Mechanization and the Russian wheat deal caused elevator construction booms

AuroraBrad Perry

Story and photos by Brad Perry

These photos are from my travels across Highway 34: Aurora Cooperative and their branch at Murphy. The workhouses would indicate Tillotson. The new two-tank annex at Aurora was done by Todd & Sargent. I believe the four-tank annex at Murphy was T&S as well.

You’ve gotten me thinking about all the construction I was involved in.  Here comes some more history.

Prior to the past eight to 10 years, there were two boom periods of elevator construction in the Midwest. The first is well documented by your blog— early ’50s thru mid 60’s. That was the mechanization age of United States agriculture.

By the ’60s, however, we were building flat storage buildings for the Commodity Credit Corporation. This and the United States Department were our market–and our only market. I still remember being in St. Edward, Neb., in 1975, and being told that the co-op had just gotten shipping orders on 250,000 bushels of wheat that had been in storage there for 12 years.

That’s what paid for the monster terminals in Hutchinson, Salina, Wichita, and Enid.

MurphyBradPerry

The second boom period followed the Russian wheat deal of 1972 and 1973. After that purchase, the USDA eliminated diverted acres and we went to wall-to-wall production. It created the need for new, and faster capacity.

This boom lasted into the early 1980s. It was assisted in Nebraska by center-pivot irrigation.

Most of the elevators were built by co-ops. Cargill, Continental, and a few local privates built in Nebraska, but not many. Peavey was a purchaser rather than a builder.

Farmland Industries served as the general contractor on virtually all of these elevators and annexes. At the Bank for Cooperatives, we waived the need for a performance bond if Farmland was the general contractor.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it looks like it could be a Tillotson elevator.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it could be a Tillotson elevator. Existing records don’t indicate company activity there. 

That saved a ton of money for the client, and also Farmland paid patronage dividends on the project. Farmland then subbed out the contracts to the major builders that they used.

These were Mid-States, Jarvis, and Borton as the main players. Farmland also brought Wilson, Venturi, and Jordan into Nebraska when demand heated up.

Todd & Sargent did several projects in Nebraska, but mainly stayed in Iowa—lots more grain (and new elevators built) over there.

Quad States built a few facilities (Rising City, Shelby, Benedict, Hooper, and Milford) in Nebraska as well.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial,  headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters to it are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial, headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

There are a couple of odd ones that occurred when the general manager had had experience with a contractor from a different state.

For example, the big elevator at Tamora was built by Conger, a Minnesota company, and the newer workhouse at Plymouth by Weigel, also of Minnesota.

During this period, most facilities–elevators and annexes–were built with 24- to 28-foot diameter tubes.

Toward the end of this boom time, we started seeing en masse conveyors used on annexes, replacing Texas headhouses and open belts with trippers.

We also saw the movement away from small tube elevators to 40 ft and larger diameter tubes.

This was due to two factors: the producers’ yields and harvest speed and the movement to outbound unit trains.

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