Nebraska Farmer was one of the sponsors of the national hand cornhusking contest that took place on the Ben Stalp farm outside West Point in 1933. The event, which garnered tens of thousands of visitors, was covered by national news and sports outlets, including NBC.
Agricultural athletes of the day, who competed against each other to see who could pick the most corn by hand, were interviewed during the festivities like modern-day sports superstars.
The national champion husker that year was fittingly from Nebraska. Sherman Henriksen, who farmed east of Lincoln, picked 38.36 bushels to take home the championship. In an interview with Nebraska Farmer after the contest, Henriksen told writer Dwight Howard that he liked to train at home. Although most of the other huskers in the event came in before the contest to practice, Henriksen preferred to drive the 100 miles to the contest that same day and get his training in his own fields beforehand.
While the art of picking corn by hand — along with the thumping sound of ears of corn hitting a bangboard and the coaxing yells of farmers directing their teams of horses — seems long gone, it lives on at the annual state hand cornhusking contest. This year’s event is being hosted at the Nebraska Prairie Museum near Holdrege on Sept. 25.
The old contests seemed like a big fair, with exhibits, demonstrations and lots of time for entertainment and socializing. The same is true for the more modern version.
According to a news release from the Nebraska Prairie Museum, registration for entries starts at 8 a.m., with opening ceremonies and the national anthem beginning at 9 a.m. All ages are welcome to participate, with awards being distributed for first-place winners.
The picking order, according to division, will be novices first, followed by out-of-staters, then women ages 15-20, men ages 15-20, women ages 75-plus, men ages 75-plus, girls ages 14 and younger, boys ages 14 and young, women ages 50-plus, men ages 50-plus, women ages 21-49, men ages 21-49, followed by the women’s open of any age and the men’s open of any age.
But the hand cornhusking is just part of the festivities. Living history demonstrators will be located inside and outside the main museum building all day, with demonstrations including blacksmithing, pottery, quilting, two-man sawing, weaving and knitting, along with mountain men demonstrations. Food trucks are on-site all day to feed visitors and husking entrants, and the event is free to the public.
In 2020, Riley Guthrie, 32, from Alma, Neb., shucked the most corn in the men’s open 30-minute class with a net score after deductions of 619.20. Harrison Kranz, 16, of Lincoln took second.
The women’s open 20-minute class was won by Ayme Barry from Raymond, with a net score of 267.60. Briana Kraenow from Gibbon came in second. From the results pages from last year, it appears that George Perlinger, age 97 from Elsie, was among the oldest participants in 2020, placing fourth in the men’s age 75-plus class.
How about the national champ?
But what ever became of that 1933 national champion cornhusker? It was noted in the 100th anniversary issue of Nebraska Farmer published in 1959 that Henriksen earned a prize of $100 for his championship effort. He quit husking competitively four years later in 1937, because the 5-foot-10, 190-pound farmer had entered the Husking Kings Sweepstakes and was considered a pro athlete at cornhusking by that time.
That last year that he competed, he placed second to Fred Stanek, with a difference of only 1.64 pounds, or about three ears of corn. When Howard interviewed Henriksen for the anniversary issue, Henriksen said that he bought a mechanical corn picker in 1944, thus ending his days with a husking hook.
Learn more at the Nebraska State Hand Cornhusking Facebook page or visit nebraskaprairiemuseum.com.