Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys
For the past several weeks, everyone travelling along country roads — particularly at dusk or after dark — has had to be extra vigilant. Corn and bean harvests have been underway which means that, occasionally, huge combines take over the road as they go to new locations, and tractors with fully-loaded forage wagons pull out from fields or cross at intersections, sometimes taking motorists by surprise. But everyone who lives in an agricultural area wishes farmers the best harvest possible after the frustrations of a hot, droughty summer and a cold, wet October.
This week’s column features two photographs, taken about 80 years ago on the Erastus Martin farm near Uniondale. The equipment shown is a corn binder with a three-horse hitch working its way through a corn field. The two photographs belonged to the late Louis Martin, who allowed the St. Marys Museum to copy them about 20 years ago.
In this traditional way of harvesting corn, tied bundles were tossed to the side by the binder and then loaded onto a wagon, taken to the farmyard and cut into small pieces to fill the silo. Silage fed dairy herds throughout the winter. Loading the corn onto the wagon was the hardest part — each sheath was awkward, long and heavy, weighing about 30 pounds. And while the harvest crew worked hard in the fields, so did the women in the kitchen, preparing enough hot food to satisfy these tired and hungry men at mealtime.
Today, the equipment is much larger and more efficient — although the work is still exhausting, especially when it continues late into the night. Silo corn has been taken off some time ago and any combines still working are filling forage wagons with kernel corn.
Thanks to John McIntosh, Allan Slater and Muriel Sheldon for insights on current and traditional corn harvesting practices.