By Ronald Ahrens, photos provided by Ryan Day
It’s bad enough the man who runs Valley Wide Cooperative’s landmark elevator and mill complex in Downey, Idaho, has to climb a ladder to the headhouse. Being “hootered” by an owl makes things even more precarious.
“I go up there pretty much every month for inventory,” Ryan Day said when we talked on the phone.
Getting started the last time, Ryan surprised a barn owl roosting on the truck lift. Both he and the owl survived the encounter without becoming candidates for a viral video.
The main elevator with the tall, sleek, gleaming headhouse are made of riveted steel plates and date to at least 1915.
So why does he have to climb to the headhouse instead of using the manlift?
Last year, when Valley Wide looked for new insurance coverage, all the estimators’ walkthroughs resulted in reports flagging the manually operated wooden manlift.
It needed to be removed, they said. Indeed, it might have presented some hazards. So it was cut out and a ladder installed.
Before going any farther with our story, get this for coincidence: Ryan Day’s grandmother was Beatrice Tillotson. We don’t know of any relation to the Tillotsons of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha.
Here is the link to the obituary for Beatrice Jane Tillotson Day.
The Downey elevator has survived flames and smoke. “There was a fire, I don’t know when.” Ryan referred to the photo with men in hats. “There’s fire hoses draped around them. You can see smoke coming out of the door.”
He assumes the leg burned up. In those days, the 80-foot-high silos hadn’t been built.
Lingering evidence of fire is found in heat warpage on a couple of bins.
Besides flames and smoke, there were also bullets. But they’re for another post.
Day’s father, Elvin Eugene Day, Jr., known as Jene, went to work running this site in 1964 for Downey Grain Growers. It later became affiliated with Farmer’s Grain Growers and eventually Valley Wide.
Today the facility is devoted to production of organic feed. “The mill survived due to the fact there was a vacuum of organic dairies in our area,” Ryan said. Representatives of an organic dairy came through with their pitch, saying, “We can highball you through the system.”
Ryan works alone at the site, milling feed for the dairy cows from barley, organic soy, canola (not grown locally), ground corn, and depending on the season, a lactation mineral.
It might seem that a man who grew up in Downey and whose father ran the mill and elevator, would have been foreordained to run it himself.
“Back in junior high, I swept floors, mopped, helped bag grain,” Ryan says. “I wouldn’t do any [barley] rolling, that was always my dad’s job.”
But after high school, when Jene suggested coming to work with him, Ryan said, “No way, dad, I’m going out to see the world.”
He did leave Idaho. “I made it as far as Laramie.” He went to trade school for auto upholstery but found it unsatisfying to make a hobby into an occupation. Then he got into industrial painting.
In 2012 he joined Valley Wide and three years ago replaced Jene, who is retired.
“Now I can’t think of a better job I’ve had. Everything in that place is historical. It’s in my blood.”