A recent newspaper article caught my eye. It concerned a farm couple in western Kansas who had added a corn burning stove to replace their all electric heating system. Their monthly electric bills had increased from $85 per month in 1959, when their house was built; to over $300 per month today. This new corn burning stove consumed about one bushel of corn per day, valued at about $2.50, to heat their house comfortably. That sounds like a real bargain.
That story about burning corn brings back some memories. It was again during the "dirty thirties" (drought, dust and depression) that Grandpa burned his corn crop to keep the old farmhouse warm. There was a furnace in the basement of that big eight roomed house and it consumed huge quantities of wood or coal during the cold winter months. In his later years, Grandpa wasn't able to cut wood, so we sometimes burned coal.
This particular fall, Grandpa decided to go to town and get a load of coal. Since money was scarce and he had a bin full of ear corn, he loaded up a wagonbox and headed to town. With me tagging along, he drove the team and wagon to the elevator 3 1/2 miles away, where he exchanged the load of corn for an equivalent amount of coal. All the way home he grumbled about the difference in price between what he had to sell and what he had to buy. The amount of coal he received for a full load of corn hardly covered the bottom of the wagonbox. When we got home, he announced we would burn corn for the rest of the winter --- and we did.
About the only difference in these two episodes is that Grandpa burned whole ear corn whereas the western Kansas couple burned shelled corn in their fancy new stove.
Corn cobs make a quick, hot fire and were great to start a fire in Grandma's cook stove first thing every morning. She would put two or three big fat cobs in a small can of kerosene and let them soak during the night. In the morning, all she had to do was to shake down the ashes from the day before, lay the cobs on the grate, add a few sticks of kindling wood and touch a match to it. Soon she had a fire going strong.
Cobs had several other important uses also. They made good corks for the various sized brown jugs that Grandma used to store foods and liquids. If the first one didn't fit, she simply looked for one that did. You'd better be sure that they were clean! Grandpa smoked a corncob pipe most of the time. He never cleaned one. When it got to smelling so bad Grandma threatened him with his life, he would simply go out to the cob shed, select a nice big fat cob and make a new one.
My friends and I nearly always carried a big corncob in our hip pockets. Stuck in the end of the cob was a fish hook and attached to the hook was a short piece of fishing line. That was our fishing equipment. When we happened across an inviting pool in the creek, where the bluegill were biting, we would cut a pole from a nearby sapling, attach the hook and line and we were in business. The corncob served as a bobber. Worms and grasshopper for bait were usually easy to find.
With our continuing dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels, there is a lot of talk about renewable fuels from corn and other cereal grains. One such fuel is commercial alcohol. With aid from the U.S. government, several companies are now producing alcohol for fuel. It has some promise. However, my experience in cereal grains leads me to believe that when all the energy requirements are plugged into the formula for making alcohol from grain, the cost per gallon will be more than what they are selling it for. Various other sources of renewable energy are being developed and I am confident that scientists will find more as time goes by. Meantime we continue to squander our non-renewable fuels.
I'm just wondering how many big utility companies read the story about the western Kansas couple who replaced their expensive non-renewable heating system with a cheaper, renewable one. The reduction from $300 per month to $75 per month should have gotten someone's attention.