Hand-shocking corn was hard, labor intensive work
Sam Moore’s column on corn shock tiers (February 2011) brought back memories. I grew up on a farm near Hampton, Mo. In the fall we shocked corn by hand, a back-breaking, labor-intensive job. Dad, my brothers and I walked to the corn fields carrying the corn shock bucket. Inside the bucket were corn knives, 10 feet of rope with a U-hook attached and a roll of twine.
We shocked a little differently than what was described in Sam’s column, without using a wooden horse, a pole or a tier – but we did take eight rows at a time. Walking into the standing corn about 10 feet, Dad would twist some corn stalk tassels together across the fourth and fifth row, forming a teepee-like frame of cornstalks, or a “trussle,” as he called it. From approximately 10 feet on each side of the trussle and eight rows wide, we cut all the stalks, one armload at a time, carried them to the trussle and stood them upright against it, forming a round shock.
We carried the bucket from shock to shock, tying them. Dad stood next to each shock, held the end of the rope tight in his left hand with it extended toward the shock. With his right hand on the opposite end of the rope about three feet from the hook, he swung it round and round over his head in lasso fashion, releasing it at the right time. When the slack in the rope tightened against his left hand, it forced the hook counterclockwise around the shock at arm level for easy tying. The end of the rope was then inserted into the hook and pulled tight for tying. After we tied twine around the shock the rope was released.
We shocked corn early each morning until about noon when a little dew was on the corn. Even so the corn leaves (blades) were sharp and occasionally cut our arms and necks as we chopped and accumulated the stalks, cradled into our left arm until it was full. With the corn still on the stalks, every armload was heavy.
We fed the shocks (fodder, Dad called it) during the winter. Each morning we harnessed the horses and hooked them to a long wood sled with a wagon box on it. The sled had 1-by-6-inch runners 10 feet long and went through the snow easily. In the cornfield we loaded a shock into the wagon box, then drove the horses to the south pasture and fed it to our shorthorn cattle. We shucked the ears of corn from the stalk, accumulated the corn in the wagon and tossed the shucked stalks out to the cows.
This was our complete corn cutting and shocking cycle in the 1950s. Dad was slow to update and as a result, he used 1920 methods into the ‘50s.