While driving to Dallas on U.S. 75 recently, I couldn’t help noticing the numerous fields of corn that are drying out and turning brown. I’m afraid the nice rains we had recently came too late for most of these corn crops.
All those dry cornstalks make me remember the days I spent as a teenager harvesting corn on our farm, usually in August.Let me assure you this is not a nostalgia piece. I wish my father had access to today’s combines that, in one pass through the field, separate the ears of corn from the stalks, shell the kernels, and then shred the stalks and cobs. The shelled corn goes into a truck and the shredded material go back on the land as mulch.
Gathering corn, as we called it back in the 50s, was a low-tech, labor-intensive job—one ear at a time. A wagon was pulled slowly down two rows at a time by a tractor, traveling at very low speed, or by a team of patient mules who would stop and go in response to voice commands. If a tractor was used, someone had to drive it—usually a child too young to do the harder work of walking behind the wagon to pull the ears of corn and throw them into the wagon.
The corn on the rows the wagon ran over, called the “down rows,” was harder to harvest since you had to stoop over and pull the stalks up to get hold of the ears. The hardest job of all came when it was time to take a wagonload of ear corn to the barn and use a large shovel (called a scoop) to throw the corn from the wagon into the crib.
I have three distinct memories of corn harvesting. One comes from a story my dad told about the time he and his brother Wayne helped a friend of theirs, Jim Reagan, gather corn from a river bottom field that Jim had sharecropped on the Whatley place.
It had been a good year for corn, and Mr. Whatley was quite impressed when his share of the crop was delivered to his barn.
His comment was, “Those Lincecum boys and Jim Reagan sure put a lot of corn in my barn and they did it fast.”
The second memory is of helping my dad gather corn when he had volunteer help from two older men. Not wanting to overstress the senior citizens, Daddy took a lot of breaks and I enjoyed listening to the conversation and stories that resulted.
The last memory is less pleasant. Granddaddy Jones was fattening a pen of calves on ground corn, which meant that Daddy, Uncle Doug and I had to use the hammermill about once a week to grind up a pickup load of ear corn and sack it. Working around a hammermill was one of the dirtiest farm jobs I had experienced up to that time, in addition to being noisy and generally stressful.
After those fat calves were hauled to Fort Worth and sold, our conclusion was that we’d all be content to produce and sell grass-fed beef. No more grinding corn.A retired English professor, Dr. Jerry Lincecum teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any topic: firstname.lastname@example.org