By DARCY DOUGHERTY
Farm News staff writer
Paul Schaeffer, of Colo, said he enjoyed running a mounted, two-row corn picker on Saturday, at a unique harvest event at Don Struthers’ farm, north of Collins.
COLLINS - In the 1950s and 1960s, every good Iowa farmer had a few basic implements to get the work done, including a plow and a mounted corn picker.
By the 1970s, however, the rise of self-propelled, modern combines left countless corn pickers stranded in groves, behind the barn or in junk piles at the salvage yard.
For the operational rigs that are left, however, Don Struthers, of Collins, wanted to give these workhorses one more chance to bring in the harvest.
"I think it's important to preserve our history,"?Struthers said, "but what do you do with this equipment?
"You can't take a mounted picker on a tractor ride, so I decided to harvest some corn with mine."
Struthers, who remembers his family using an International 2MH picker on an Farmall M, as well as a John Deere 234 mounted on a John Deere 720 tractor, had plenty of pickers in his personal collection to choose from.
He has at least 13 mounted corn pickers that are operational, along with four or five others that he keeps for spare parts.
He planted 15 acres of corn this spring in 38-inch rows, anticipating a day this fall when he could gather his friends and neighbors for a corn picking get-together, complete with John Deere 227 and 237 pickers, two New Idea 319s, an Oliver Model 4 picker and International 2MH and 234 pickers.
That day came on Oct. 22, when friends and neighbors helped run the pickers at Struthers' farm and brought small wagons to haul freshly picked ears of corn to a sheller set up in the field by Loren Book, a Minneapolis-Moline farm equipment collector from Nevada.
The shelled corn could then be delivered to the elevator or fed to livestock, said Struthers, who noted that he and his wife, Sharon, planned to serve lunch for 50 people.
"I applaud Don and anyone else who holds an event like this," said Mike Kalsem, who farms near Huxley, and ran an Oliver corn picker during the harvest party.
"Looking at vintage farm equipment on display is one thing, but to see it in action is so much better, because that's what this equipment was built for."
While Struthers doesn't recall exactly when he started collecting mounted corn pickers, he joked that his family is ready for him to find a stopping point.
Still, he said, it's hard for him to turn down the opportunity to acquire unique pieces, like a rare Massey Ferguson picker in Kansas that he purchased for $400. "My brother Chuck is an auction junkie, so I come across pickers that way, too," said Struthers, who has farmed full time since 1962. "I collect the stuff I was thinking about as a kid when I was sitting in English class."
Most of the time, Struthers gets his corn pickers for one bid over the junk price, and sometimes he acquires a picker for free from someone who'd rather give it away than haul it away. The biggest challenge is finding parts for the old equipment, said Struthers, who added that it was no small task to get all the tractors and pickers ready for his harvest event this fall.
"I used 10 gallons of oil just to lubricate the chains on the pickers," said Struthers, who can recall how it would take all day for a farmer to get a tractor ready when it was time to put on a mounted corn picker. Any engine work on the tractor, including an oil change, would have to be done before the picker was mounted. Also, the tires had to be set as wide as possible to accommodate the picker. In addition, screens had to be installed along the sides of the tractor to keep corn husks and trash out of the engine.
If the picker didn't include its own mounting frame, a separate mounting frame would have to be installed on the tractor before the picker could be positioned. "It's a lot easier to do all this today than it was years ago, because we've got hydraulic jacks and impact wrenches now," said Struthers, who can recall what a dirty job corn picking could be, since trash and dust would often blow around the tractor driver.
Traces of the past are reflected in the present
While the technology in the corn pickers from the 1950s and 1960s may seem primitive by today's standards, traces of harvest innovations from this era have been incorporated into modern combines. "Some of the old pickers, like the Allis Chalmers, had stripper plates like we see on combines today," Struthers said.
While Struthers and his friends have no desire to go back to farming with corn pickers, it's fun to reminisce for a day. "Farming was a lot of hard work in the old days, but I was smiling all the up and down the row as I picked corn today," said Paul Schaeffer of Colo.
The corn picking event also offered a unique learning experience for the younger generation, including Struthers' grandchildren, who sparked his interest in preserving a piece of Iowa's ag heritage. "I always wanted to give my family the opportunity to farm," said Struthers, whose sons, Dave and Dan, and daughter, Deb, all farm in central Iowa. "I also want to leave a legacy for my grandchildren, and the corn pickers are part of this."