I Took A Short Course In Competition Corn Husking
By: Arvene Hill
Arvene Hill left, James Cordell middle and Hank Endress right.
 
There was a good crop of corn in ,1933. Mother had asked Gene, who lived down the road about fifteen rods, to help with the corn husking. He readily agreed to start as soon as he had opened up the field for a neighbor.

I guess everyone knew how good Gene was at husking and he did it so easily. He never worked up a sweat, and never wasted a moment. He was so methodical that he seemed almost mechanical. There was a story that International Harvester was going to take out a patent on him, because he was the best corn husking machine in the country. The secret was that once his hook hit the ear and it broke loose it was on its way to the wagon and he was after the next ear. He had the fastest flip I have ever seen, his hands didn't move out more than six inches from the ear.

I was a brash eighteen year old kid who had made up his mind that he was going to follow the Champ. I didn't want to work by myself and I knew the moment of truth was going to be that first day, in fact that first hour. If I didn't cut the mustard then I never would.

We had Bronco Horses, what they lack in size they more than made up in sprit and energy. I wanted Gene to have a good trouble free team so I worked in a team for him. When it got closer to the day when we were going to start picking corn I rounded up my little gray team. I saw right away that they were awful full of ginger. I knew that I wasn't going to have any time to fuss with them, so I hooked them on as the lead team on the gang plow for a few days to steady them down a bit.

I had every thing planed out, Gene had been coming to the farm pre dawn, feeding and harnessing his team and milking his cow, then going to the house for breakfast. I was on the same routine.

This particular morning Gene had already had his breakfast, so he had hitched up his team, and was headed for the field just as I sat down to the table. Well mother saw what was happening, but insisted I have the full course, ham, eggs and pancakes, she said "You can't pick corn on an empty stomach!" I didn't waste any time hitching up . It was about three fourths of a mile back to the field. The team and I probably set a record getting out there, that team just loved to go! I probably gained about five minutes on him going to the field, but he had already picked twenty to twenty five rods when I got started. I knew better than to start out to fast, so I waited until I started to sweat then I started to pick up the pace and then I really turned it loose. The rows were about one hundred forty rods long and when I got to the end, I probably picked up another minute going across the head land.

It looked like I had gained on him a little, but I sure had my work cut out for me if I was going to catch up to him. I never looked up, I just concentrated on moving as quickly and efficiently as possible I could hear his ears hitting the long board just as steady as a clock and about as fast. All at once they stopped and I looked up, Gene was up in his wagon and drawled, "I'll pull out and let you go on by". " Naw, your doing just fine. I just wanted to follow you," I responded " I've picked in allot of fields against allot of men and never had anyone able to do that," Gene said. It was one of the proudest and most satisfying moments in my life. I had used so much energy that I was absolutely numb and soaked with sweat. You could have poked a pin in me anywhere and I would have never felt it. He saw I could do with a little breather , so he sat down on his load of corn, hung his legs over the side of the wagon and reach in his pocket for a paper. He pulled out his little pack of Bull Durham and rolled a cigarette. By the time he had finished his smoke I had cooled off and we finished out our loads. I followed him all that fall and before we finished we were fast friends. Gene was one of the finest men I ever worked with!

In this little episode, what did I learn about competition husking? It takes extreme concentration, you've got to make up your mind and then you've got to do it.

(Arvene Hill has been the Illinois State Champion and placed in the top 5. at the National Contest .)
Harvest equipment used during the 1930's
Nebraska 1930's, Harlan Jacobson
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