Antique Corn Cutter Held Kernels from Yesteryear

Corn cutter restoration includes surprise stash of stray corn kernels.

| May 2013

If you set out to restore an 80-year-old implement, you will usually find that some bolts are missing or a cracked frame is hidden by caked grease. Bearings are often worn out, bright paint is found only under rusty washers, and square nuts can be difficult to remove. We are routinely amazed at the creative engineering involved in the use of sprockets, chains and gears that enabled these old implements to perform their tasks.

Two years ago we procured two Dain corn cutters to put in our 1930s agriculture museum. The museum is home to 45 John Deere implements from the 1930s. Also included in the museum is an exhibit intended to show the evolution of corn harvesting equipment from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. Our collection includes corn husking hooks and pegs, corn knives, corn shock ropes, a John Deere corn binder and a John Deere No. 10 1-row corn picker.

In its day, the corn cutter accelerated the harvest process and lessened the labor involved. Some corn cutters consisted of sleds with knives attached, pulled by one horse walking between two rows of corn. Other models, such as the Dain, were mounted on wheels. One of our cutters is a Dain Safety 4-wheel corn cutter built by Dain Mfg. Co. between 1898 and 1917. The other is a Dain 3-wheel steel corn cutter manufactured between 1898 and 1930.

Joseph Dain worked in the furniture business in Meadville, Mo., until 1881, when he left to build hay-making equipment. He won his first patent for hay-making implements in 1882. By 1890 he had incorporated Dain Mfg. Co. and moved to Carrollton, Mo. In 1900 the company was moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, where Dain produced harvesting equipment including sickle mowers, hay loaders, hay stackers and side-delivery rakes, as well as other pieces of farm equipment such as pump jacks, farm mixers, feed mills, corn cutters and hay presses. Deere & Co. bought the Dain company in 1911; Deere’s hay equipment line is still manufactured in Ottumwa.

Shocking with the Dain

The check-row method of planting corn was used from about 1890 to the mid-1940s. In that method, the corn planter dropped two to four seeds into the soil at the same spot. The resulting “hill” was 40-42 inches from any adjoining hill. Check-row planting enabled the farmer to cultivate a field in both directions, eradicating weeds and grass.

The Dain 4-wheel cutter had two folding knife wings. The knives’ edges are so sharp that wooden shields were used to cover the cutting edge of the wings when folded. The cutter was pulled by one horse and cut two rows of corn at a time. The two knives would be folded down to cut the stalks (typically two to four stalks) in each hill. Two men sat or stood on top of the cutter and, as the horse moved forward, each gathered the cut stalks from the row on his side of the cutter.