Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

See harvest like it was done in 1950s

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/03/2013 4:32 PM

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LAKE CITY, Minn. — Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days is an immersion in what harvest was like 50 to 60 years ago.

The event began when Dwain Gerken pulled his father's corn shredder from the shed and a neighbor offered his corn binder.

Gerken, 71, said he enjoyed working with the old equipment and dreamed of putting it back to work. Fourteen years ago, he pulled the shredder from where it sat for 30 years and put it to work.

Sixty-two people came that first year when the harvest was done on a Sunday in late October. The event has grown every year. It now is a two-day festival in late September. Last year, close to 1,000 people attended.

This year, The 14th annual Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days is Sept. 28-29 in rural Lake City. Admission is $5, which is good for both days. Parking is free.

People from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin regularly attend, Gerken said, but they've had people stop in from New York, Washington and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One man came from a foreign country. Gerken can't remember the country, but he said the visitor was filled with questions.

The folks who organize and put on Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days delight in sharing their knowledge of the old machines.

"We feel that's the most important thing we do," Gerken said. "It's our goal to try to teach the young people and anyone who will listen."

The star of the show is the corn shredder that Bernard Gerken purchased new from Springer and Pretzer in Millville in the 1950s. It was used into the early 1960s.

Other equipment from the era joins the shredder at Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days. In addition to corn shredding, there is corn shelling, threshing, corn binding, silo filling, rope making, potato digging and plowing. Blacksmith demonstrations and a slow race will be held and farm toys will be displayed and offered for sale.

Gerken sets his personal tractor collection up in the 24-by-28 garage for observation only. A vendor from Zumbrota brings farm toys for sale. He's set up in the shop.

A flea market will feature a vendor who can fix wood handles on forks, hammers and just about anything else with a wooden handle. Another vendor will offer fall decorations. Other vendors are welcome. They need only call and tell Gerken or another organizer they're coming and what they plan to bring. Vendors set up on Sept. 27.

A Parade of Power is held daily at 1 p.m. A record 110 tractors were on display in their cow yard showgrounds in 2012. About half drove in the parade. The tractors were all makes and models. They don't feature a particular brand like many shows do, Gerken said.

A Kids Pedal Pull is planned at 2 p.m. on Sept. 29.

Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days also hosts the state corn husking contest.

The 33rd annual Minnesota State Corn Husking Contest begins with registration at 9 a.m. Sept. 28, said Kathy Ofstie, who organizes the event. Husking starts at 9:30 a.m.

Last year, 43 people harvested corn by hand and 13 participated in the ear count event. The ear count is for youth up to age 12. Ages 13 and older husk in the state contest.

Those 75 and older and 21 and younger are given 10 minutes to harvest all the corn they can, tearing the ear from the stalk and tossing in into a waiting wagon. All other age groups harvest corn for 20 minutes while walking along the row in solitary pursuit of corn.

Deductions are given for husk left on the corn because that would cause spoilage in the crib, Ofstie said. Deductions are also given for corn left in the field.

This is the way corn was harvested up until about World War II, she said. That's the era when hand labor was replaced by mechanization.

The Lake City FFA helps with the event and several of the members husked last year, Ofstie said.

There is no need to pre-register to hand harvest. Registration is taken until the class is closed. Open class is last and anyone can participate in it, Ofstie said. There is no registration fee.

Harvest conditions could be tough this year, Gerken said. The corn to be hand harvested was planted from the middle toward the end of May. Most of the corn appears to be dented, though, and each day he sees the husks loosen and dry a bit. All contestants will have the same difficulty, he said.

The top three in each class of husking advance to national competition, which will be held Oct. 20 in Greenville, Ohio.