All the while Steve Kenkel’s been growing corn, he never imagined he would also produce what is most likely the only corn museum in the United States.
“I have been holding a Corn Expo to showcase the accomplishments of Shelby County’s hybrid corn pioneers and help expo visitors better understand the significance of their contributions to the growth and development of today’s corn industry,” Steve says. “Part of the history of corn and corn hybrids includes a wealth of implements and memorabilia that are not only fun to view, they help us understand what farmers in the past accomplished, often with very basic farming tools.”
In the process of gathering the details surrounding Shelby County’s hybrid corn pioneers, Steve also found vintage implements and memorabilia that survived over the years. Often the pieces were in someone’s private collection or stored in an out-of-the-way place where few people saw them or knew of their existence.
“I had some of my own vintage pieces I have found and sometimes exhibited over the years,” Steve says. “As the corn expo continued to expand and plans for this publication came together, I could see it would be very helpful to display this intriguing collection of implements and memorabilia, which has continued to grow larger every year.”
Just outside Earling, Iowa, in the southwest corner of the state where 90% of the and is dedicated to growing corn, Steve put together a unique and exciting collection of historic corn-related implements and artifacts. The general public has the opportunity to view the museum and its contents every other August when Steve and his family and friends host the Hybrid Corn Pioneers Historical Expo at their farm. The museum is also open during summer months from June through August.
Visitors come from across the country to see three varieties of wirecheck planted corn that farmers used between the mid 1850s and into the 1900s.
In three different plots they can observe the characteristics of Reid’s Yellow Dent open pollinated corn, the first American corn hybrid (US-13), and one of today’s triple stack corn varieties (Dekalb 62-97).
Among Steve’s vintage corn implement/artifact collection and loaned displays are an 1863 George W. Brown wooden corn planter, the first planter ever designed and sold commercially. Also on display are a two-row Jones hand planter, an 1848 cylinder corn sheller, and an 1850s-era wooden field marker. The museum is filled with implements and hundreds of artifacts dating from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.
The sign on the side of Steve’s museum reads, “Welcome To Shelby County – Hybrid Corn Capital of Iowa.” The greeting memorializes the 18 different seed companies that sprang up in Shelby County in the early 1900s. Some of Steve’s museum artifacts are connected to those businesses.