Detasseling corn in the midwest was one of my summer jobs while growing up. I was in high school when my girlfriends and I thought it would be a great paying job. Back in the 1960s, the going rate was something like $2.00 an hour, which we thought was a lot. We could all use the money for school clothes the following fall, so we signed up for the summer. We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. Since we were underage our parents had to sign for us that it was ok to do this type of work.
All of us were city girls and knew nothing about being on a farm even though farmland surrounded our small town. It was like a right of passage of some kids in the midwest. There was no “sleeping in” that summer because we had to be on a school bus bright and early down at the city park. There were several school buses I recall for boys and girls who wanted to detassel corn. The seed company would have a list of our names and would check us in every morning.
The school bus ride took us over to another town where the seed cornfields were located. Once we arrived at the cornfield we were assigned rows in which we would walk to detassel the corn. There wasn’t a lot of training for this job. Most of the time my girlfriends and I got to stay together, other times we did not.
At noon or when we had finished the field we were working on we would break for lunch. We packed a sack lunch every day and a drink. They would have water for us to drink as well. The restroom facilities consisted of an outhouse or wherever we could find a space appropriate to relieve ourselves. This was not a glamorous job, to say the least, and we learned quickly to adjust our thinking or go home!
If you could drive a stick shift you would be able to make more money driving a detasseling machine. I didn’t drive then so I was not one of the lucky ones. It would line up with the cornrows with people sitting on both sides of you removing the tassels from the corn as you drove slowly down the field. It beat walking the rows if you could snag a job like that one. We took breaks throughout the day so we could drink water and to catch some shade under a tree for a few minutes.
At the end of the afternoon, we would load the buses again for the trip back to the city park where our parents were waiting to pick us up. My mother told me years later how funny it was to see city girls get off the bus so dirty and sweaty. Every day I came home exhausted but I never lost sight of my goal – money for back to school!
We flirted with the boys and worked hard but most of all we created memories that would last a lifetime. I only worked that one summer while other friends worked the next summer as well. It taught us to know what hard work really was and working for a hard day’s pay really meant. I would not have traded that experience for anything!
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