Thanksgiving Greetings

The corn stalks shown here were bundled together and tied up to dry before harvesting the corn, once a common practice before mechanical harvesters were invented. This photo was taken on an Amish farm along Highway 34 west of Murray in Clarke County in 2012.

A corn story

Today’s feature will focus on various types of corn (maize) which have been grown for thousands of years and is cultivated worldwide. Much of the corn grown in Iowa is field corn, also called dent corn, because every kernel has a dent. (See photo below.) It is destined for livestock feed, ethanol, cereals, and many other uses.

A favorite summertime food is sweet corn, a variety that contains more natural sugars than other types of corn.

Indian corn (flint corn) might be red, white, blue, black, or multi-colored and is used by Native Americans for food. It is also often used for fall decorations. Note that it is not dented. See examples below.

Nebraska is the number one producer of popcorn in the country today. It contains water stored inside that expands when heated bursting the kernels. Shown are strawberry popcorn and several other varieties.

Pod corn, a heirloom variety believed to be a spontaneous mutation, is unusual because each tiny kernel is enclosed in a husk. It is not grown commercially but seed can be found if you wish to grow your own. See photo below.

The Cracker Jack story

Cracker Jack made Odebolt famous. In 1911, 12,000,000 pounds of popcorn were shipped, making it the “popcorn center of the world,” and in 1915 local farmers produced three-fourths of the world’s supply.

Back in 1890 A.C. Petersmeyer of Odebolt started a grain business and contracted with Rueckheim Bros. in Chicago to supply popcorn, and it was even sold at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The name “Cracker Jack” was registered in 1896, along with the slogan ‘The more you eat the more you want.” It wasn’t long before improvements were made in packaging and developing a seal to keep the popcorn fresh, making it available in stores everywhere. Each box contained a toy until 2016, when it was replaced by a QR code used to download a game.

Two gigantic cribs built in 1922 to store locally grown popcorn still stand on Highway 175 at the northeast corner of Odebolt. There were six more cribs at one time in other places around town and some were in use until 1964. All of those are gone. Only the two shown above still exist.

Nine barn quilts, 8 x 8 feet, plus two smaller versions were added about six years ago, paid for by the advertisers shown, and are a focal point as one drives north out of town on County Road M43. The second crib, with a steel roof, is being used for storage.

Pictured below is the “barn quilt” advertising Cracker Jack. The Cracker Jack product was purchased by Borden in 1964 and sold to Frito-Lay in 1997. Popcorn is no longer a product stored in Odebolt, but its legacy remains. It is available online or in select stores where candy is sold. Below is a bag purchased in Omaha for $1.78, one of several varieties available today.

Creekside e-bikes

This 1931 barn in the Kalona area still says “Joe P. Gingerich,” but it has a new use and a new owner–a shop where you can buy the latest electric-assist bike from Victor Yoder. Victor introduced e-bikes to the area in October 2020 and caters to the general public as well as New Order Amish, of which he is a member. Assisting him is his brother Eric. New Order Amish make use of power sources off the grid: solar power, a bank of batteries, and a diesel generator for their farm operations.

Victor has transformed this 90-year old barn from a home for livestock to a showroom and a workroom where repairs and adaptations are made, even converting an ordinary bicycle to an e-bike. To go 30 to 60 miles on a single charge is a convenience when visiting friends and neighbors, as well as a time saver to get bike supplies, food, and other necessities.

In addition to this new business Victor joins the list of over 50 goat dairies in the area, where he milks 300 goats twice daily and also raises about 300 goats for milking stock. He’s a busy man.

Above is a view of the barn and the new dairy buildings. The evolving story of this 90-year old barn is detailed on page 149 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today. Need an e-bike? Victor would be happy to assist you in your selection at 5592 Sharon Center Road SW, Kalona. (2021 photos)

Commercial seed corn production

Seed experts they were! The McGreer brothers, Joe, John, and Frank, owned the 1200-acre Sunny Side Seed Farm in Montgomery County near Coburg. Corn was one of their specialties and high quality seed was essential. In the above photo, we see men who were hired to harvest corn on four separate farms. This enabled a number of varieties to be grown without a concern for cross-pollination.

Here is a brief description of the harvesting process as written in their seed catalog:“Between September 15 and October 15 we take a big bunch of men and go down the corn rows, pulling open the husks, looking at the ears and stalks to see if the ear will do to carry to the seed house. We only examine the large ears in the field, of course, and only bring in about 1/3 of those we examine.” 

The corn was then loaded on wagons and hauled to the seed house. Imagine the work required for drying. “Our picked in a sack and dried on a rack” describes the corn seen in the postcard below. 

Based on dates in customer reviews printed in the 1913-1923 catalogs, the company probably was in existence at the turn of the century. A farm of this size with so many products for sale in this time period is an amazing feat. They sold a number of varieties of seed corn, with yields from 60 to 100 bushels per acre, as well as oats, barley, maize, red clover, timothy, many garden vegetable seeds, baby chicks, and more. 

In 1900 Coburg was a thriving town of 164 persons. A CB&Q branch line passed through the town, and was known for shipping of grain. The crates of corn shown below probably were shipped by rail. 

(Note: A man who lives in the area saw my barn book and offered to copy several McGreer seed corn booklets he owned. I am grateful for his offer, as it enabled me to write a more complete story than what is found in my book.)

On a smaller scale, a Union County farmer impaled ears of corn on nails for drying, but would have needed a ladder to accomplish this feat. Not many ears remained in the barn in this 1980 photo but maybe he had removed enough for spring planting. Since the kernels were not yellow, but white and varying shades of red, it appears to be popcorn. 

Stone City barn/house

This IS a barn! This massive Jones County limestone barn was built by J. A. Green in 1889, who was the owner and founder of Champion quarry. Here he housed his draft horses and workers who worked at the quarry, and later race horses (2015 photo). For more about the barn and its history, see page 54 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today.

The Green mansion, located on a nearby hill, is gone. Green’s quarry office, pictured below, also built in 1889, is now a residence. (2021 photo)

In 2001 Stan and Debra Berberich purchased this massive barn near Stone City and converted it to their home. However, the family has continued to share it with thousands of visitors over the last twenty years. Below are two rooms inside used to entertain various groups as well as provide for their family of seven children and  twenty-four grandchildren. Their generosity of sharing this treasure is commendable. (2015 photos below)

A treasure restored

Treasures abound everywhere in Iowa, and in the McClelland area in Pottawattamie County it is the Hartwell farm. Dave and Jean Hartwell had a faded photo but wished they could see more beyond the brown haze. The restored photo shows fruit trees in bloom and a good view of the home built in 1908 using a Sears house plan, the second home on the site.

The photo of the whole farmstead taken around 1910 shows an active scene: calves scattered in several lots, a few pigs, a few chickens, and a buggy hitched to two horses in the center. The entrance from the road was changed at some point in time and now leads directly to the small 1906 horse barn in the center. The large barn on the right is gone.

The farm has been in the Hartwell family since 1891. Below is the horse barn, accompanied by a photo after its restoration was completed in 2020.

Threshing #2

What an advertising card this is!

The previous Blog, #28, featured early threshing techniques; here is a new invention for harvesting used in pioneer days. This late 1870s ad for a harvester and binder was a wonder. It was led by two horses and operated by a man in a hat looking like a gentleman farmer. The machine mowed the wheat and tied it in bundles, which were then left to dry in the field before threshing.

Forward to the 1920s in Story County near Zearing. Since the invention of the harvester and binder in the above ad, several machines were invented that speeded up the process.

It’s difficult to see the threshing machine in this photo since the emphasis is on photographing the farmers involved. Near the barn several men are holding white bags for the grain that goes down a tube into the sacks. The straw that was left was moved up the ramp to the loft of this well-built barn with a chain-driven elevator, whose mechanism is not obvious in this photo. Many hands make light work, or lighter work, of a job that would have been dusty and hot.

Did it really take 18 men to do this job? That’s how many are in the photo. The McCormick invention could not accomplish everything, as many men were needed to load the bundles on a rack to transport them to the threshing machine.

Events like this one are important documentation of what farming was like in early days. Today, gigantic air-conditioned combines cut the grain, send it to an attached wagon, and then drop the straw in the field to be baled later.


Forty-two years ago this month there was an article about me in the Des Moines Sunday Register. I had received a small grant to study Iowa barns and promote the idea of saving them. Letters by the dozens soon made their way to my mailbox in Creston telling me about barns to visit, even several just addressed to “The Barn Lady, Creston, Iowa.” Five years and 300 programs later we moved to Omaha and the barn story slept until I retired from teaching in 2012. Six years later my book Iowa Barns yesterday and today was completed. The barn story by the “Barn Lady” continues bi-weekly with new updates and new stories.

Today the subject is threshing.

South of Monticello in Jones County is what is believed to be a threshing barn (2021 photo). The internal space in this small limestone barn is open from floor to ceiling, with space on both sides to store bundles of grain. Doors on the north and south provided ventilation to assist in blowing out the chaff. This barn is small, so flailing would have been the means of separation. In later times, animals, typically oxen, were tethered to a center post and walked in circles, their hooves separating the grain from the stems. 

South of Monticello in Jones County is what is believed to be a threshing barn (2021 photo). The internal space in this small limestone barn is open from floor to ceiling, with space on both sides to store bundles of grain. Doors on the north and south provided ventilation to assist in blowing out the chaff. This barn is small, so flailing would have been the means of separation. In later times, animals, typically oxen, were tethered to a center post and walked in circles, their hooves separating the grain from the stems. 

Today’s machinery combines the harvesting and separating of the grain as one operation. Of course, we call this machine a “combine.” Isn’t technology great?

Scale houses

Scale houses were common on farms decades ago but are a thing of the past. Look around as you travel rural roads and you will see scale houses of various sizes and shapes that still exist.

Blog #26 featured the Mills farm barns in Madison County. Here is a look at the farm’s scale house where grain or livestock was weighed. Note the high doors where wagons, a hayrack, or a livestock trailer could enter unobstructed. It was also a “drive through,” with doors on both ends. The scales inside, pictured below, are still intact, date back to the turn of the 20th century, and could be used today if needed. (2021 photos)

On a farm in Monona County one mile north of Blencoe is a scale house with the scale mechanism inside and the wooden platform outside that dates to 1936. (2015 photo)

Scale houses are very diverse in shape and size. North of Winterset along Hwy. 169 in Madison County is one that dates to 1917. The doors on the upper level provide access to bins for storage of grain, an unusual feature in a scale house. Originally there were also cribs on each side.