HARTINGTON — Four generations of the Paul Korth family competed in the 2017 Nebraska State Hand Cornhusking Contest near Gothenburg Sept. 16.
Korth, who lives east of Randolph, took first place in his division in this year’s State competition. The 2016 competition was also a winning year for Korth.
This year’s event was a four-generation affair for the Korth family.
Two of Paul’s sons, Brian of Randolph, and Craig, of Thornton, Colo.; and grandson Travis and his son Dayton, of Belden, all participated in the event.
Paul’s great-grandson, Dayton, a six year-old student at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School, earned a special award in the 12-and-under division at the State Hand Cornhusking contest.
“Dayton wanted to pick corn – so he did it,” Paul said. “I was really excited to have family there. I was able to watch some of them do some hand picking.”
Korth has been taking in the State Hand Cornhusking contests for six years. Four years out of the six years, he has won the top place in the Golden Agers division, which features those who are 75 years and over. He was runner-up the other two years.
This will be Paul’s last time at the cornhusking competitions.
“I started when I was 80, and I am 86 now. This was my last year to compete,” he said.”
Paul will still be headed to the Oct. 21 National Cornhusking contest in Marshall, Missouri.
“You have to qualify to go to Nationals,” Paul said. “The top three from State go to Nationals.”
Paul has been the runner-up at National competition twice, in 2014 and again in 2016.
He has enjoyed the opportunity he had to meet people from across the country at Nationals.
“It has been good to visit with some of the other people. I have got to know a few of them,” Paul said. “There is a comradery among us. We talk about cornhusking and help each other with advice.”
Paul’s experience with hand picking/husking corn by hand goes back to when he was a young boy in Cedar County.
He remembers picking corn by hand back in 1948.
“My dad had wanted to have a corn picker. He didn’t like corn pickers,” Paul said. “The corn pickers they had at first didn’t do a good job like they do now.“
Preparation for the contests for Paul usually involved doing some hand corn picking previous to the day of the contest.
“The state competition was a little earlier this year so it was hard to do,” he said.
At the State contests, participants draw for the area where they will be picking corn.
The divisions for younger participants include 20 minutes and there is also a division that has 30 minutes.
Paul hand picked and husked corn for 10 minutes in the Golden Ager’s division.
“You work straight through for 10 minutes,” he said.
Hand picking and husking corn is tedious, exhausting work.
A driver with a team of mules or horses pulls a wagon beside the picker as they move down the row of corn.
A small wrist or thumb hook is attached to the pickers dominate hand with leather straps that go around the fingers and wrists.
The picker grabs the ear of corn with the other hand. He then uses the metal hook on his dominate hand to rip the husk open, reach in and break the ear of corn off the shank leading to the stalk. In a continuous motion the ear of corn is thrown into the wagon.
“There should be a lot of shucks left on the stalk when you are done,” Paul said. “You have to pick clean.”
Following behind the picker is a referee, who carries a stop watch, and one or two gleaners, who make sure there are no ears that were missed.
“You can lose points if you leave corn. It counts against you by three. The husks that are on the ears of corn are counted and that also can go against your score,” Paul said. “They weigh out 20 lbs of corn that was picked and the women look at the corn and take every feather that was left on the ear and put it in a container. Anything over five ounces and you have points taken away.”
Paul said his Dad was very strict on having the corn picked clean. Husks left on the corn can gather moisture and cause mold. If that happens you could get docked on the corn when it is sold.
Memories of a brother had motivated Paul to become involved in the Hand Cornhusking Contests.
Paul’s brother, Harold Korth, who had lived in the Randolph area, started competing in the State contests in 1937 and continued until he lost his life in a car accident.
“His son Rick used to compete in the State and Nationals also. They had both won their division at Nationals,” Paul said.
This year, the Nationals at Marshall, Missouri, where Paul will compete, will be at the same location where his brother had also competed.
Paul and his wife Shirley, live east of Randolph. Shirley had previously lived in the Coleridge area.