The Corn Crib on the Grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association
Brian Wayne Wells
This article remains under construction. Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or current blocks of text will be corrected.
Starting in the annual show of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association began to demonstrate the farming chore of shelling ear corn. This chore was an annual wintertime event on the diversified farms located in the row-crop farming areas of the Midwestern United States in the era prior to the emergence of corn combines on diversified farms.
The corn shelling demonstration at the Pioneer Power Show was initiated by Bill Radil, a member of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, who was residing at the time in West Concord, Minnesota, when Bill purchased a Minneapolis-Moline Model D corn sheller.
Weighing 1,660 lbs. and with the capacity of shelling 175 to 300 bushels of ear corn per hour, the Model D was the smaller model of the two main corn sheller models manufactured by the Minneapolis-Moline Company headquartered in Hopkins, Minnesota. The larger model corn sheller produced by Minneapolis-Moline was the Model E, which was later improved and re-modeled as the Model EE.
The Bill Radil Model D brought the annual winter-time chore of corn shelling on the typical family-owned midwestern farm to the viewing public at the annual Pioneer Power Association Show held on the last full weekend in August.
However, the demonstration of corn shelling with a Model D corn sheller, complete with its “drag line” could be most accurately presented to the public as an authentic shelling field demonstration only by shelling corn out of a traditional corn crib rather than as a shelling of ear corn dumped from a wagon into the drag line of the corn sheller.
Consequently, Bill Radil found a small “single corn crib” on the farm of a neighbor, Bruce Freerkson in the same West Concord neighborhood in which Bill lived. Bruce and his wife had lived on their farm since about 1996. Before them the farm had belonged to the Albert and Golda (Ebeling) Arndt family. Albert and Golda had moved onto the farm shortly after their wedding in 1935. Although the little single corn crib on the farm was still in use and was filled in the autumn with ear corn that had been picked in the field, the corn crib was probably build at a generation earlier. A 1905 Plat book of Dodge County, Minnesota shows that the family of George W. Tabbett owned the farm. During the early 1900s, the corn on the average family farm in the midwestern United States ripe corn was cut in the autumn and placed in shocks in the field.
Traditionally, corn harvested in the fall of the year, had a moisture content of 22-25%. However, at the time of harvest, the moisture content of the corn could be as high as 28-32%. In order to dry the corn down to the ideal 18% moisture content for shelling the corn had to be exposed to the cold winter air. This could be done by placing the corn in shocks in the corn field. However, all of the corn would eventually have to be hand “shucked” (the removal of the ears of corn from the stalk and the husks.) This was a labor intensive operation that would employ all the members of the family during large portions of the winter. The horses would be hitched up to the wagon or sled and taken to the corn field in the cold winter months to pick up another load of corn shocks to be hand shucking by the family.
During these trips to the corn field to pickup corn shocks for hand shucking, the farmer would carry along a hatchet. In the heart of winter in Minnesota, the ground froze very hard. The hatchet was for chopping loose the bottoms of the corn shocks so that the corn could be loaded on the wagon or sleigh. This chopping of the bottom of the corn shocks was another tedious part of the back breaking job of collecting the corn shocks in the field.
In order to avoid the inconveniences of working in the cold and on the frozen ground of the corn field, the farmer would work hard earlier in the fall to get as much of the corn would be “shucked” as possible. Because this corn was shucked before it had a chance to completely dry in the field, the ears of corn would be stored in a small single corn crib. The by-product of the hand shucking process (the stalks and husks of the corn) would be fed to the cattle and/or pigs on the farm.
Like typical single corn cribs across the midwestern United States, Arndt/Freerkson single corn crib was no wider than eight (8) feet wide to allow the dry winter air to easily pass through the ear corn stored in the crib. This cold and dry winter air passing through the corn crib would finish drying the ear corn to 18% moisture content.
However, a couple of years after the Arndt/Freerkson corn crib had been brought to the Pioneer Power grounds, the storms of the winter and spring of 2009-2010 destroyed the small single Arndt/Freerkson corn crib when it was blown off its rock foundation.
After a couple of years without a corn crib at all at the annual Show, the Pioneer Power Association obtained another corn crib. This time a “double corn crib” was purchased from the Richard Dorzinski family living on a Sharon Township farm located on the south side of Minnesota Highway #26 about a mile east of the site of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Showgrounds. Owned at the time by Richard Francis Dorzinski, the farm had been in the Dorzinski family since Richard’s father, Albert Frank Dozinski, obtained the farm shortly before he was married in 1920. Indeed, Albert Dorzinski may well have built the double corn crib in the 1920s. The double corn crib consists of two eight (8) foot single corn cribs placed about eleven (11) feet apart and both the cribs and the space in between the cribs were covered by the same gambrel roof.
In the summer of 2012, the Dorzinski double corn crib was moved from the Albert and Ida Dorzinski farm to the Pioneer Power grounds. The short trip of about a mile was planned for the same day in 2012 as the move of the larger St. Joseph’s Church from the unincorporated settlement of Lexington, Minnesota to the Pioneer Power grounds. Movement of both building in the same day along Minnesota Route #26 would save money and labor by cutting the power and telephone lines along the route only once rather than twice. Once settled on the grounds, the Dorzinski double corn crib was anchored on top of the cement foundation that had been poured for it and was made ready for filling with corn in the fall of 2012. In the winter of 2012-2013 the Dorzinski corn crib was once again using the winter air to dry ear corn.
Enlargement of the corn crib on the average family farm in the Midwestern United States of America, became much more common in the 1920s because of the development of the mechanical corn picker. Mechanical picking of corn left the corn stalks in the field rather than taking them to the building site. Suddenly, the corn picker made it possible to complete the corn harvest in the Midwestern United States before the snows fell in the winter.
Following the purchase of Dorzinski double corn crib by the Pioneer Power Association, the building was moved from the Dorzinski farm to the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association. There the double corn crib was given a new cement block pillar foundation to house the new double corn crib, brought to the Pioneer Power Showgrounds, was secured to the foundation by anchor bolds. The Association was taking no chances that this new double corn crib would not be blown off its foundation. Then, a cement floor was laid in the alleyway of the corn crib.
This is the corn crib that continues to be used on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds through the present day. In the late autumn of each year, Dave Preuhs, founder of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association fills the corn crib with ear corn that he grows on his own farm. This corn is planted by a six-row corn planter that is not ordinarily used for the regular corn planting on the Preuhs farm. The wide rows of corn planted by the six-row planter allow Dave Preuhs to pick the corn to be stored in the Dorzinski corn crib with a 1974 New Idea Company corn picker fitted with a 3-row corn head made for picking 38 inch rows.
Once in the Dorzinski corn crib the corn crop dries out during the cold Minnesota winters on the Pioneer Power grounds. During the cold Minnesota winters, the cold dry air of winter passing through the wood slats of the Dorzinski corn crib will dry the ear corn down to at least 18% moisture content and will be ready for shelling.
The drying process in the corn crib begins as soon as the ear corn in placed in the shed. That sweet smell of field corn which permeates the air around the newly filled Dorzinski double corn crib in the early autumn is the process of the corn starting to give up its moisture content.
To aid in this process of drying, the efficient Model 737 husking bed of the pull-type corn picker owned by Dave Preuhs reduces the amount of “foreign matter” (husks and stalks) to less than 4% of the ear corn stored in the Dorzinski double corn crib.
Like the alleyways in double corn cribs on diversified farms all across the Midwest, (especially when provided with a cement floor) invites storage of vehicles and farm machinery on the average family farm. Accordingly, the alleyway of the Dorzinski double corn crib has become the winter storage place of the Bill Radil’s 1939 F-20 and the Wells family’s David Bradley large 126-bushel flare box mounted on a five-ton David Bradley wagon gear. This 1942 wartime Allis-Chalmers tractor and the David Bradley wagon are often used as a part of the corn shelling field demonstration at the annual Pioneer Power Show. (The above-mentioned David Bradley wagon gear and 126 bushel wagon box are taken up as the subject of an article contained at this website called “History of the David Bradley Company (Part II): Tractors and Wagons.”
However, there are some vehicles that should not be stored in the alleyway of the corn crib. As noted above, at picking time, the corn may have a moisture content as high as 32%. Accordingly, when the freshly picked corn is first stored in the corn crib will be very fragrant as the moisture in the ears of corn is leaving the corn and escaping into the cool air of the autumn. If, for instance the family car or the modern farm truck is parked in the alleyway of a freshly filled corn crib, the sweet smell of the corn will permeate the padding of the upholstery of the car or truck. So strong in the fragrance of corn that the fragrance will remain with the car or truck for many years after.
Luckily, as the winter weather sets in, the ear corn would become less and less fragrant until the moisture content of the corn is only 18-15%. At this stage there is only a “dry smell” in the corn crib. At this point the fragrance was largely gone and the family car and/or truck may once again be safely stored in the alleyway of the corn crib.
The typical corn crib should be no wider than eight (8) feet wide to allow the dry winter air to easily pass through the ear corn stored in the crib. However most times, two single cribs were built close to each other and connected with a common gambrel roof. Thus, the crib became known as a “double corn crib.”
As noted above, a double corn crib contains an alleyway between the two single corn cribs, which are joined by a gambrel roof to become a single building. The space above the alleyway might be finished out into grain bins which would store oats until they sold or fed to animals on the diversified farm or for storing soybeans until they were marketed at a nearby grain elevator.
The corn in the Dorzinski corn crib is not shelled out in the late winter or early spring as is the usual practice on diversified family farms all across the Midwestern United States. Rather the corn in the double corn crib continues to be stored until the annual show of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association held on the last full weekend in August each year.