My earliest memories of a cornfield take me back to a time when I was four years old. In those days my father harvested corn by hand. The process was called “gathering corn.” Two mules would pull a mule wagon through the cornfield. The mules and wagon would knock down two corn rows while my father and our neighbor, Thomas Denton pulled the corn from the stalks of four rows of corn on each side of the wagon. A trip through the field netted ten rows of corn harvested.
Prior to arriving at the cornfield with the mules and wagon my father would have pulled the “down rows” and pitched the corn in neat piles between the rows being knocked down. As the wagon passed through the field the corn in those piles had to be picked up and pitched in the wagon. The process was called “picking up the downed row.” In later years, when we used a tractor to pull the wagon, I was glad to pick up the downed row for the privilege of driving the tractor through the cornfield.
My earliest recollections find me in the mule wagon riding along as my father and Thomas Denton pulled corn from the stalks and pitched it in the wagon. I am told that I provided them with entertainment by enthusiastically singing “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.” I can clearly remember waking up from a nap and finding myself almost completely covered up with ears of corn. I'm not sure how they managed to miss hitting me in the head as they pitched the ears of corn into the wagon. I can also remember sitting high on top of a full load of corn as we headed out of the river bottom.
When we arrived back at the feed barn, my father unloaded the corn with a big heavy corn scoop. He worked like a machine as he pushed the scoop under the corn and pitched scoop-full after scoop-full through a high window in the corn crib.
There were some years when we fed hogs in a lot below our barn. When we did, in the fall, my father would back the wagon up to the fence and dump the entire wagon-
load of corn into a big pile on the ground. You've heard the express, “as happy as a pig in mud?” I'll go you a better one, “Happy as pigs in a pile of corn.” They literally ate their way to the bottom of the pile. When the corn was gone, the pigs, that were rapidly becoming hogs, let us know by lining up at the fence and squealing.
The corn crib was a center of activity at our feed barn. I have shucked my weigh in corn shucks on many an afternoon after school. And I have sacked up more nubbins than I care to remember. When the nubbins ran out we resorted to cutting ears of corn in two to feed the cows. My father had secured an oak 2”-by-10” across the bottom of the crib door to keep the corn from falling out. We would hold the ears of corn on the edge of that oak board as we cut it with a hatchet or tobacco knife. Over the years we succeeded in almost cutting all the way through that hard piece of oak. It was a testament to how much corn had been cut at the crib door.
But sadly, the corn crib is a thing of the past. And gathering corn? I'm afraid no one does that any more.
Today modern combines not only pick the corn, but also shell it in the process. On- board computers weigh the shelled corn and compute yield per acre while storing fertilizer requirements for next year's crop. Many are equipped with GPS (Global Positioned Satellite) devices which allow them to operate unmanned. Should the operator want to ride in the climate controlled cab, he has access to AM/FM and CD surround sound. And all this technological change has come to us in the last 50 years.
It seems like a long, long way from two men, two mules, a wagon and a little boy singing, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.”
Copyright 2007 by Jack McCall