Story by Kristen Cart
It is tremendously disappointing when you realize an elevator should be there, and isn’t. I recently passed through the north-central Iowa town of Glidden, a small place mostly on the south side of Highway 30. I knew from Tillotson construction records that an elevator and an annex were built in Glidden back during the elevator boom. But though I leaned over to that side of the car to peer at the skyline, hoping to see the familiar white Tillotson elevator outline, all I saw were two hulking bins of another more modern sort.
You learn to expect old wooden elevators to disappear. But the 1940s and ’50s vintage concrete elevators usually are not so quick to go.
This situation would require some investigation, but not on a day when I had to get home, with another 400 miles or so to go. I had at least one more stop planned to see an elevator, at Ralston, a town just a few miles further east, and my three kids tolerated the stops, hanging in there at the frazzled edges of their patience.
When I got home, I resorted to the Internet. Satellite images have become so good that you can virtually identify a builder from above. But in the case of Glidden, there was no sign of an old elevator, only a bulldozed area where the forms for two circular bins had been laid out. Apparently I had not overlooked the desired elevator–it was gone.
I didn’t count on being able to date the demolition, but the map’s “street view” came to the rescue. An uploaded photo, watermarked 2013, showed a view of the site from an intersection down the street. From that perspective, the old elevator stood as it always had, since it was built. So the old elevator was probably retired after the last of its grain was out, in time for new bins to be built for the next harvest, sometime in 2013 before winter set in.
I missed my grandfather’s (alleged) McAllaster, Kan., elevator by a couple of months when it was torn down over a year ago. But in the satellite image that was available at the time, you could see where the destruction had begun. Several round bins were newly absent, and holes appeared in the top of the headhouse.
I don’t imagine that satellite engineers envisioned this use for their images.