Before modern combines changed the way corn is harvested, the process for drying corn was shocking.
Gloria Miller described the traditional process of setting up cornstalks in shocks as "so picturesque."
For Miller, a past officer of the South Lake County Agricultural Historical Society, devoted to historic preservation and education, farmers drying corn this way “rekindles images of the Pilgrims … the things you see this time of year.”
Miller recalled “Injun Summer,” a drawing by newspaper cartoonist John T. McCutcheon from the early 1900s. The drawing depicts an old man and a boy beside a cornfield. While the adult sees cornstalks, the boy sees Indians and teepees — images from the field’s past.
Similarly, people today see old-fashioned farming. Miller said, “They see these things, but they don’t know how it’s done.”
That’s where the historical society steps in. For 33 years, the group has been educating adults and youth on farm life prior to modern machinery. That includes shocking corn. This old-time process involves cutting the cornstalk at the ground, binding the corn into six to eight stalks, and then tying those small bundles into larger bundles, or shocks. The shocks are then set aside for drying, a process which could take several months.
Working in the pre-combine era, the society’s Bill Wiater explained, farmers shocked corn to prevent wet corn from rotting on the ground.
As society president Perry McLemore explained, the process begins with binding done by machine, followed by shocking done by volunteers. When initially picked, corn may hold 15-22 percent water, which is too much, McLemore said. Shocking can reduce that moisture down to 7 percent by January, which is acceptable.
Historical society members recently gathered bundles for nearly 20 shocks. They loaded those shocks onto wagons for storage and later use or display.
“We’re an educational society,” Wiater said. “We want to keep history alive.”
Kelly Miller, the society’s vice president, explained that shocking continued through the early decades of the 20th century. Combines reduced that process of taking corn from field to elevator from months to under an hour.
For those early farmers, Kelly Miller explained, “Corn was their livelihood, their food, their cattle’s food. Nothing went to waste.”
That included stalks, which could be used for animal bedding or food and seasonal decorative purposes. Corn also is used in ethanol, a fuel for vehicles.
Among those watching and photographing the shocking was Wehlan Triedbold, who had farmed corn, oats and beans near Crete.
“This is like when we were farming,” said Triedbold, 84, who farmed into his 70s. He recalled feeding shocked corn to cows, then mixing the remainder with blackstrap molasses, which livestock loved.
Watching this age-old process in action, McLemore said, “It’s all about preserving the past. I want to keep the visions of the past alive. You have to see where you’ve been before you can go forward.”