On the corner of...

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 8:15am
Category: 
The corn sheller. Photo by Ned Phillips, Jr.

The tools of dawn-to-dusk sustenance farming sit quietly. One is a wooden box with a crank on its side, its red paint faded. It is on a stand, heavy and awkward, and spills kernels of dry corn when jogged.

Edith Littlefield Blane remembers being put to work manning one of these contraptions, a corn sheller. 

“As a small girl growing up in the 1930s on Block Island, we were expected to take on chores as soon as we had grown enough to reach tables, etc. Because we had no running water, electricity, or a bathroom, just the mechanics of living were a battle. Washing clothes was a nightmare not to mention chopping wood for the old cook stove in the kitchen, which provided our only source of heat. I don’t know how my mother ever did it. Because we had a small farm with cows, pigs, chickens, and a horse, just feeding all of them took lots of time, night and morning. When I reached the age of seven, one of my winter chores was to go to the corn crib and ‘shell’ the dried corn for the chickens. When I looked at the sheller at the Historical Society, I had a memory of that job I hated most... inside it you would see three or four iron hooks attached to a wheel. On top is an opening to put the dried corn in. The wheel had to be turning as the corn cobs were added — it would jam if too many ears were put in at one time. Just picture a small girl — I was scrawny and short — doing all that. The noise was deafening.”

Everything was used.

“Once the kernels had been stripped off the cobs, I had to make sure they were all saved,” Edie said. “My father used the corn cobs to fuel a slow fire when hams were ready to be smoked after the yearly butchering.” 

Shellers are still made and used today, some variation on the same mechanical design contained within the wooden box in the house on the corner of past and present.