army surplus 6-by-6 amphibious vehicle dating to World War II with a 4-71 Detroit diesel engine. He mounted two Minneapolis-Moline pull-type pickers in front. Behind them he mounted a Minneapolis-Moline Model E corn sheller. Then he mounted a 320-bushel bin over the rear 4-by-4 wheels. He picked and shelled thousands of bushels of corn from hundreds of acres in a seven-county area in the 17 years he used the machine from 1947 through 1964.
Food? You bet. Beef stew and ham and beans are cooked at the fall show in huge cast iron kettles over open fires. Apple butter, also made on site, is served on thick slabs of homemade bread. Crafts and flea market items (including quilts, rugs, and baked and canned goods) are available in buildings on the grounds. Antique corn items fill one booth to overflowing.
And what would a corn husking show be without horses? Wagon masters set up wagons, carts and buggies in one corner of the grounds. Horses are housed in horse barns and brought out to the wagon area. One covered wagon, owned by Roger Higgins, Meeker, Ohio, is a surplus Army supply wagon dating to World War I. It is set up as a chuck wagon, complete with pantry and dining canopy. The wagoners put on a show of their own with wagons, buggies, carts and draft horses.
To join in the husking competition, just bring a good husking peg or hook, sign in at the registration desk and wait your turn. Entrants are divided into five classes: professional, amateur, male, female and youth. Many huskers also compete against themselves, tracking times and harvests from year to year to gauge improvement.
At the 2007 show, the field of corn was nearly a mile west of the fairgrounds. Horse-drawn shuttle wagons hauled visitors and competitors to and from the husking area.
The field was marked off in sections allowing 12 huskers to work at the same time. Each husker was assigned to a wagon and wagon master. The wagon master/timer kept track of each team, consisting of a husker, a gleaner and a driver. Each husker was taken to a row and began husking, tossing husked ears toward the wagon where they would bounce off the 'bang' board and drop into the wagon.
The team moved at a pace matching that of the husker. The gleaner cleaned the stalks after the husker, picking any small (nubbins) or missed ears and putting them in a separate sack. Each husker husked for 10 minutes. If a husker failed to finish a row (few did), the rest of the team finished the row and put the corn in another sack.
Then the wagon master headed the team to the weigh-in station. All of the harvested corn was moved from the wagon to the scale. Dirty corn (corn with a lot of husk left on the ears) was husked and the residue set aside for weighing. Then the clean corn was weighed and the total recorded. Next, the corn from the gleaner's sack was weighed along with the husks from the 'dirty' corn. That weight was then subtracted from the husker's total. The remainder was the weight credited to the husker.
Husking implements come in many varieties and each husker has a personal preference. Competitors use husking pegs, claws, hooks and palm hooks, both single and double. If you ever intend to join the fray, buy a new husking tool. If you don't, sure as the world the leather will break at an awkward time, even if it's been treated with neat's-foot oil. Start out with a new tool or carry one with you: In case of breakage, you can change huskers quickly, but you will surely lose the contest.
Upper Sandusky and Wyandot County are proud of their local champion husker, Nobel Goodman (1914-93). He was named Wyandot County and Ohio state champion in 1937; won the national contest in Des Moines, Iowa, and recorded 151.55 bushels per acre on his entire farm in 1981; received the Goodyear Conservation Award in 1982; and was named All American Corn Husker in 1987.
Old timers still marvel at Goodman's skill in the corn row. Some say that when he was husking, he had an ear of corn in the air at all times. One would hit the bang board while another was in the air and a third ear had just left his hand. Even as he approached his mid-70s, Goodman remained a formidable competitor and few could best him. According to local legend, he never missed an ear or left a nubbin for the gleaner.
If you're looking for a fun show where you can observe or participate, take in a fall show. You might even have an opportunity to compete for best weight. And if you compete, you'll have an appreciative audience. It can be hard work, but it's certainly fun. FC
For more information:
-Wyandot County Corn Harvest Festival, Oct. 11-12, Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Contact Don Wilson, 2237 C.H. 47, Nevada, OH 44849; (740) 482-2506.
-The National Corn Husking Competition will be held Oct. 18-19 in Roseville, Ill. For more information, contact Richard Humes, P.O. Box 115, Little York, IL 61453; (309) 729-5261;
James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at Jboblenz@aol.com