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Harvesting the old-fashioned way

IONA Case Vos pulled the leather corn-husking tool out of his jacket pocket and began to strap it around his right hand.

This part is worn the most, said Case before using his teeth to pull the leather strap tight and secure it inside its metal clasp.

A few days beyond the age of 80, Case made one round Sunday afternoon for old-times sake on the Vince Crowley farm north of Iona. Crowley hosted the old-fashioned harvest on a plot of land he planted last spring with his team of horses and an antique planter. Dozens of people took part in the event, which boasted six teams of horses, several wooden wagons and a buggy.

Though its been a long time since Case had to harvest an entire corn field by hand, he certainly hadnt forgotten how to husk an ear clean. Two years ago, Case earned second place in the Minnesota State Corn Husking Competitions old people division near Pennock.

In the winters of 40 and 42, I spent the winter out picking corn by hand, said Case, a retired farmer now living in Slayton. We had an early snowstorm and couldnt get through with the pickers.

As Case gripped an ear of corn in his left hand, he demonstrated the proper technique of husking corn. The corn-husking tool features a metal hook in the center used to separate the corn husk from the ear. A quick tug exposed the ear of golden kernels, and in a split second Case had his right hand over the kernels and his left snapping the husks off the ear.

Vos said he was about 15 years old when he learned the trick to fast and efficient corn husking.

I picked alongside my dad, he said. On a real good day he could harvest a couple of acres.

One year I picked 61 days and averaged 72 bushels per day, Case said.

Of course, those were the days when corn averaged only about 50 bushels per acre. Today, farmers reap four to five times more than that per acre.

If you had 40 to 50 bushels per acre you had quite a crop, added Homer Vos, a 76-year-old retired farmer from rural Hardwick.

Homer and his wife, Fran, attended Sundays event to relive the old times a bit, he said. Its something to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Homer also strapped on a hand corn-husking tool and picked a round flanked by a couple of young beginners and several middle-aged husking amateurs.

They can learn how we used to do it, said Homer of the kids who harvested the stalks clean. There was a time that we didnt have 12-row combines.

On Sunday, groups of visitors harvested corn from the stalks four rows at a time, tossing the ears into wagons pulled by teams of horses. Once the hand-harvest was done, Brian Breberg drove his 1940 self-propelled corn picker through the field.

Wagons carried the corn to Crowleys pasture, where it was unloaded into a grain elevator also powered by a pair of horses and collected in a second wagon.

Crowley last hosted a hand corn-husking event 10 years ago, when visitors vied for prizes in a competition. Though there were neither timers nor judges this year, guests still had a good time.

When asked what he liked best about the days activities, Case Vos said it was good eating. Bars and coffee were served by members of the Crowley family.

Crowley said next year hed like to bring back the competitive corn-husking event on his farm.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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