It was tough, tedious and time consuming. It was almost an art form to check corn so that every row was straight both lengthwise and crosswise. Straight rows were the mark of a good farmer. When the corn sprouted, shoddy workmanship became apparent in a very public way.
Sam Moore had an excellent article in the February 2009 issue of Farm Collector on the need for splicing check wire (read “ Check-Row Planting: By the Book ”). Bill James, Forest, Ohio, a member of the National Corn Item Collectors, has an assortment of check-wire splicing pliers and links. He and others who display these relics at shows routinely explain and demonstrate how splices are made.
It was common practice for farmers to leave at least one tree standing in a field to serve as shade for livestock. When a farmer planting corn with a check-row corn planter came to a tree, he had to break the wire to go around it.
Check-wire manufacturers put a special splice in the wire every 5 rods (about 82-1/2 feet). To make splicing easier, each manufacturer also had available a special splice to replace the original splice, and a pair of splicing pliers. (It seems every manufacturer used a different kind of knot, and therefore made a different link and different set of link pliers to connect the link.)
When a farmer came to a tree, he stopped the team or tractor as near to the tree as possible. With the wire still stretched tight and the planter stakes in place at each end of the field, he opened the check head to let the wire drop to the ground. He then walked to the end of the field closest to the planter and pulled up the stake with the wire still attached and laid it on the ground. Then he walked back toward the planter.
When he got close to the team or tractor, say a couple of fence posts in front, he would start looking for the splice. (Since a rod is about the distance between fence posts, he had to search for about the length of five fence posts.) He’d look at each wire knot until he found the splice. After locating it, he cut out the splice to separate the wire. Then he walked the longest end around the tree and back to the end lying on the ground. Next he put a new link in the splicing pliers, inserted the link in the button or knot of the check wire and squeezed it closed.
Before resuming planting, he walked back to the pulled stake and reset it in exactly the same hole from which he pulled it. Then he went back to the planter, replaced the wire in the check head and started planting again.
A good splice and tight wire meant straight rows. Just a little slack would result in crooked rows. Crooked rows generated ribbing by neighbors, but worse, it made for a long, difficult and tedious day in the field during cross-cultivation. And if corn was uprooted with the weeds, it could represent substantial loss.
Cultivation was the key to weed control. The first cultivation began when the corn was 4 to 6 inches tall and was normally conducted in the same direction as the corn was planted. For that process, dirt guards were needed to keep from covering the small, delicate plants.
When the corn was about knee-high, the farmer “crossed” the field. During the third cultivation, the field was “laid by” by cultivating down the planted check-row when the leaves met between the rows. FC