Story and photos by Kristen Cart
During the heyday of elevator building, no sooner did an elevator go up, than it filled up, and left a town wanting for storage. The first option was to add an annex. But where economics dictated, cooperatives resorted to the simple expedient of horizontal storage. In the Farmers Elevator Guide during the 1940s and 1950s, between the slick ads for elevator builders, companies advertized Quonset-style buildings for flat storage.
A common sight in Nebraska and Kansas are long, flat piles of corn covered in tarps held down with old tires. At one grain facility, I saw a front-end loader filling grain trucks from one end of one of these great corn piles. At another, workmen were hurriedly applying tarp and tires in advance of a rainstorm. It seems the demand for ethanol has once again ramped up corn demand beyond the capacity of vertical storage facilities, or at least the ability to pay for them.
At two of the sites I recently visited, where the Tillotson-built elevators became insufficient for their purpose within a few years, I saw examples of corrugated-style flat-storage buildings that were added after the original elevators were filled to capacity. These served during a brief stretch of time until replaced by more modern, efficient bins, when the buildings found other uses. They were well suited for many farm needs since they could house virtually anything and were built to endure, once their corn storage days ended.
Mitchellville, Iowa, a site where an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha operates, has two such buildings. They look like ordinary metal buildings, but the tip-off to their special use is the ladder leading to an opening in the roof where the auger operates. Both buildings have new jobs since the large annex additions were built beside the old elevator–one is a machine tool shed, and the other handles seed.
- Tillotson Construction’s Mitchellville elevator is a key part of Heartland’s grain operation (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- The J. H. Tillotson-built farm elevator at Traer, Kan., is still standing, but idle(ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
We have quite a bit of flat storage around us. Seems that it’s more versatile. When the building is empty it can be used for something else. Tarps and tires are at least better than just leaving the stack to get rained or snowed on. That’s happened in our small town and it stinks as it starts to rot. Not cost effective.
I was going through my pictures and I found a photo of a corn pile covered with tarp and snow. I suppose it’s hard to predict just how much capacity you will need during a bumper crop year, and having storage lying idle for all of the other years would not be cost effective either. Seems like this is a good compromise.
I love your blog. Neat stuff!
Again, thanks for you kind words. Unfortunately I don’t think there will be a need for flat storage this year. I’ve heard anywhere from 30-100 bu/acre. Normal is about 150+
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