CAMDEN – With a firm tug, the cornhusker rips a corn cob from the stalk, strips open the husk with a husking peg, shucks off the husk and silk, and with a flick of the wrist, throws the cob against the wagon’s “bang board.”
“Bang, bang, bang” is heard across a cornfield as corncobs hit backboards and drop into wagons during the annual “Battle of the Bangboards.”
Until self-propelled pickers entered cornfields around 1946, farmers hand-harvested acres of corn that stretched from horizon to horizon. They husked on hot, dusty days, and sometimes on wet days when the harvest could not wait, Frank Hennenfent said.
Hennenfent, who operates Cornhusker.com, is an expert – a national cornhusking champion.
“One year, the fields were so wet the competitors lost their boots in the field,” he said. “When the farmer went back to plow the field, he found all kinds of overshoes in the dirt.”
Henry A. Wallace started cornhusking competitions in 1922 to celebrate farm life and principles. From then until 1941, county, state and national competitions brought tens of thousands of spectators to communities across the Corn Belt, where they cheered competitors. In October 1940, more than 160,000 spectators in Davenport, Iowa, watched “the fastest-growing sporting spectacle in the world,” Time Magazine reported. For comparison, Soldier Field in Chicago holds 61,500 fans.
“In the early years, competitors would receive marriage proposals from women all over the country,” Hennenfent said. “Even now, some married couples meet for the first time at cornhusking competitions.”
In Lafayette and Ray counties, the cornhusking Stonner brothers are at the center of a mule tale involving the 1929 cornhusking championship contest.
The brothers – a quintet consisting of Rupert, Mark, Ed, Kermit and Fred – farmed with their father, Frank D., in the Egypt Bottoms of Lafayette County.
READ MORE ABOUT THE STONNER BROTHERS AND THE DEAD MULE IN FRIDAY'S RICHMOND NEWS