Story and photos by Kristen Cart
Some of the elevators Grandpa built were a little hard to identify, for certain, from his old photos. Many of his projects were similar in design during the time he worked for J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, Colorado. So seeing an elevator in person, only tentatively identified with an old black and white photo, and recognizing it, was quite an exhilarating experience. Fortunately Gary Rich’s sharp eye made the connection between Grandpa’s photo and the elevator at Fairbury, Nebraska.
When I saw it, the Farmers Cooperative elevator did not give a clue to its builder from the outside. It warned intruders away emphatically with “No Trespassing” signs, and it sported a freshly painted logo, which seemed to indicate that it was still in use. But because it was deserted I had no one to ask. We knew from a newspaper article, marking the construction progress of the McCook, Neb. elevator in 1949, that my grandfather had previously built the Fairbury elevator. So when my husband and I went to see for ourselves, I took documentary photos. Later, Gary Rich compared them with Grandpa’s old photos and quickly made the identification, noting the relative position of the railroad tracks, and the loading chute extending beyond the drive way.
The elevator stood beside one of the busiest rail lines I have seen in Nebraska. Freight and coal trains roared by every few minutes. While spending the better part of an hour photographing every angle, I found a railroad spike, well rusted and tossed aside, and I brought it back to the car for the kids. I don’t know why I thought it would impress them–when they saw it, they barely glanced up from their video games. I guess old railroad stuff was more a part of my childhood than theirs.
With a little luck, these kids will remember the long drives through corn and wheat country chasing elevators. At least they will have a unique perspective on them. Perhaps in their travels, when a towering white structure first peeks over the horizon, they will ask, “I wonder who built it? And when?”