February 2nd…….“HOW DID YOUR FATHER, RUSSELL, HARVEST FIELD CORN BEFORE MACHINES BECAME AVAILABLE TO DO THAT CHORE?”
A pheasant covey catapulted themselves into the brisk Fall air, that morning, as our daddy, Russell, crank-started our old Farmall F20 tractor. Those brilliantly colored birds had been enjoying some breakfast of corn kernels among the dried and raspy-eared cornstalks to the west of our farm yard. Being the recalcitrant metal beast that it was, that old red Farmall tractor usually responded to Dad’s energetic cranking with a loud pop and backfire; and that’s just what caused those pheasants to launch in a panic. Good thing Dad’s reflexes were fine-tuned when he’d start the tractor, cause those angular, steel engine cranks were sometimes known to “kick back” and break men’s wrists or arms.
The initial loud noise was now reduced to an engine purrr, allowing that beautiful bevy of birds to settle their restless wings as they glided back down into the cornfield to peck another tasty tummy-full of yummy corn. They must’ve anticipated that Dad and our brother, Lowell, were soon to begin their annual harvest of our acres of field corn and wanted to take the opportunity to gobble till they wobble.
Farming was a way of life, not just for our father, but for the entire Noorlun family. We were no different than the uncountable thousands of other agricultural folk who worked the soil to feed themselves and our great nation. This meant that, at an early age, our brother Lowell was trained to “man up” and carry out his share of the responsibilities of this corn harvest that was about to transpire. Brother Lowell, being tall in spirit, but short in stature at the time, had to have some adaptions made to the tractor to be able to allow him to be a help in this operation with Dad. No matter what the needs on our farm, both of our resourceful parents embodied the adage that was popular during World War II (2)……”Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without”.
From where Lowell was perched up high on the tractor’s seat, his little legs couldn’t reach the clutch and brake pedals. Dad’s “make it do” talents inspired him to drill holes in the metal foot-pedal “pads” and then bolt thick “extension” chunks of wood to those pedals that now allowed our elder brother to reach and operate the tractor like the “big boy” that he was in Dad’s eyes.
Their frosty breaths, of that Fall season, could be seen emanating from the mouths of Lowell and Dad as they chatted while they hooked up that steel-wheeled wagon. Climbing aboard with Lowell in his lap, Dad let out the clutch as they lurched forward for the rattling ride out to the cornfield. The windbreak of trees, bordering our farm yard, were now silhouetted by golden shafts of morning sunlight that trumpeted, in its regal silence, the beginning of harvest on our farm. Being the consummate farmer that he was, our father, Russell, deftly guided the tractor and wagon up next to the first row of corn to be harvested. “Now Lowell, the F20 is in “granny gear” (1st gear). When I’m on the ground and move along the row, picking the corn, you gently let out the clutch to slowly move the wagon ahead a little each time. Okay?” “Sure will, Daddy!” came Lowell’s reply. Our patriarch now strapped on his “secret weapon” of harvesting corn by hand. It was called a husking glove. This device was the incorporation of a metal plate with an exposed and raised hook. The hook plate was riveted to leather straps that wrapped around and bound it securely to the wrist and hand. I believe our dad’s husking glove also had some short glove finger holes of leather to protect his knuckles from the rough cornstalks.
And so it began, in the chill of that brisk morning, Dad would snap off an ear of field corn, then, using the hooked husking glove, rip (or shuck) the husk wrapping around that ear of corn and finally toss that ear in the general targeted direction of the bang-boards that stood high on the far side of the wagon. The ears of corn hit those high boards and then dropped into the wagon. To be efficient, it was said that a good corn picker should have at least one, or two, ears of corn flying towards the wagon’s bang-board at all times. Our father’s sinewy and muscled arms were a blur of fast action as he picked a cornstalk clean and moved ahead to the next one in those very long rows of golden maize there on our family acreage northwest of Kiester, Minnesota. Considering that each cornstalk usually produces at least 2 or more ears per plant, then times that by those many acres of long rows, well, that added up to some amazing amounts of work to be done. Some hand corn pickers have pulled off as high as 250 ears of corn in less than 40 minutes.
With a wagon now full of corn, Lowell pushed in the Farmall’s clutch and took the tractor out of gear by pulling the gear lever out of 1st Gear and to the neutral setting. Next, with his little right foot, he pressed down and locked on the brakes of the tractor for safety. It was now time to trade drivers as Dad climbed on board and allowed our brother to scurry up and enjoy a fun ride on top of the yellow gold that followed behind that F20. While they bumped along towards our farm yard, Lowell even told of a playtime of wiggling his tiny body into a corner of the wagon. That was usually fun until the load of field corn shifted and almost pinned him in place like a corny “prison”.
The tractor’s big, rubber, chevron-cleated tires began to sing a different tune against the rocky ground as our father urged the tractor to climb the graveled incline near our barn. That load of golden maize, following behind them, was heavy and the tractors tires made a growly gravel sound as they crested the rise and came back down towards our old wooden Corn Crib.
Elevators in the big cities take folks straight up to new heights. Well, we had an elevator on the farm, too. It’s job was to take our field corn to new heights, too, only these new heights were up and into our Corn Crib via a door at the top of the building. Rather than going up vertically, as in the city elevator, our long, metal conveyance carried the corn at an angle and could be adjusted to whatever height was needed to reach up and into to the Corn Crib.
Dad backed up the corn wagon as close as he could to the elevator’s hopper. The elevator was powered by either an electric motor or sometimes by a long pulley belt spinning from another tractor’s power nearby. A slide door was opened at the back of the wagon and Dad (with our brother Lowell’s help) began forking, hooking and shoveling the ears of corn out of the wagon box and down into the moving cleats of the elevator. Up, up, up went the ears of corn until gravity made them disappear into the Corn Crib at the apex of the elevator’s highest point. With wagon now empty, the whole process was repeated again and again till our corn harvest was completed.
Time passed with each season of corn harvest and our parents were eventually able to purchase a one row, mechanical corn picker. What a relief that must’ve been for our hard-working “farmer hero” who could now just hook up that machine to his tractor and pull it through the cornfield and let it do the work that he used to have to do by hand. And, to make farm life even better, there came the day when Dad was able to purchase a TWO ROW corn picker that attached around the Farmall F20. From that time on, the old F20 was pretty much dedicated and relegated to just that one purpose on our acreage………to bring that two row corn picker to life each year and save a ton of work for the father we all admired ……including this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!! 😉