This issue of Farm Collector includes an article by Jim Lacey on a Holden’s Ideal Corn Tester. Jim knows a lot about the tester, but nothing about Professor Holden.
As it turns out, Perry Holden was a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University at the turn of the last century. Way ahead of his time, Professor Holden understood not just agronomy but marketing as well. In 1902, he offered a short course on corn for farmers. The course proved to be so popular that extra sessions were added, starting at 5 a.m. daily.
Holden worked with farmers and local government to set up a demonstration farm in northwest Iowa in 1903. In 1904, he took his show on the road. Collaborating with the railroads, he launched a program in which passenger cars were outfitted with speaker’s platforms and charts. Crossing the state by rail, he taught cars full of farmers how to select and test corn to get the best seed. He dubbed the program The Seed Corn Gospel Train.
According to an Inside Iowa State website, Holden was named the first director of Iowa Extension in 1906, eight years before the creation of a national Extension program. Under his guidance, in 1907 Extension department staffers worked with Iowa schoolteachers to instruct children in the basic principles of seed germination, planting a crop, harvesting, and storing seed corn.
Perry Holden was passionate about agriculture and education, and that’s the kind of mix that gets things growing. It’s also a critically important pillar of this hobby, one that requires nothing more than the desire to interact with people (especially school kids), knowledge of antique farm equipment and/or traditional farming methods, and the stamina of a 19-year-old.
This is a trick the folks at the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville, Indiana, are pulling off with some regularity. But it’s no cakewalk. “A lot of the kids don’t know what a windmill is,” admits volunteer Jerry Stienbarger. (Read more about the museum in Mid-America Windmill Museum Celebrates the Past.)
The Seed Corn Gospel Train is lost to the mists of time, but I’m pretty sure I can still hear the choir singing as the old guard educates a new generation about traditional farm methods and old equipment. You volunteers who work with groups of school kids are as good as they come. Cheers to you!