Story and photos by Kristen Cart
One of the elevators on my list to see was the facility built in Altoona, Iowa by Tillotson Construction Company. It was reported to be the near-twin of the elevator in Mitchellville, Iowa. It is located about a half-mile south of I-80 in Altoona, just east of Des Moines, off an exit prominently marked by a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Its business partner, the Bondurant elevator, stands about a mile away, on the north side of the Interstate. Farmers Cooperative operates both elevators.
Farmers Co-op, instantly recognizable by its trademark “FC”, is the largest Co-op in Iowa with more than sixty locations. It employs four full-time truckers in the local area serving Altoona in addition to the farm trucks that serve the location.
The Altoona elevator was built in 1954. The manhole covers, furnished by the Hutchinson Foundry, of Hutchinson, Kan., indicate the builder and the year of construction. Most of the covers are inside the elevator, but there is one also on the outside near the ground, which is typical of Tillotson elevators. A large grain dryer flanks the elevator on the east side.
When I stopped to visit in October, Pat Printy, a thirty-year employee of the Farmers Co-op, shared some of the history of the elevator. He also explained the elevator’s operations during harvest and the significance of good corn.
Sam Wise, former mayor of Altoona, owned the elevator before the cooperative purchased it in 1963 for $175,000. Farmers Co-op began operating the elevator in 1964. About ten years ago, the elevator headhouse had to be rebuilt because of cracking concrete, but it still retains its Tillotson-style rounded contours. The elevator is currently used for beans and corn.
A truck came up to deliver corn while I visited. Pat Printy vacuumed a sample into the building and tested it for moisture content. He placed a scoop of it on the counter for me to see.
“Nice corn,” Pat commented. I asked why. He said it was dry enough to store, at about 14 percent moisture content. Corn with a moisture content of 14 percent or less was dry enough to go into storage without drying, and depended on the right weather conditions to arrive already dry from the field. If the moisture content was over 15.5 percent, the corn would be in danger of spoilage if it was not dried right away.
Exceptionally wet corn could become a problem because the dryer could only treat 2,500 bushels per hour. Each truck holds about 950 bushels, so during a wet harvest the dryer would become a bottleneck. Pat said the dryer at Altoona was an old one, but the dryer at Bondurant was newer and much faster.
The elevator was busy the day I stopped by, both accepting corn and moving beans out for transfer into the larger Bondurant elevator about a mile away. Ninety-five percent of the bean harvest was already in, and the Altoona elevator needed to make room for some nice, dry corn.
- Tillotson Construction’s classic elevator makes a good neighbor in Clifton, Kansas (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- How we know Tillotson Construction built the Burlington, Colorado, grain elevator (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
Love the photo — it gives a good feeling for the size of the elevator with that semi-truck in the foreground.
Thank you! An elevator the first thing you see, from miles away, when approaching a town in Nebraska or Kansas. Other than perhaps the town water tower, the elevator stands higher than anything else. I remember them marking each town along the three-state drive we took annually to visit my grandparents, from Utah to eastern Nebraska, when I was a kid. Elevators were an impressive and rather exotic sight, especially to a little girl from the inter-mountain West.
Formerly from Kansas, now living in Colorado, I have a very real appreciation for grain elevators. The one in Burlington isn’t far from the little farm where my cousin lived years ago.
Elevator workers take their jobs very seriously; the scene in WITNESS where the man gets caught inside one and dies is not in movies only.
I grew up in Kansas but have lived in Colorado for years. A cousin lived on a little farm near the Burlington elevator, so we’re very familiar with elevators. The scene in WITNESS where the man is trapped inside a grain elevator and dies is not just for movie effects, so we know how seriously workers take their jobs.
Sorry for the duplicate–Wordpress informed me it hadn’t gone through, but then they both went through. Double kudos for an excellent post!
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