Saturday afternoon we took the back roads to town. These roads were originally the roads early settlers created in order to travel about the countyside There were no bulldozers then, nor combustion engines. These pioneers, using teams of horses and lots of manual labor, rationally chose the easiest routes. The roads wind around wooded hillsides, dip down to creek beds, pass acres of native prairie, and pass many old farmsteads.
Rain was imminent, so farmers were working to get corn harvested before the stalks and ears of corn got wet. We stopped to watch the progress of a farmer harvesting a rich bottomland field of corn. As it came down the row toward us we could barely see the corn picker.
But when it reached the end of the rows, we saw its true proportions. The eight conical projections from the front thread between seven rows, enabling a highly efficient process. (John Deere also makes a harvester that picks 14 rows at one sweep.) The machine cuts the corn stalks, chews them up, separates the ears from the stalks, shucks the ears, shells the kernels from the cob, spits out the pulverized stalks and shucks and cobs, and spews the corn kernels into the bin on top.
The farmer backed up the picker and turned to go in the opposite direction the length of the field.
In a twinkling the bin was full and he headed to a waiting semi with a grain trailer attached. The truck took the harvest to a grain silo in a neighboring city, probably Topeka, where great rows of silos line the Kansas River.
As we drove on toward our destination I told Dennis how my dad’s corn harvesting experience was so different from this farmer’s. Dad didn’t plant many acres of corn, just enough to feed his hogs and chickens.
Harvesting the corn was a long and laborious task. He hitched Babe and Belle, his gentle old workhorses, to the wagon and set out for the cornfield. There, Babe and Belle waited while he used a corn shucking glove to free the ears of corn, snapped the ears off the stalks, and tossed them into the wagon. As he moved along the row he whistled to the horses, signaling them to follow along behind him.
When the wagon was filled a few hours later he drove Babe and Belle back to the barn, where he tossed the ears into the corncrib. Every morning and evening thereafter he filled a bucket with dry ears of corn and tossed them over the fence to the hogs to supplement their troughs of slop.
In later years, when the first mechanical corn pickers became available, Dad and another farmer bought a John Deere together, which greatly simplified their work. That picker wasn’t very efficient, often dropping ears of corn on the ground. Dad, ever one to think of those less fortunate, let a poor man, who lived in a shack nearby, glean those ears to sell.
I think Dad would marvel at today’s ultra-efficient harvesters. I know I do, and I never observe a corn harvest without remembering my sweet, hard-working Dad.
Copyright 2016 by Shirley Domer