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Picking corn the old-fashioned way

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 11:00 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Contestants at the 2020 State Hand Cornhusking Contest recently provided a window into the past, and showed onlookers what the corn harvest used to be like.

We visited with Kevin Kraenow of Gibbon. He took part in the hand cornhusking contest. He got started getting involved in the contests when his kids were little, and he took them out to show them what it was all about. “We picked, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Kraenow said.

During the contest, the participants have to be pretty skilled at removing the corn ears from the stalks quickly. “According to your age division, it’s a timed event,” Kraenow said. “I think the youth pick for 10 minutes. The golden agers, 75 years and older, pick for 10 minutes. The open class contestants pick for 30 minutes, and the other classes are usually 20 minutes. You have a timer with a stop watch, and a gleaner. You pick for your allotted time. Any ears that are missed on the stalk, or miss the wagon, are picked up and go in a sack and that counts against you as a penalty. Also, when they weigh your load, they take a sample. You want to pick clean, so any husks that are left on the ears are taken off the sample, and they weigh those to a quarter of an ounce on a postage scale, and that counts against you also, just like foreign matter in a load of grain that goes to the elevator.”

Kraenow says hand cornhuskers use a “cornhusking hook”, and there are all different styles. Kraenow says he uses a palm hook. “The idea is the hook will loosen the husk on the ear, so you can get your fingers around it and snap it off,” Kraenow said. “You try to use your wrist as much as you can to throw against the bang board on the wagon, to save your shoulder. It’s supposed to be more wrist-action.”

“Your horse-drawn wagon box is supposed to hold 50 bushel typically,” Kraenow said. “It was a good day if you could pick two loads, so 100 bushel a day was a big day picking by hand. This is a good history lesson. You need to know where you came from, to appreciate where you are now.”

The 2020 State Hand Cornhusking Contest was held at the Nebraska Prairie Museum in conjunction with the museum’s fall festival. It was held in Gothenburg the previous year.

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