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The American Grain Elevator: Function & Form Linda Laird

Grain Elevator Press Hutchinson, Kansas

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This project was made possible by a grant from the James Marston Fitch Charitable Trust. Dr. Robert W. Schoeff, Kansas State University, retired, shared a lifetime of knowledge and incisive editing for which I am grateful. Russ Stubbles, The Prairie Professor, prairieprofessor.com, also proofread the ďŹ nal draft and caught enough errors to embarrass me. Bruce Selyem, the guru and founder of The Country Grain Elevator Historical Society, www.country-grain-elevator-historical-society.org, was also kind enough to read and encourage.

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Much thanks to Marilyn Hurst for ten years of encouragement and belief in this book and to Cleta Long for extreme proofiness, commas and semi-colons! Copyright Š2012 by Linda Laird All rights reserved. Printed 2012. Information address: Grain Elevator Press, 502 E. Sherman St., Hutchinson, KS 67501 www.grainelevatorpress.com First Edition ISBN 978-0-9847591-0-1 Library of Congress Control Number: 2011960585 Printed in the United States of America by Mennonite Press, Inc., Newton, KS, www.mennonitepress.com

For Larry, my sweet husband and cohort as we continue to stalk the wild grain elevators.


Table of Contents Introduction.................................................................................iv Part I: From a Few Kernels in Mesopotamia and Mexico ........... 1 Trading in Sustenance...................................................... 3 The American Grain Belt................................................. 8 Part II: How Grain Elevators Work............................................ 42 Basic Elements of Grain Storage.................................... 43 Powering the Elevator.................................................... 46 Lengthening the Storage ............................................... 48 Transporting the Grain.................................................. 50 Planning to Build.......................................................... 54 Materials of Construction Wood................................................................... 56 Brick.................................................................... 69 Ceramic Tile........................................................ 71 Iron & Steel......................................................... 76 Concrete.............................................................. 82 Preserving Grain Elevators as Historic Resources......... 104 List of Illustrations................................................................... 109 Selected Bibliography............................................................... 111

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Introduction In the 1920s, the renowned architect, Le Corbusier, called them “the magnificent first fruits of a new age.” Tourism brochures consider them to be the “Skyscrapers of the Plains.” A T-shirt from Kansas shows Dorothy and friends on a yellow brick road that leads to a grain elevator. Grain elevators are visual markers of great importance on the plains. Where trees are only found along rivers and creeks, rural people use elevators to measure distance and traveling time. Beside the highways on the plains, elevators arise, much like medieval castles, overshadowing the surrounding community. Prairie elevators are visual parentheses, bracketing each stage of a journey across the plains.

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Offerle, Kansas


Part 1 Aberdeen, South Dakota

Atchison, Kansas

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Kansas City, Kansas


Farmers’ Elevator, Aberdeen, South Dakota

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Farmers’ Elevator, Dundee, Kansas


Farmers’ Cooperatives In the 1870s, farmers throughout the grain belt responded to the railroad’s attempts to control grain markets by joining together into cooperatives and establishing elevators and mills. The principles of cooperatives are democratic: one vote per farmer; a limited amount of stock may be owned by one member; a prorate dividend is allocated to members. Coops were initially more successful in some states than others, depending on the ability to influence legislation to protect farmers from the control exercised by the railroads. The depression of the early 1890s led to the emergence of a farmers’ movement and the development of a populist party, successful legislation, congressional candidacies and changes in state and federal regulations. After the turn of the century, a next, natural step was the building of cooperative grain terminals by the farmers. In 1916, Equity Cooperative Exchange, a group of seventy to eighty cooperative elevators located in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana built the first farmer-owned terminal elevator in St. Paul, Minnesota. Regional cooperatives continued to organize. Union Equity, formed in 1926, grew to serve a membership of more than 450 local cooperatives in a ten state area and was the first Co-op to build an export elevator. Located on the Houston Ship Channel, the shipping facility, which was sold and recently demolished, had a storage capacity of 8.5 million bushels. An even larger terminal with a capacity of 18.3 million bushels, was owned at Hutchinson, Kansas. In July, 1992, Union Equity was purchased by Farmland Cooperative Industries, an agricultural, food marketing and manufacturing Co-op, the largest farmer owned Co-op in the United States. It has since gone bankrupt and was taken over by ADM. Today, farmers continue to join together to store and sell wheat. By making group purchases of gasoline, chemicals, seed, etc. grain production costs are reduced.

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Built as a Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator, sold to Farmland Industries, now owned by ADM. Was once the largest elevator in the world, stores 18.3 million bushels. Length is just under 1/2 mile. Hutchinson, Kansas


Increasing Abundance New technologies in wheat production increased both yields and the ability to farm larger acreages more efficiently during the 1940s. Farm implements improved, plowing and harvesting faster with less loss of grain. Chemicals were developed to reduce both weeds and insects. New varieties of wheat grew faster, were hardier, and produced larger heads and individual grains. These factors combined to exponentially increase the amount of grain that was harvested and in a good year, when the weather cooperated, even more was produced. Farms which had been small, diverse, family operations, with some cattle, poultry, and grain now became increasingly larger and singly focused on grain production. Vast tracts of land could now be handled by a few men using modern machinery. Elevator capacities rose. Federal programs encouraged the storage of grain during the Cold War of the 1950s through the 1970s by providing 2% construction loans and subsidized the continuing storage of surplus grain. Storage in the state of Kansas exemplifies this growth. 1941 - 113 million bushels 1950 - 174 million bushels 1984 - 780 million bushels The capacity of elevators differs regionally. Elevators in the northern grain belt are used to annually pass through one crop of summer grain to the shipping terminals on the Great Lakes. In the southern plains, farmers raise spring and fall crops that must be stored. In the heart of wheatland, country elevators may hold up to 1.5 million bushels. Recently built steel or concrete bins usually have a larger capacity of 250,000 bushels or more.

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Sentinels of the prairie.

Alexander, Kansas

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Ingersoll, Oklahoma


How Grain Elevators Work

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Grain elevators are usually seventy to one hundred and twenty feet tall, consisting of a headhouse, vertical storage spaces with bins of various sizes, an open work floor and a receiving pit. A driveway gives access to the work floor. A dump scale and office are located outside the elevator. A truck loaded with grain stops on the scale, is weighed, and continues to the work floor. Grain is dumped from the rear of the truck. The wheat falls into the pit where it is moved upward to the cupola along the leg by a continuous belt with flat backed buckets attached. The grain is directed to a bin by the spout, which may be moved among the bins. The truck is again driven across the scale and weighed a second time to determine how much grain was unloaded. Samples of the grain show the test weight of the wheat, moisture, and content plus foreign material. The farmer is then given a receipt, called a weight or scale ticket, for the number of bushels brought to the elevator. The farmer may immediately sell the grain or pay a storage fee and hold the grain until he chooses to sell. All elevators function in this manner.

Headhouse

Grain is emptied from truck to pit.

Grain Bins

Buckets attached to a belt carry the grain to the top of the elevator. Grain empties into a distributor leg and is carried to bins. Grain is removed from bins into railroad cars.

Work Floor Pit Grain can be recirculated through the system.


To view the rest of this book, order from:     Website: http://www.grainelevatorpress.com/index.html     Contact: Linda Laird, 520.393.0623    Address: 502 E Sherman St.  Hutchinson, KS 67501    Email: sales@grainelevatorpress.com   


The American Grain Elevator: Function & Form by Linda Laird