Corn Sheller

January 4, 2010 Leave a comment


The picture is of a machine that is used to shell a single ear of corn.  The ear of corn goes to the opening on the top.  Then you turn the wheel on the side.  The corn comes out at the bottom and the corn cob comes out through a slot at the front.  It may not look like much, however it is a wonderful piece of machinery.  The wheel at the side still turns easily and it does not require much in the way of strength or effort to operate.  I image that it could get tedious to shell a lot of corn with this, however it would not be physically tiring. 

As I am writing this I realize that I have never asked anyone who was old enough to know how this machine was used on a working farm.  I doubt that it was used to shell an entire crop of corn.  More than likely it was used to shell small amounts to use as needed for feed.  I suppose I should ask someone soon since there likely aren’t many old farmers still around who remember. 

I found another use for this machine in husking black walnuts.  I drop the walnuts in the top and the husks comes out on the bottom and the nut comes where the corn cob does. It definitely beats stomping on the husks or driving a car over them.  Although most years I still leave the black walnuts to the squirrels. I imagine that I may be lazier than my ancestors.  Or at least I am not compelled by necessity to work so hard for my food.

Categories: farm, Food, history, Images

Grain Elevator

December 2, 2009 2 comments


In most of the rural Midwest a grain elevator like the one in the picture are the tallest thing around.  When the railroads first came to this area their main purpose was to ship agricultural products. Stations were established about every six miles on the new railroads.  The six mile spacing was dictated by the limitations of how far farmers could haul their products in the days of horse farming.  Today in Central Illinois if you drive a road that runs beside a railroad you may notice that there is a town or at least an attempt at a town about every six miles. 

I would guess that most people today have no experience of what a grain elevator is used for.  At the most basic they are used to store the grain that farmers bring in until it is sold and shipped.  My experience with elevators is that of having helped my father harvest his crops. Most of the time I would wait in the field while a truck was filled with grain.  I remember reading a lot of books while I was waiting.  Once the truck was full I would drive it to the elevator.  Generally we used an elevator that was three miles from the field. When I came to the elevator my first stop was on a large concrete pad which was part of the scale that would weigh the truck when it was full. The truck would again be weighed after dumping the grain and that would determine how much grain was in that load.  While on the scale a probe would be lowered to take a sample of the grain.  The sample was used to tell how wet the grain is.  Grain needs to be at a certain moisture level before it can be stored.  Most of the time the grain from the field is too moist so it must be dried. By taking the moisture level when the grain comes in the elevator knows how much to charge the farmer for drying.

The weighing and the probing is done by a person in a building next to the scale.  My main memory of this experience is craning my neck to look back to the wave of the hand from the person inside the house that meant that I could move forward and dump my grain.  The grain was dumped in what looked like a long garage inside the actual elevator. There were metal grates on the floor where the grain that came out of the shoot at the back of the bed of the truck would go.  Sometimes there was more than one grate so you had to pay attention to the guys in the elevator to make sure you stopped at the right one.  Once you were in place all you had to do was to raise the bed of the truck and let the grain pore out.

Inside the elevator was very loud and dusty.  Part of the noise was due to the activity for which the elevator gets its name.  After the grain was dumped it would be elevated to shoots at the top of the elevator and moved to a bin.  If the grain was too moist it would be moved to a bin where the grain would have warm air blown through it to dry the grain out.  The dust in the elevator was came from the dust in the grain.  Corn seemed like it was the worst one for having a lot of dust.  The dust didn’t seem to bother most of the guys that worked inside the elevator.  I seldom remember seeing any of them wearing dust masks.  I even remember seeing one guy smoking a pipe while he unloaded the grain.  This was before it became common knowledge that grain dust could be pretty explosive stuff and smoking was banned inside elevators.  I guess we are lucky that we didn’t get blown up.

So there isn’t a lot more to it. I don’t remember any drama or even minor stories from the days when I was taking grain to the elevator.  It could be very pleasant driving back and forth on a lovely fall day.  Sometimes it was a strain when we started around dawn and didn’t stop till well after dark.  Still I thought that maybe a few people might be interested in knowing what goes on in these rural icons.

Categories: farm, image, Images

Christmas Lights and Thanksgiving

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment


I used the time that I was going to make a post yesterday to put up some Christmas lights.  I think I do this mostly in hopes that there will be snow and I can enjoy the reflections of the lights on the snow.  I suppose another reason is that I have a couple of nephews who are still young and who enjoy such things.  It is probably good for them to have some memories of their uncle doing something normal. 

This being a holiday week I find that I don’t have a lot of ambition.  Although I don’t require much inspiration to take things easy.  Anyway I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who should come upon this page. 

Categories: image, Images

Vanished Places

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment


I have started several posts this week, however none have been completed to my satisfaction.  I have been searching for images to go with one of the posts.  In that search I found one image that relates to my post earlier in the week about the importance of drainage tile.  The image above is a drawing of the Bernard Youngman Tile Factory in Pesotum Illinois.  I would imagine that much of the tile that was used here was made at this factory.  The Tile Factory also made bricks, however I don’t think that they sold many bricks since there are not many brick buildings in this area.  I can’t say for sure, however I would guess that this factory went out of business in the 1900’s.  Demand for tile had declined by then and it is likely that they could not compete with the larger brick factories like Danville Brick in Danville Illinois.  Whenever the factory did go out of business there is almost nothing that remains of it today.  The only possible remnant is a small brick building that I have been told was once part of the tile factory. 

For some reason the idea of a place that was once a place of vital activity in a community disappearing is fascinating to me.  There are a couple of other places like that in Pesotum.  The one I remember best is the grain elevator that used to be between the highway and the railroad.  For decades it was a center of activity during the fall harvest.  Because it was on a narrow strip of land and also very close to the Pesotum lumberyard you had to turn very sharply as you came down the ramp that exited the elevator.  In the late sixties a newer elevator was built at the edge of town and that eventually lead to the closing of the old elevator.  As I mentioned next to the elevator there was a lumberyard.  Like a lot of small town businesses the lumberyard was past its prime by the time I came along.  About the only thing I remember about it is my father telling me that his family once purchased their coal there and that the coal came in bags.  I believe that the fate of this lumberyard was to burn down in the late 70’s.  The fate of the elevator was to be torn down when the highway was widened in the 1980’s.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the old elevator.  It was a fairly substantial building being made of at least three concrete silos that could be seen for miles.  When it was gone it did leave a whole in the local skyline.  Now there is only a strip of grass between the highway and the railroad.  I imagine that it will not be long before it is forgotten that such a large and important building was there. 


The above picture is of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad Shops in Villa Grove Illinois.  The Photo is probably from sometime shortly after 1904 when the shops came to Villa Grove.  The C&EI shops were built to service steam engines and employed a lot of people in Villa Grove.  When diesel trains took over from the steam trains in the 1950’s the shops were closed.  Today the roundhouse pictured here along with the building to the left are still standing.  They were used for many years by an agricultural supply business, however they appear to have received little maintenance. 


Anyway it is interesting how often places that where once important vanish or fall into ruin.  Wish I could put all that together and reach a profound conclusion of some sort, however for now all I have is the observation.

Categories: history, image, Images, Places

Farmers Continue to have Trouble with Wet Weather

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment


I took this picture to show how wet it is here again.  After a two week break from the rain it has rained most of the day.  Even more rain is forecast for tomorrow.  I imagine it will be some time before farmers in Central Illinois will be able to get back in the fields.  Farmers in this part of Illinois have been battling wet fields every since they first came here. 

Central Illinois is well-known for being flat.  This whole area was underneath a large glacier as recently as 15,000 years ago.  That is so recent in geological time that the ground is still rising from when it was compressed by the glacier.  The glacier destroyed the natural drainage here so that this area was once a large wetland. The difficulties with drainage here made Central Illinois the last part of Illinois to be settled by Europeans.  It wasn’t until the 1850’s when the Illinois Central Railroad was built that large numbers came here to try to make farms.

Where I live I have heard that many of the original settlers came from a part of Germany that also had drainage problems.  So they had some expertise in draining land.   It appears that they would dig channels where the lay of the land would cause water to flow more quickly to the few rivers in the area.  These waterways look like small creeks, however most people here call them drainage ditches.  The next step was to lay clay tile underneath their fields to send water from the fields to the drainage ditches.  They needed a lot of clay tile and that made the making of these tiles into a major industry in the 19th century.  Most every town in the area had a factory that made clay tile and bricks.  By the start of the 20th century the land here had been provided with a new system of drainage that helped make this one of the most productive areas for agriculture in the World.

When I was a child the draining of our wetlands was presented as another of man’s victories over nature.  Nobody had any love for wetlands.  As I got older and learned more about wetlands it came to seem like a sad thing that such a large ecosystem was destroyed so thoroughly that today there are only very small remnants.

I did when I was a child consider myself fortunate that one of these drainage ditches was so close to my house.   We did give our drainage ditch the dignity of calling it a creek.  There was a lot of good clay along the creek and I spent a lot of time building miniature cities.  Sometimes the cities would have a harbor that I made wooden boats for.  I suppose it was my own way of joining in the reshaping nature that was so much considered one of the glories of that time. 

Categories: farm, image, Images, musing

Changes in Farming and Harvest Update

November 14, 2009 1 comment


Most of the fields are starting to look like the one in the picture.  I would guess that here in Central Illinois that almost all the soybeans have been harvested along with 70 percent of the corn. The weather has been dry for the past two weeks.  If it were not for the grain elevators not being able to keep up with handling the corn harvest would probably be over by now.  Yesterday the local elevator only stayed open until noon.  Tomorrow we may be in for another spell of wet weather.  At least it looks like there is a chance for rain each day for the next several days. 

After the fields are clear farmers don’t have as much to do as they once did.  Now I am not a farmer, however I still live in a farm area.  My best knowledge of farming comes from when I was growing up on a farm in the 60’s and 70’s. At that time I actually did some farm work.  My current knowledge comes from having a father who is still somewhat involved in farming and from observation. 

Two things that farmers do after harvest is apply fertilizer and add soil amendments like lime.  The vast majority of farmers do not do this themselves. Instead the companies that sell these products also apply them.  These companies are fairly big employers in rural areas.  Many kids who grew up on farms, but who cannot find a place in farming go to work for these companies.  My understanding of why some farmers apply fertilizer in the Fall is to save some time in the spring in that it may allow them to plant sooner.  The disadvantage is that the fertilizer can wash off during the winter.  This runoff accounts for some of the high nitrate levels which are found in the water in places that rely on surface water. 

Fall tillage is the main post harvest task for farmers.  And it is in the area of tillage where farming has changed a great deal.   Once a major task for everyone was fall plowing.  This involved turning the soil over so that it was exposed in big chunks.  During the winter the freezing and thawing cycle would break these chunks up so that they could be more easily tilled in the Spring.  The trouble with this fall plowing is that it left the bare soil exposed to the elements all winter.  And bare soil generally will erode at a great rate.  It took some time for farmers to admit that this was a problem.  And it was mostly the incentives in various government farm programs that lead farmers to practice the minimal tillage of today.  Once my father plowed all of his fields in the fall.  Now he just disks the corn fields to break up the stalks and he does nothing to the soybean fields.  Most farmers take a similar approach. It has been a long time since I have seen a plowed field.

If you could take a farmer from thirty years ago and bring him into the present in say January or so, the first thing he would notice is that none of the fields are plowed.  If you could do the same for some farm kids of that time they would notice that there is no source for dirt clod fights.  A dirt clod fight is when we would go out into a plowed field with the lids from metal garbage cans for shields and throw dirt clods at each other.  We usually did this in the late winter when the soil had broken up.  Generally it was considered bad form to not hit the other guys shield, however it did happen.  Still I don’t remember anyone ever being seriously hurt. Mostly it was just a way to get outside and burn off some energy after a cold winter.  And most farm boys, myself included, back in those days very much liked to throw things.

Categories: farm, history, image, Images, Seasons

Thank a Conscientious Objector

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

They do perform a service to their country even though their efforts are often belittled.  And such a belief might serve every country well if it were widely followed.  I imagine that many would think it naive or worse to think that such a thing could ever happen.  Still there are examples of where individuals have refused to take part in war even at great personal cost.  So the will to reject war as a solution is within the parameters of human potential.  And what some people have been able to do others can do also if they make the choice to do so.

To me the total rejection of the use of war seems similar to the need for an addict to reject drugs in order to recover.  I imagine that to most this seems extremely unrealistic.  Still with the human capacity to rationalize there may be some truth in that total abstinence from war is the only solution.

I got to thinking about this yesterday on Veteran’s Day.  It seems like for thousands of years we have been thanking and even glorifying warriors.  And yet the things that their wars were meant to prevent keep happening and often one war plants the seeds for a more terrible war to follow.   To me it seems like we have been in a pretty futile cycle for a long time.  Maybe the example of the conscientious objector offers a way to break that cycle.  And maybe if this world one day does become a much saner place to live we will have a day to thank the conscientious objector.

Categories: musing, Opinion