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    Cornpicker Collector | Winter 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Farmer Kevin Larkey occasionally trades his combine for more memorable machinery

    Kevin in front of one of his cornpickers
    Kevin Larkey and most other corn picker collectors identify with the vintage pickers because they used them. Larkey used one when he picked corn for his grandfather.
    Out Here

    By Dee Goerge

    Photography by Matthew Holst

    After a day in the cornfield with his supersized 275-horsepower John Deere combine, Kevin Larkey comes home, hooks up a two-row vintage corn picker to one of his 10 Oliver tractors and heads back out to his fields.

    He loves the cool of the evening and the symphony of rustling stalks and clicking conveyor as the wagon fills with the harvested corn at the rate of about 1 acre per hour — a fraction of the 10-12 acres that his modern combine could harvest.

    No matter. "It's relaxing to me," explains Larkey, a Walnut, Ill., crop farmer. "I wouldn't want to do it all the time, but it's something different."

    Larkey became a collector some four years ago, courtesy of insomnia. He was on the Internet late one night when he discovered an 83 Oliver pull-type corn picker for sale in Nebraska that looked new. It would color-coordinate nicely with the couple of Oliver tractors he already had, so he bought it the next morning.

    "Corn pickers were the next biggest mechanical thing after threshing machines," Larkey says.

    Collectors identify with corn pickers because they used them. Larkey picked corn for his grandfather and on his own farm when he raised hogs.

    Larkey met a community of collectors and enthusiasts on the Internet and in local clubs, which inspired him to collect corn pickers in different styles and to increase his Oliver tractor fleet.

    He eventually purchased 18 pickers — mostly Olivers — but he's since cut back to 11, built between 1958 and the early 80s, costing between $200 and $1,700.

    Larkey, who farms 2,000 acres of cash crops, doesn't have time to restore, so he buys pickers that need only minor repairs or a coat of paint. And he prefers that they have unique characteristics.

    The Oliver 83, for example, has knife rolls instead of spiral rolls, designed to chew up the stalk and leave cleaner corn. He likes a one-row, semi-mount Ford picker that easily loads to take to shows.

    To share his passion for vintage machinery, Larkey has begun hosting a "Cornpicker Reunion" each October at his farm, where 50 or more old-fashioned pickers arrive from as far away as Minnesota and Missouri to harvest the 70 acres of corn that he plants specifically for this event.

    "My favorite is my Oliver 77 tractor with the mounted No. 4 picker," Larkey says, noting that he uses Oliver #4 as his moniker on Internet forums.

    The No. 4 picker's pointed snouts and long elevator have the classic look that folks remember from childhood, so it attracts a lot of attention, he says. It's also in excellent shape for its age and stands out on Larkey's freshly painted Oliver tractor.

    To share his passion for vintage machinery, Larkey has begun hosting a "Cornpicker Reunion" each October at his farm, where 50 or more old-fashioned pickers arrive from as far away as Minnesota and Missouri to harvest the 70 acres of corn that he plants specifically for this event.

    This year's reunion, scheduled for Oct. 19-20, was also to feature corn shellers, vintage wagons, corncribs, and other corn equipment.

    And after the excitement of the annual event has passed, the crowds are gone, and his fellow cornpickers have taken their machinery back home, it won't be long until Larkey is back on one of his vintage tractors, heading out to the field.

    Dee Goerge is a Minnesota writer.

     

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