The stress of planting corn with a 4-year-old

Mychal Wilmes recalls his father's corn planting methods, including putting Mychal, as a 4-year-old, in a fort while he planted.

Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC

Dad, who took to wearing long johns in October, kept them on until oak leaves were as big as squirrels’ ears. It was a time when nature more often dictated planting then soil temperature.

(It should be noted that long johns were introduced in England in the 17 th century and became popular in the United States when two brothers introduced “Stanfield’s Unshrinkable Underwear’’ in 1898.) To outdoor workers, the advent of long johns rivals the introduction of snowmobile pants in importance.

Critics of Allis Chalmers engineers will tell you the seats designed in West Allis were created by people who never, ever sat on a tractor. Dad, who cared little for luxury, purchased a seat cushion for the WD in his near-retirement years. Other than that, he conceded nothing to age.

We teamed up for corn planting when I was 4 years old. It was against his will but could not be avoided because Mother had scheduled a doctor’s appointment to deal with constant ear infections and a broken eardrum. It was an unusual nod to professional medicine, because most often she depended on home cures and invaluable motherly intuition to heal our ills.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.


Dad strategically stacked several seed corn bags in the back of a grain wagon equipped with bangboards that came in handy in the fall and towed me along to the cornfield.

He built a fort of piled bags near the headlands and tossed me inside its four walls while sternly cautioning me to stay there or risk a spanking. It was an idle threat because he never did that even in the direst of bad times. However, when I was a teenager, he slapped me across the face because I left a gate open and the cows pillaged what in his opinion was his best field of corn.

It takes a mighty long time to plant corn , and as the day wore on, I was determined to leave the fort. A bottle of water — located in the grass near the fence — was too tempting to resist. So, too, were the cottonwood parachutes that floated to the ground and seasoned the grass and field edge with a thin layer. The escape lasted for one round before Dad recaptured me.

The sight of Mother’s car moving slowly across the headlands in mid-afternoon was welcome. The visit to the doctor went fine, though my brother was not pleased with the results.

Dad — other than the rare times when he went with his buddies on Canadian fishing trips — was happiest on the Allis-Chalmers seat. The WD worked well and hard until its crankshaft busted. If fields are planted in heaven, Dad would be among the first to volunteer.

A sibling said that I am much like him.

“You are a nervous type just like Dad was,’’ he said.

The difference is there is nothing to be worried about, unless garden planting, stick picking up and mowing are cause for concern. On the other hand, Dad faced big challenges. It was not easy raising 12 children on a small, rented farm. There was plenty of meat to eat and three-quarters of an acre of potatoes to dig and store.


Mother’s immense garden and her backbreaking labor provided the rest. If she was paid a dollar for every basket of clothes carried up the basement steps and hung on the line, she might have died a multimillionaire.

Dad never had much money in his pocket, but it was a search for something to do in retirement that got him involved in a corn shelling crew. It was hard work and paid little, but he kept at it. It was necessary, because sitting around made him nervous — there were only so many Twins baseball games and pro wrestling shows to watch.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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