Bob and Phyllis Johnson have been farming most of their
lives, so they know a lot about corn. In fact, Bobs nickname
is Cornpicker Bob, and he has hosted some pickers
field events at their farm near Burlington. Phyllis, being the
journalist in the family, worked with him to produce their first
book Corn Pickers: And the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up,
published in 2017. Now they have collaborated on a second book
Corn Cribs: Every Corn Belt Farm Had One.
I would call it the ultimate history of this outbuilding,
which has been around since the 1700s in America. Now they are
mostly obsolete, left standing on farms in various stages of
As an aside, my only memory of our corncrib on the Babson
farm on McGirr Road near Hinckley back in the 1940s was being
cautioned by my father about it. I liked climbing up the wooden
ladder inside the crib and playing around there. He warned me
that there are rats in the crib and I had better stay out or
could get bitten. He was right about the rodents some
looked as big as kittens and so I heeded his warning, for a while
anyway. I was too young to own a .22 rifle and my BB gun wasnt
powerful enough to dispatch the pestilent critters.
Their new 330-page book includes some 1,200 photos of cribs
and related farm equipment from several states. It is a history
of one part of rural America that the Johnsons didnt want
to see lost. So they compiled this extensive survey of cribs,
elevators and other ag-related equipment.
Most of us dont pay much attention to the difference
in those structures, but there are numerous types, mostly constructed
with wood but some built with cement blocks, snow fencing, or
even wire mesh.
Bob and Phyllis Johnson display their new book Corn
Cribs: Every Corn Belt Farm Had One, in front of one type
of crib they have written about. (Provided photo)The columnist at just under five-years-old stands
in front of their corn crib with his father Vernon Schrader holding
a net to help young Barry catch butterflies. (Schrader family
They are square, round, oblong, and even with eight sides.
They had cupolas on the roof of many different sizes and designs.
Those had a practical use: elevators were raised to their openings
and corn carried up into the cribs.
I asked about any unusual-looking cribs in DeKalb County
and they mentioned two octagonal cribs one on Route 23
north of Waterman and the other on Rich Road west of Sycamore.
The farmer who owns the latter one does not want people on his
property photographing the crib, the Johnsons told me, so you
had better bring a telephoto lens or use a drone.
Why were most cribs painted red? Phyllis said, Because
it was a cheap preservative, made from ochre that was available
in the ground, then mixed with linseed oil. That was the
reason most farm buildings were painted that color for many years.
Once more modern harvesting equipment was introduced, the
corn was shelled in the field and loaded into giant bins, not
the slatted cribs. So for about the past half-century the cribs
have been left empty, many succumbing to the weather. Some have
been repurposed, used for equipment and supplies storage or even
an artists studio.
I found the subject and its history fascinating. Popular
farm broadcaster Max Armstrong must think so too: He wrote the
foreword in the book. The Johnsons have performed a valuable
service twice now in preserving agricultural history in book
For more information contact them on their website at CornPickerBook.com
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.