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Thanksgiving, harvest memories coincide for Illinois farmer

corn binder was pulled through the field

Many of Walt Townsend’s harvest memories coincide with Thanksgiving, which usually meant the end of the crop year.

“I vividly remember on Thanksgiving day the neighbors brought their corn shredder over and we took a tractor and flatbed wagons to the field and hauled in corn that had been shocked,” he said. “We ran the stalks and ears through the shredder. It would shuck the ears and chop up the stalk and blow it into our hay mound.”

Townsend, who will turn 76 on Christmas, grew up on a farm near Effingham, Illinois. His family’s equipment included a Farmall H tractor and International corn binder. They also owned a Great American brand corn picker.

“The corn binder was pulled through the field,” he said. “It would cut stalks off, tie them in bundles and drop them on the ground. We could come along and put 10 to 12 of these bundles into what we called a shock, which included the whole stalk, the ear, everything.”

He recalls one harvest year when the family first had turkey for Thanksgiving. The bird wasn’t a Butterball pulled from the refrigerated section at a Kroger.

“We had a neighbor not far away who grew some turkeys, and we bought one,” Townsend said.

The smells of the turkey baking in the oven and the freshly cut corn stalks stay with him.

“I remember the sweet smell from that corn shredder,” he said.

The family grew corn, soybeans and wheat on the 160-acre farm. They also had cattle, horses, hogs and sheep. Most of the corn was used as fodder.

“About the only thing we took to the market were soybeans,” Townsend said.

Another memory is of an older neighbor who helped with harvest and other tasks because he owned some equipment.

“We called him Fat Having (with a long A),” Townsend said. “He was as skinny as a rail. He had been in the military, and I remember him sitting straight up on that tractor like he was at attention.”

Another military memory came at harvest. His father made sure everyone stopped what they were doing and remained silent for a few minutes at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 each year, to commemorate the end of World War I.

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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