Old-Fashioned Corn Picking Demonstrated At Alta Vista

Turn back the decades to pick corn before hundred thousand dollar combines.

That’s what has been done the past two Saturday afternoons at Alta Vista. It was in similar fashion to the way corn was harvested by farmers in the 1940s and ’50s.

Hazel Zimmerman watched as her son, Kirby; her grandson,Matt Easton; and friends, Chase Kesl, Matt Lamb, and Kevin Hill, pulled one-row corn pickers out of the Ag Heritage Park Museum and harvested corn on land farmed by Glen Swartz, who viewed some of the harvest, too.

There were two machines doing the work. One was left hand operation, and the other was right hand, so both could pick corn at the same time.

Chase Kesl of Topeka owns the pickers and operated the “late’40s” Wood Brothers

Dearborn corn picker pulled by a ’49 Farmall H, originally owned by Everett Zimmerman and restored by Kevin Hill of Rock Creek Welding.

Matt Lamb of Manhattan pulled a’50 New Idea 300 corn picker with a ’56 Farmall 400.

“I really enjoy tinkering with this antique machinery, and it’s especially satisfying to bring them out here and prove they can do the job they were built for,” Kesl said.

Today’s highly-calibrated harvesters travel almost road-speed shelling the corn as they go spitting yellow kernels into the combine bin as waste cobs are strewn across the field.

The big green modern-era John Deere combine used by Swartz to harvest most of the corn was at the field’s edge creating a true visual image of the stark contrast in farming methods.

In the days gone by, replicated again the past two Saturdays, the much-slower-paced implements picked the whole ears and tossed them in the wagons behind.

“That McCormick wagon is owned by my cousin, Keith Olson, and we have to scoop the ears of corn out of it,” Kirby Zimmerman explained.

“The other wagon was my dad’s (Everett), and it has a hoist, which makes unloading easier,” he added.

This too differs greatly from previous centuries and even into the 1930’s and early’40’s when farmers still picked each ear of corn by hand. Generally, horses pulled similar-type wagons with a throw-board on one side, which farmers would sling the ear into after they shucked it from the stalk.

Farm yards in much earlier days typically had corn cribs where the livestock feed was stored before often being fed as the whole cob forcing livestock to shell the grain in order to eat it.

However, a variety of corn shellers have also been in use for a century or more, in the beginning being handfed with a scoop shovel.

As modern-mechanisms were developed, larger implements to shell the corn from the cob came into use in the mid 1950’s.

One of those machines was also being demonstrated at the recent old-fashioned corn picking demonstrations.

The John Deere  Number 71 corn sheller was powered by a John Deere 520, originally owned by John E. Olson, Mrs. Zimmerman’s father. This tractor was put back into operation by Mrs. Zimmerman’s grandson, Matt Easton.

Some of the cobs were being saved to start fire in wood stoves this winter, and the remainders were distributed back on the field with a large modern-day manure spreader.

All of the antique farm implements are part of the displays at the Ag Heritage Park in Alta Vista developed by Hazel and Everett Zimmerman, before his death.

The large collection of antique machinery is open by appointment and on special occasions by Mrs. Zimmerman and her family.

It was open this past Saturday for a highlight of the Old Settlers Day celebration in Alta Vista as crowds from a wide part of eastern Kansas inspected the unique menagerie.

Just a short distance up the road, the old-time implements, demonstrating the way corn used to be harvested, had a steady stream of the visitors who could ride right behind the pickers in the  wagons or on a flatbed trailer with straw hay bales, to see the action up close.

Complete information about the unique farm machinery is available at www.agheritagepark.com