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State cornhusking contest to highlight Harvest Festival

When Roland Lauer of Gothenburg graduated from grade school somewhere around 65 years ago, he started picking corn by hand.

As he walked the rows in his father’s fields, there was some good-natured competition among the entire crew. They maybe even teased each other about who could pick the most or the best.

“We didn’t have hybrid corn, and one of the neighbors planted it,” the farmer says. “We picked for him and came home and we demanded dad plant hybrid corn.”

It made for easier picking and better corn, he says.

Decades later, hybrids became as commonplace as the combines that harvested the crop, and the sport of corn husking had been reinvigorated.

Lauer was surprised to find himself registered to compete in a formal contest.

“My son signed me up,” he says now laughing. “I must have bragged about it a little too much.”

He went on to win and even made time to travel to nationals on occasion.

This fall, Gothenburg residents will have a chance to see the state’s hand cornhusking competition up close from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 17.

The Gothenburg Chamber ag committee is organizing the event in conjunction with the annual Harvest Festival. The Cozad Chamber’s ag committee is assisting.

“This year’s festival theme is ‘Vintage Gothenburg,’ which fits well with the contest that really highlights our ag heritage,” says committee chair Shannon Peterson.

Aside from the morning parade, all annual activities will be at the Jim and John Hecox farm south of town. This includes craft and food vendors, a kids’ area, a pedal tractor pull and antique tractor displays.

“The competition is a state-wide event, so we’re excited to have an expanded audience to take in all of our traditional fun. We expect visitors from across Nebraska,” Peterson says.

Cornhusking contests first started when that was a common harvest method, but World War II and tough economic times caused organizers to pause for several decades. The sport started gaining popularity again in the 1970s.

But there’s always been a constant: The same qualities that would have made somebody a good picker on a 1920s farm are the ones that will win a contest today.

“You’ve got to be fast, but you’ve got to be clean,” says Dick Humes, 2015 national corn husking historian.

During the allotted time, a judge and a gleaner follow a contestant with a bag. They pick up what’s missed and weigh that, issuing deductions for every left-on-the-ground pound. They also sample what’s picked and discount the husks.

“They didn’t want a dirty load of corn to go in the cribs,” Humes explains. “That’s one way they controlled rodents, because there wasn’t anything for them to hide in except corn and they wanted something to make a nest out of.”

Today, state and national hand cornhusking contests involve a lot preparation: planting certain hybrids at specified spacing, lining up teams of horses and wagons and lining up volunteers.

“There are jobs for just about everybody,” Peterson says. “We’re actively seeking people to help with setup and throughout the day of the event, everything from registration to gleaners and judges.”

The planners hope Gothenburg residents enjoy all the added activities, Peterson says.

“We are such an agriculturally centered community that it’s fun to step back and remember what it was like on the farm years ago,” she says. “We’re really excited about our location and hope that it draws not only the regulars but also those who have never experienced hand cornhusking before.”

That’s exactly what’s happened with Lauer—the sport has become a family affair. Four of his grandchildren regularly participate.

“They like to compete against each other,” he says.

It’s a sport that spans generations and keeps one connected to the other.

Simply put, “it’s a good challenge,” Lauer says.

To learn more about how to participate or volunteer, or to reserve vendor space, call the Gothenburg Chamber at 537-3505.

 

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