A couple of days ago while doing some farmstead clean-up, my daughter asked me what a hand corn sheller that I have sitting around was. I guess that I shouldn’t be too surprised that she didn’t know because it has probably been 50 years since they were in widespread use.
First, a little history on why we call them one-hole shellers. There are (or maybe in this case “were” is a better word) two basic types of shellers, the spring and the cylinder type.
The cylinder type is also sometimes called a cage sheller. In operation, these machines are not too different from today’s rotary combines. Ears of corn are fed into the middle of a cylindrical cage made up of grate-like material. A worm feed shaft forces the ears against the grate where they are shelled and the cobs are then expelled out the back.
A spring sheller uses two wheels, which turn in opposite directions and are called the bevel runner and the straight runner. The two wheels, along with a spring-loaded “rag iron,” form a triangle and act together to pull the ears through and rub the kernels from the cob. The limiting factor is that the ears of corn have to line up straight and enter the shelling area one at a time. Thus to add more capacity, another set of wheels and rag iron is required. That’s referred to as a “hole” and shellers were made with one, two, four, six, and perhaps even more holes.
Today though, we’re just going to concern ourselves with one-hole shellers—the kind you probably fed black walnuts, tin cans, and who knows what else to as a kid.
Deere and Company first got into the sheller business when dealers were offered the opportunity to sell the Tiffin sheller in 1880. Made of wood and wrought iron, the Tiffin was said to have “the capacity to shell from 150 to 200 bushels per day, depending on the operator.” You would probably need someone with the stamina of Lance Armstrong to shell that much. In 1895, the Deere general catalog offered the Banner sheller. It was similar to the Tiffin, though slightly changed, and we presume improved. Who exactly manufactured these early shellers is unclear.
The first one hole sheller to bear the John Deere name was, fittingly, the No. 1. Though still made largely of wood, it now featured a cast iron top throat. Five years later, Deere introduced the successor to the No. 1, which was, of course, the No. 0. The 0 was actually the first Deere sheller to feature a spring-loaded rag iron to hold ears in contact with the wheels.
In 1908, Deere decided to contract with Marseilles Company to build its shellers. The result was the Diamond sheller, which came in four different models. The No. 14 had no fan or feed table and was listed for $11. The No. 14-1/2 had a table but no fan and cost $12. The No. 15 had a fan but no table and would run you $13. If you were a big-time operator and wanted both a fan and table, you could order the No. 15-1/2, which would predictably cost $14.
In 1910, Deere and Company bought a controlling interest in Marseilles and in 1915 began building shellers that carried the name “John Deere” and were built in a Deere-owned factory. The new sheller was called the No. 1, which should not be confused with the earlier No. 1. The side panels were still made of wood, but for the first time, pulley attachments were available to run the sheller with a small engine.
The Early No. 1
The year 1924 brought the first all-steel Deere one hole sheller, the No. 1A. Its all-steel construction was said to eliminate warping and decay and ensure continued alignment of all parts. The suggested retail price was $13.50, while a belt pulley for engine or motor power cost another $1.50.
The No. 0
The last model of one hole sheller to be introduced was the No. 1B, in 1936. A two-piece cast iron housing covered the top half of the machine. A special jig was used to drill all holes in the top casting at the same time. It was very similar to those used at the Waterloo Tractor Works on transmission cases and insured perfect alignment.
The First All-Steel Deere Sheller, the No. 1 A
Hybrid seed corn pretty much ended the need for one-hole shellers but ironically, seed corn companies were some of the last customers for them, using them to shell small quantities for test plots or crossbreeding. 1966 was the last year that any retail sales of the No. 1B sheller were recorded. That year, 86 units were sold.
The ultimate one-hole sheller the No. 1B