Corn Maze Cutter Stalks Fall Fun Across Country

(Image 1)

By ALLEN G. BREED | AP National Writer

Timothy Day isn't exactly sick of corn by the end of the summer, but …

“If I had a penny every time I've heard, 'This is a-MAZE-ing,' I'd certainly be rich by now,” he says with a chuckle.

Over the past couple of months, Day has cut more than 50 corn mazes.
Someone else does the designs, but there's definitely some artistry in
the way he spins that steering knob.

“My paintbrush is a rototiller,” Day says. “And a tractor hooked to it.”

Most people associate corn mazes with Halloween, but the work starts long before October.

Day's season began the last week in June. Since then, he and his partner
have been as far north as Ontario, Canada, as far south as Florida, and
to “almost every state between here and there.”

“It's not out of the ordinary for us to drive 3,000 or 4,000 miles in
five days and cut out 10 or 12 corn mazes in that amount of time,” says
Day, who lives in Edinburg, Va., and who's been doing this since 2005.
“Our truck is our hotel. We actually sleep in the truck most of the
time. We keep either the tractor driving or the truck driving, one or
the other. One of us is driving something almost 24 hours a day.”

Day cuts for Maize Quest out of New Park, Pa. Company owner Hugh McPherson says this season has been a logistical nightmare.

“The rain has been sending us to scheduling haywire for the cutting crew,” says McPherson, aka “The Maze Master.”

He and Day have to stagger the cutting schedule to catch the corn at
just the right growth stage. If it's too mature, the plants will grow
back in the paths he's cut.

Day likes to cut the corn when it's about waist- or chest-high, but
that's not just for practical reasons. He's allergic once the corn
tassels.

“Basically, anywhere that the pollen touches me, I just get a really
itchy rash,” says Day, who ran into that problem this year outside
Memphis, Tenn. “It gets to where the pollen is so thick in your eyes …
you can feel the grit on your eyeballs and, literally, for three days
my eyes will run yellow.”

Once he gets to a farm, it's all fairly routine.

First, he drives around the field's perimeter to establish the
boundaries for the GPS system. Then he fits the design into that shape,
and the computer does the rest.

“There's very little room for error in our corn mazes,” he says.
“They're tight-packed. The trails are close to together. So a little
mistake breaks through a whole wall and changes the whole maze.”

With some designs, Day — who runs landscaping business the rest of the
year — has to go in with a lawnmower. And occasionally he'll arrive to
find that the field's not quite big enough to accommodate the artist's
vision.

“And then I get to play a little bit of designer on the fly,” he says. “It's kind of fun when that happens, too.”

Most of the work takes place between sunup and sundown. But Day has been known to cut in the dark.

“You've got to trust this more,” he says, hoisting the little black box in his right hand.

Sometimes, getting to the job is the hardest part.

On a recent Saturday, Day's truck limped into this little bedroom community south of Raleigh just before dawn.

He was supposed to cut the field at Naylor Family Farms on Aug. 16, but a
band of thunderstorms turned him away. He was scheduled to do another
maze in Chesnee, S.C., the following Friday morning, and decided to hit
Naylor before dusk that evening.

But just outside Charlotte, Day's pickup truck started giving him
trouble. He'd just swapped out the transmission a few days earlier, and
now the new one was going out on him.

Not wanting to let Robert Naylor down again, Day picked his way across
the state — driving 15 miles, stopping to let the truck cool down, then
doing another 15 miles.

“It took me 15 hours to get here when it should have taken four,” the
bleary-eyed redhead with the day's growth of beard said with a wan
smile.

The majority of mazes Day cuts are about 5 or 6 acres, though he's done
fields as large as 13 acres. The stand of corn at Naylor Family Farms is
just shy of 10.

Naylor went with a pirate theme last year. This season, he chose a maze
called “Escape from Egypt,” with pyramids, palm trees and a giant camel
at the center.

This is Naylor's third year doing a maze. He says it takes him a couple of weeks to memorize the path.

“It's easy to get disoriented, even if you have your map,” he says as
turkey buzzards circle overhead. “And that's the point of it, I guess.
It's kind of fun when you get lost — if you're not in a hurry.”

Day isn't just a Maize Quest employee. He's also a client.

His brother, Jonathan, runs Bridgemont Farm, a 500-acre spread in
Virginia's picturesque Shenandoah Valley, where the family raises corn,
soybeans and beef cattle. Day cut their design in July.

The 12-acre field is divided into two interconnected mazes — “The Great
Train Adventure,” with a giant steam locomotive, and “The Dinosaur
Adventure,” featuring a Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex.

The big rush is over. But Day's odyssey won't truly be finished until
late November or early December, when he heads to Palm City, Fla., to
cut a winter maze.

Despite the grueling, sometimes monotonous schedule, the maze-maker has so far avoided maize malaise.

“I like corn,” Day insists. “I love corn.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s