At a slip-form site, ground stations supported the rising formwork: David Hatch’s recollections, Part Two

Story and drawings by David Hatch

During the slip operation, the ground was an exciting place to be. The viewing experience would be a little like watching Devil’s Tower rise out of the earth to its finished height in seven days–or the lights going on at the Field of Dreams. “If you build it they will come.” Especially at night, the farmers came. They stood, they watched. Without trying, we stepped out of their cornfields, and they beheld a sight they would never forget. 

David Herbert Hatch is senior pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wisc. He worked slip-form construction on elevators throughout Iowa in the early to mid-1970s.

At night, the gatherers saw lights, heard a roaring winch engine, and saw concrete trucks lined up. They heard shouts from the deck to the ground: “More vertical rebar!” They could see concrete finishers go around and around the structure, lit with strings of incandescent bulbs. But silent to them were the jacks, lifting the whole unit several inches a minute.

Out in the flatlands, night travelers who were miles away could see a slip going up.

Ground support was by means of various components.

The Steel Pile–There was a steel pile on the ground. The guy running the steel gin pole called down for vertical or horizontal re-rod. He also called down for jack rods or a large drinking-water container with cups. Perhaps he sent up parts or hydraulic oil. Mostly, he sent up steel using a cable choker.

The Concrete Truck and Driver–Here is an important guy, the concrete-truck driver. He filled the concrete bucket as fast as he could, got out of the way, and watched it go up. As the gin pole operator pulled the bucket in for dumping, it went out of sight of the driver below. Then it reappeared in free fall to the ground and the cycle repeated.

I believe concrete-truck drivers had a dangerous job for many reasons. What if the winch operator did not stop the free fall in time? What if a pulley failed or snapped at its axle? What if someone dropped something from above, like the finisher’s bucket or brush? What if a Georgia buggy driver overfilled the form just above the concrete truck?

There were always one or two trucks lined up when the current one was out of mud. Sometimes we had to ask the driver to add more water to the mix as it was too thick. Sometimes we asked them for more calcium to have it set quicker, perhaps if the mud was too thin. Tricky business. They have come out with trucks that unload the concrete from the front. I believe that it is easier for the driver to control his parking and dumping. Those were not legal in Iowa back then as they were too heavy. No clue about the law today.

The Boom Truck–What a cool old truck! Resembling a tow truck, this cob-job lifter moved things around the job site. It was as fun to drive as it was deadly. Every driver was warned, “Don’t drive under low hanging power lines, you will snag them, and it will kill you!”

The Job Superintendent’s Office–This was often a large mobile home. There were blueprints everywhere and concrete dust all over. It couldn’t be helped. That is where you got your new hardhat if you needed one. 

The Townspeople–Putting up an elevator in a small town made for a big gathering. This would be their elevator. Their grain would go into it. Their bread and butter depended on this concrete and steel. And so they came and watched. Seeing a slip-form operation working at night is better than visiting the midway at the state fair. The sights, the sounds, the whole event–wow!

The Winch–The winch that lifted the concrete bucket was powered by a Ford industrial engine. I had always thought it was a six-cylinder inline engine, but it may have been a four. The winch was anchored into the ground, several hundred feet away from the base of the elevator. I never studied the anchoring into the earth, but it must’ve been substantial. 

The engine shroud was red. The operator stood up while running the winch. The throttle was a small wire with a piece of wood as the handle running through the shroud to the carburetor. There was a large foot-brake for the operator’s right foot. It had a hand clutch for the right arm. The hand clutch was tall, like a walking cane or taller, bent over to the right at the top. There were no gears, just single speed. There was no tachometer visible. It would’ve been fun to have a tachometer.

The winch operator had to be alert at all times. He had to have good eyesight for distance. The goal was to get the concrete bucket filled with mud and send it up to the gin-pole operator at the hopper. That gin pole operator would swing the bucket in, dump it as fast as he could into the hopper, and push it back out in the open air. Then the winch operator would begin to free fall the bucket to the ground. Obviously everything I just described cannot be done from at 10 feet off the ground. Once you hit 20 feet and up, things got exciting.

The winch operator had a lot of responsibility, because if he wasn’t being careful, he could run the bucket up into the top gin pole at full speed, knocking the hopper guy off. If he wasn’t careful, when free-falling the bucket to ground and braking late, he could injure folks on the ground–especially the concrete truck driver. 

The winch operator had to keep an eye on the cable winding (spool wrap) so that it did not overlap and pinch itself, causing a frayed cable.

For myself, this job was so intense that when I was not working, I would sit up in bed and run the winch in my sleep. The guys working with me got the biggest kick out of that. We were all piled up in motel rooms as we moved from town to town.

In conclusion, it was a blast! I absolutely loved this job–especially the roar of that engine at full speed under load. 

David Hatch was born and raised in Ames, Iowa. Prior to college studies, Pastor Dave worked construction and had hopes of serving in law enforcement until his partial color-blindness prevented that. He did not know what to do with his life. Through God’s Providence and a phone call from his sister, who was a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, he enrolled in a college where, unknown to him, many of his future classmates were studying to be pastors. He received his education at Concordia College in Milwaukee; Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, Ill.; and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. His pastoral career began in 1982, following seminary, when he served as an admissions counselor at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. and parish pastor at Love Lutheran Church outside of Albany, N.Y.

How David Hatch summered as a winch operator on slip-form construction, Part One

Story and drawings by David Hatch

David Herbert Hatch is senior pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wisc. He worked slip-form construction on elevators throughout Iowa in the early to mid-1970s. 

It was 1973. Vietnam was still rolling along. Woodstock was four years in the rearview mirror, Watergate was only an investigation, and the Supreme Court had just decided Roe vs. Wade. 

My friends and I graduated from high school that spring and signed on with Todd & Sargent out of Ames, Iowa, our hometown. For the next three summers we journeyed from slip to slip around Iowa. 

In slip-form construction, we took–from the ground–a four-foot high honeycomb of wood to 120 feet in a mere seven days. It paid $4 an hour. Fast food was $1.60. I had just set down my mop at McDonald’s in order to learn a lot about slip-form construction.

In the beginning everyone got a little experience at each job. Perhaps it was like what the Navy does on a sub, training each man at each station just in case. I went from pushing a Georgia buggy, to running the concrete hopper, to settling into my saddle as the ground winch operator. 

Rain or shine, cold or wet, once the pouring began it did not stop until you hit elevation or an emergency stop for lightning. The crew worked two 12-hour shifts, pouring 24 hours a day. On my first day I received a white hardhat and gloves. It sure beat the paper hat at the Golden Arches.

I clearly remember looking around and seeing something very complex: the work of a busy-bee carpenter who created an enormous, complex configuration of lumber. There were multiple, circular, honeycomb-like sections (tanks) with endless vertical wood slats (forms), and scores of steel (rebar and jackrods) rising six or eight feet like antennas. It was neat, clean, and super-intricate. There was sawdust everywhere!

On the deck with its several features and teams

The Deck–A plywood floor was attached to the forms. This is where the workers would live for the next seven days. It served like the floor on a regular elevator, but slower, in a business building and would go up with you on it. Or consider it like a stretched trampoline canvas with nothing beneath. Good thing we couldn’t look down.

The Pump Shack–On the deck the pump shack housed the hydraulic pumps. From here the hydraulic lines fed oil to the jacks. On many jobs, a father and son from Arkansas were the jacking experts. And experts they had to be. Lose the pump or blow a line, and the jacking could stall, hanging up a form or creating a cold ugly seam on the outside wall.

The ground winch operator.

The Steel Gin Pole and Winch–On the deck was a gin pole with its own electric winch. This brought up vertical and horizontal steel to be laid in the forms, spaced out and tied into place with wire ties. The gin-pole operator also brought up jackrods. These were threaded on the ends. They were about six feet long and perhaps a solid inch or more in diameter. The operator of the steel gin pole stood at an unprotected opening upon the sky. There had to be a gap for the steel to come through. He had a dangerous job. One of my friends ran this gin pole for awhile and recalled almost falling off when he lit his pipe.

The Concrete Hopper and Gin Pole–This gin pole and its operator received the loaded concrete bucket from the ground, dumped its contents into the hopper, and pushed the bucket into open air for free fall back to the ground and refilling. That pattern continued for seven straight days. The gin pole had a swing arm for the operator to bring in and return the bucket. Two pulleys were on the pole, one at top-center, one at the end of this upside down “L.”

The Steel Layers–Some guys were assigned to lay steel, both vertical and horizontal, inside the forms. The concrete was poured over the steel and all of it disappeared as the jacks lifted the deck, two inches a minute, as I recall. Then more steel would be laid, repeatedly and perpetually, until we hit elevation. Without the steel, the wall might succumb to a blowout

The Jackrodders–These guys went around adding new jackrods where the existing ones were getting shorter and disappearing into the rising form. The jackrods were super-heavy. They had to be threaded onto the top of the other rod, above the jack. These jacks “bit” the rods, lifting and raising the deck in unison around the perimeter. With that, up went the whole structure!

The Concrete Pourer–This stalwart guided a Georgia buggy from the hopper through the narrow track in the formwork. If you pushed all day down Georgia Buggy Boulevard, you never had to join the YMCA.

The Concrete Vibrators–Carrying electric-powered vibrators, they rid the concrete of bubbles inside the forms. A man’s hands got numb, more so than from riding a Harley all day.

Safeway Scaffold Ladder–As the deck went up, new sections were added to the external Safeway ladder system. This was our way up and down. The more days that went by, the higher the ladder.

The Finishers–We never saw these guys from the deck. They stood on a suspended wooden scaffold that went around the perimeter below the deck. With a brush and a bucket of water, they finished the concrete and made it pretty. Around and around they went, never stopping until we hit elevation. Sometimes the blueprint called for a door or window to be dropped into the form at a certain elevation. The finishers would pretty-up the edging around that door or window as it came out of the form. If the door or window was uneven–no changing that.

Part Two tomorrow.

David Hatch was born and raised in Ames, Iowa. Prior to college studies, Pastor Dave worked construction and had hopes of serving in law enforcement until his partial color-blindness prevented that. He did not know what to do with his life. Through God’s Providence and a phone call from his sister, who was a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, he enrolled in a college where, unknown to him, many of his future classmates were studying to be pastors. He received his education at Concordia College in Milwaukee; Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, Ill.; and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. His pastoral career began in 1982, following seminary, when he served as an admissions counselor at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. and parish pastor at Love Lutheran Church outside of Albany, N.Y.

David Hatch recalls his youthful days as a winch operator in grain elevator construction

We are pleased to introduce you this week to Rev. David Herbert Hatch. He leads a Lutheran congregation in Green Bay, Wisc. but cut his teeth in elevator construction during the 1970s when hydraulic jacking had replaced the mechanical means.

David Herbert Hatch is senior pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Green Bay, Wisc. He worked slip-form construction on elevators throughout Iowa in the early to mid 1970s. 

In this post and the coming series, Dave supplements his recollections with original drawings. These are especially noteworthy because of his colorblindness.

He writes: If I could leave this for your imagination …

An extremely heavy concrete bucket free-falling to the ground at an unknown speed for about 150 feet until the brake man on the winch brings it to a timed stop in front of a concrete truck driver on the ground below.

What if my foot had slipped off the brake?

Likewise, imagine an entirely full concrete bucket, running up the side of a grain elevator at full throttle and I got distracted just before it came to the pulley on the gin pole at the top … what would happen to the guy in the hopper or those below?

This was so intense for me, I would sit up in the middle of the night, operating the winch in my sleep.

I wonder why there’s a ringing in my ears. Hours and hours of running an industrial engine, a few feet away from me, at super-high RPM.

My brother-in-law worked steel. There was a bunch of us, my friends, who would camp–or crash in motels around the state–and go from slip to slip.

The experience gave me a hunger to be a crane operator, which never happened.

About getting concrete to the deck during active slip-form pouring:

  • Looking at the photographs of current construction, I can see concrete pumps and tower cranes. My company, Todd & Sargent, tried a concrete pump once and it plugged up! Yikes!
  • During my days, we used a winch that was anchored into the earth. That was our normal way of getting the mud to the top, one slip operation after another.
  • The winch was perhaps 200 to 300 feet away in the base of the tanks. 
  • There were three pulleys involved. One at the base of the tank near where the concrete truck was and two up on the gin pole on the deck.

 The Concrete Hopper

  • Above the deck was the concrete hopper. 
  • Vertically next to the hopper was the gin pole. It had a handle so the bucket-dumper guy could swing the bucket in and out.
  • This hopper was directly above the concrete trucks below.
  • A guy stood on a platform next to the hopper. As soon as the bucket came up and stopped, and as fast as he could, he pulled the bucket in and dumped it into the hopper. 
  • A light concrete splash went flying everywhere, everytime. Safety glasses for sure. That concrete spit often dropped down into your gloves, burning your skin. 
  • And then, fast as he could, he threw and/or pushed the bucket out into open air to begin its freefall to earth for refilling. The winch operator controlled that.
  • Being hopper-guy was fun for many reasons: timing, repetitive actions, striving for efficiency and grace. Could it be graceful to pull in a bucket, dump it, and throw it to the wind as fast as you could? Yes! And you were working with some invisible guy on the ground you never saw or met: the winch operator. You were a team. You never communicated. It was like you were playing catch, back and forth as fast as you could, with bucket of mud. I kinda miss it!

David Hatch was born and raised in Ames, Iowa. Prior to college studies, Pastor Dave worked construction, and had hopes of serving in law enforcement until his partial color-blindness prevented that. He did not know what to do with his life. Through God’s Providence and a phone call from his sister, who was a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, he enrolled in a college where, unknown to him, many of his future classmates were studying to be pastors. He received his education at Concordia College in Milwaukee; Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, Ill.; and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. His pastoral career began in 1982, following seminary, when he served as an admissions counselor at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. and parish pastor at Love Lutheran Church outside of Albany, N.Y.

The challenge of moving around in elevator construction also brought opportunities and cultural enrichment

By R. Janet Walraven

R. Janet Walraven, M.Ed, retired 35-year teacher and international-award author of four books, resides near Albuquerque, N.M. She is the youngest of Bill and Sadina’s three daughters.

For our family, the nomadism of the grain-elevator construction business had its challenges. We moved 33 times in the 16 years from 1948 to 1964. My two older sisters changed schools 22 or 23 times; I changed 26 times. We were all good students. Since neither of our parents had the privilege of attending college, both set the standards high. With a lot of support and unconditional love, the expectation was always straight A’s, and we worked to accomplish that. 

Because my eldest sister, Ramona Sue, had severe asthma and eczema, some of the high-humidity places were very difficult for her. She struggled with her health until ninth grade when doctors said she needed to be in a dry climate. Serendipitously, Daddy was assigned to the jobsite in Albuquerque, N.M., where Ramona enrolled in a private high school. Rita, second in line, and I continued moving with our parents. 

Rita was very social; she was like a magnet collecting a group of friends wherever we moved. It became difficult to say goodbye, especially to boyfriends, when she reached high school. That’s when she decided she wanted to be in the private high school with Ramona, and I reluctantly joined them for two of the four years.

My parents made sure we visited attractions in various places. Paulding, Ohio was close enough to Canada to visit Niagara Falls. Moving to Florida brought adventures in learning to water ski, fishing for red snapper in the ocean with Daddy, and exploring the islands all the way to Key West. New Mexico was another adventure–learning about the Pueblo people, being fascinated with turquoise mines, and understanding the variety of Southwest cultures. We also learned to love sopapillas!

Left to right: Ramona Sue, Janet, and Rita

Most of Daddy’s crew quit following us around by the time their children reached junior high. Some of the men went back and forth from home to work on his jobs. Changing schools for the kids was difficult, and many of the wives got tired of moving. Mama did not.

When Daddy became vice president of Chalmers & Borton in 1964, Mama knew that was the end of the adventures. She had embraced all the different cultures, the historic sites, the people. They bought their very first home and settled down in Hutchinson, Kan. 

Daddy enjoyed flying in the company plane to check on all the jobs around the country. Sitting in an office day after day was not his cup of tea. He imposed his strict standards on every superintendent in the company, but as his mentor Andy Milnar put it, no one ever lived up to Bill’s standards. 

Note: Reno County Museum in Hutchinson, Kan. houses many of the archives of Chalmers & Borton, Inc. 

Sadina’s list of moves from 1947 to 1964

1947 LaCrosse and Bison, Kan.

1948 Dighton and Bucklin, Kan.

1949 Hereford, Tex.

1950 Utica, Kan. and Aurora, Mo.

1951 Girard, Kan.

1952 Manter, Dighton, Bison, and Mullinville, Kan.

1953 Perry, Okla; McPherson and Kiowa, Kan.; Ponca City and Enid, Okla.

1954 Hereford, Tex.

1956 Sunray, Tex.; Paulding, Ohio

1957 Homestead, Fla; Hutchinson, Kan.

1958 Tampa, Fla; Ft. Worth, Tex; Albuquerque, N.M.

1960 Clovis, N.M.; Tampa, Fla.

1961 Wilmington, N.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.

1962 Hutchinson, Kan.; Liberty, Mo.

1963 Plainview, Tex.

1964 Greeley, Colo.; Hutchinson, Kan.

The nomadic life in elevator construction provided lessons in loyalty, industriousness, and workmanship

R. Janet Walraven, M.Ed, a retired 35-year teacher and international-award author of four books, resides near Albuquerque, N.M. She is the youngest of Bill and Sadina’s three daughters.

By R. Janet Walraven

As a child growing up in the slip-form concrete industry, I probably never heard of most of the challenges my parents faced. But I do remember some. 

My mother, Sadina, was intrigued by slip-form construction, as I have been all my life. There is something special about revisiting what I call prairie skyscrapers across the Great Plains. 

Being a superintendent, Daddy usually went ahead in his pickup to start a job. Mama would follow with my two sisters and me, stair-stepped closely in age, with everything we owned in the trunk of the car. Finding a place to live was challenging; many times, she would be turned away because owners did not want to rent to “construction rats.” Most of the time the apartment or house she found was old, small, and sometimes not very nicely kept. Mama would have the place spic-and-span by the time Daddy got home for supper. Her motto: “Always leave it better than you found it.”

As time went on, Daddy collected a group of loyal foremen–carpenters, steelworkers, electricians, and laborers–whose wives and families followed wherever the job took us. Many chose to live in trailer houses pulled by their pickups. Daddy refused to live in a trailer house. 

Bill and Sadina Walraven

Mama was the best teammate Daddy could have found. She cooked, baked, and cleaned, and she sewed all the clothes for us girls and herself. She planted a garden if we would be in one place long enough. She washed, starched, and ironed to perfection with only a wringer-washer most of the years. And she served as Bill’s payroll bookkeeper. In addition, she planned social gatherings for the crew: picnics, baseball games, birthdays, and roller-skating parties. She knew it was important to keep the crew together. Daddy and Mama made lifelong friends, even after some of them drifted off when their wives and children no longer wanted to keep moving around.

While in Albuquerque in 1958 to 1960, Daddy purchased the 38-unit Texas Ann Motel on Route 66. Mama operated it for two years. When his next job required another move, she found managers and was thrilled to be back on the road experiencing new adventures. 

‘Safety first’ in a hazardous undertaking

One of Daddy’s priorities was safety first. Working on a slip-form concrete job was very dangerous. He paid attention by always being where the action was and insisted on everyone keeping the jobsite orderly. In all of his dozens of jobs, I remember only two incidents where he lost a man. One was in Hereford, Tex., where a man fell to his death from the top of the elevator. Daddy was in deep grief; he felt responsible for the tragedy and took on the responsibility of caring for the bereaved family. 

The second was in Plainview, Tex., where a subcontracted electrician, standing at the top of the elevator, accidentally stepped into his own toolbox and fell through a manhole. 

While building, Daddy endured a few situations of his own. Once climbing the ladder up the side of an elevator, he fell and broke his leg. A week later, not being able to get around on the job well enough, he sawed off the cast and limped around until the leg was healed. He never lost one day of work in his entire career. 

Unions can also be challenging. When the Teamsters went on strike, they were stopping the non-union cement truck drivers and pushing the trucks over into the ditch. The drivers then refused to continue. Daddy got into the driver’s seat of a truck, held a gun out the window, and drove across the strike line. No one messed with my dad, and the strike was over.

Another incident was when he had to fire a laborer. The next day, the man came onto the job, came up behind Daddy, and hit him in the head with the hammer claw. A foreman took the guy down, drove Daddy to the emergency room to get stitches, and they both went back to work. That same foreman who saved Daddy’s life was Will Evans, a black man whose family was very close to ours. I was riding with Daddy when we moved to Sunray, Tex. and was shocked to see a billboard at the city limits that read: “All Negroes must be out of town by sunset.” 

“What does that mean?” I asked. “Where will Will and his family live?” 

Daddy gritted his teeth and said, “I’ve bought him a trailer house to put out on the jobsite.” 

It was my first encounter with prejudice. Daddy looked after that family until all their children were grown.

Excitement of ‘The Pour’ and pride in workmanship

I loved riding with Daddy to the next town. As soon as I could read, he taught me how to navigate by map, letting him know what the next highway route was, though he probably already knew. As we rode along, passing through small towns that had grain elevators built by someone else, he would say, “See the lines running horizontally in those tanks? That’s where the superintendent in charge kept pouring concrete even when the weather was below freezing. A freeze line is a weak place that can cause a blowout in the tanks. I will not let that happen.” 

I had a great sense of pride in his perfectionism. He was also proud of grain elevators that had a headhouse and “Texas house” that contained the equipment: the uppermost leg and the “run” to the storage tanks. He said all other elevators were messy-looking because so many mechanisms were outside the structure. To this day, I can spot a Chalmers & Borton grain elevator miles away.

One of the most exciting times of my childhood was watching a week-long pour. Daddy stayed on the job night and day, coming home only to eat, bathe, and change clothes. 

In the evenings, Mama would drive us to the job so we could watch the pour. It was like watching magic, all the lights twinkling, seeing men running the wheelbarrows (buggies) full of concrete and the men pumping by hand the jacks as the wooden, rounded slip-forms edged up. I was fascinated to see the concrete “grow” until the tanks finally topped out.

I once observed Daddy running his hands through the gravel that had just been dumped at the job site. He immediately stopped the truck and told the driver to take it all back because it was too coarse. It had to be exactly the right grade to prevent blowouts.

He often ran his hands along the tank walls as the pour was happening, knowing instinctively how the surface should feel. 

As I grew older, wearing a hard hat just like Daddy, I loved being with him on the job site. I was impressed that he would stop and talk to the men who followed job to job. He knew their wives’ names and always asked about the children. 

Daddy has always been my hero. 

Working for Chalmers & Borton, the close-knit Walraven family left Kansas on a journey of prodigious building 

By R. Janet Walraven

R. Janet Walraven, M.Ed, a retired 35-year teacher and international-award author of four books, resides near Albuquerque, N.M. She is the youngest of Bill and Sadina’s three daughters.

Standing on his family’s front porch in east Texas, nine-year-old Bill Walraven declared, “Someday I am going to be somebody. I will not be poor, and I don’t want to stay in the South.” 

William E. “Bill” Walraven was born September 25, 1912, the middle child of 11 by their Choctaw mother, Georgia Allice Addy and Dutch father, William Alfred Walraven. 

I called him Daddy. He graduated from high school in 10th grade–that’s as far as it went–and got a job in a sawmill. By 1940, he was building army barracks in Enid, Okla., where he met my Mama, Sadina M. Wagner, and rose to the top as construction superintendent. After high school graduation, Mama had moved to Enid to find a job near her married sister.

World War Two interrupted things, and he went to Europe with the 579th Field Artillery Battalion. After the War, he met Clinton H. Chalmers, partner in Chalmers & Borton. 

By then, Bill and Sadina had already married. Their love story is told in Rainbow of Promise: A World War II Romance, my family’s legacy and tribute to my parents. Upon his return from Europe to Kansas, Daddy went to work in La Crosse, 150 miles northwest of Wichita. He filed saws on the Farmers Union elevator under Chalmers & Borton superintendent R. Alberding. 

Early days of Chalmers & Borton and exciting adventures

Cpl. William E. Walraven. All photos are courtesy of R. Janet Walraven.

Chalmers & Borton started out in 1927 with wooden elevators. The men and their wives lived together in one boxcar. After building up a big company, Chalmers–being mindful of the army barracks project management–promoted Daddy in 1948, to superintendent on Farmers Cooperative in Shields, Kan.—a 100,000-bushel slip-formed concrete elevator.

Born June 27, 1919, Mama was smart, gregarious, and madly in love with Daddy. She was excited about his job and happily became the best partner he ever wanted. She took on payroll duties. For her, moving around was an exciting adventure. The full extent of it is recorded in the company’s Book of Superintendents.

We moved in 1948 to Dighton, the central Kansas town where Mama had graduated high school 11 years earlier. For a while, we lived with Grandma Wagner in Bison. Daddy drove back and forth as he built an elevator for Co-op Equity Exchange of Mullinville. Later it was Bucklin, Kan. for Bucklin Cooperative’s new elevator.

Mama presided as we moved to Hereford, Tex. in 1949. It was a new state and bigger job—500,000-bushels of storage for Pitman Grain Co. Daddy finished Summerfield, Tex. for Pitman also. Most jobs in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle were 100,000 to 750,000 bushels. Later, he tackled one to 10 million bushels, whether grain elevators or storage units. 

Chalmers visited regularly, introducing Daddy to Andy Milnar, a superintendent since 1927. Andy mentored Daddy at every chance. They both loved to fish. As their friendship grew, Andy realized Daddy was a math genius. Without having taken geometry, knowing no formulas for calculations, he could look at a pyramid-shaped pile of sand or gravel the size of a huge building, and know exactly the volume. He calculated the concrete, lumber, and steel needed for the structure. In fact, Daddy sometimes had to persuade Andy and Chalmers to modify blueprints.

“This won’t work,” he would say while redrawing. The college-graduate engineers in the office had it wrong.

The family grows while staying on the move

Bill and Sadina Walraven in 1967.

By this time, there were three of us daughters: Ramona Sue (1944), Rita (1945), and me (1947). 

In 1950, we moved to Utica, Kan. where Daddy built an elevator for Utica Grain as well as storage for Farmers Coop in Shields. Utica was the first place he constructed an office where grain trucks would drive onto a scale. He was quite proud of it. 

Next came Aurora, Mo. for Missouri Farmers Association, and then Girard, Kan. for Consumers Co-op. The year 1952 took us to Manter, Kan. for Collingwood Grain and back to Mullinville for Co-op Equity Exchange. 

We moved in 1953 to Ponca City, Okla.–near Hazelton, Kan.–for Farmers Co-op Equity, before completing a 4-million-bushel monster for W.B. Johnston Grain in Enid. With energy to spare, Daddy also did an elevator for Farmers in Perry, Okla. 

While in Hereford Tex. in 1954, he completed a one-million-bushel elevator for Pitman Grain, another elevator for Sears Grain, and a storage nine miles to the southwest in Summerfield. Still nearby in 1955, in Bovina, there was a storage for Sherley Grain, an elevator in Dimmitt, and a storage in Farwell. We lived in Sunray, a tiny town with a huge public swimming pool we enjoyed every day. My first encounter with prejudice was that blacks weren’t allowed after sundown within city limits. Daddy purchased a trailer house for his black foreman’s family to live on the job site. 

The Walravens turn eyes eastward–and back–for huge triumphs 

During the summer of 1956, Mama brimmed with anticipation about getting out of the Texas Panhandle for something very different in Paulding, Ohio: two storage units for Consolidated Cement Corp. 

That was the inflection point in our adventures.

In 1957 we moved to Homestead, Fla. for a cement plant on drained swampland. But we were soon back to Kansas to build a storage for Montezuma Co-op Exchange. 

During 1957 and 1958, Daddy took on a seven-million-bushel elevator for Farmers Co-op in Hutchinson, Kan.—his first construction of hexagonal tanks. He enjoyed the diversity and challenge in building. At half a mile, that elevator became the world’s longest. Workers rode bicycles from end to end. 

We moved back to Florida—now Tampa—in 1958 for a subcontract job for Mills & Jones, today known as Federal Construction. Yet within the same year, we went to Albuquerque, N.M. on a two-year cement plant job for Robert E. McKee in Tijeras Canyon near the base of Sandia Mountain. During that year, Daddy also completed a 10-million-bushel elevator in Topeka, Kan. Then back to Bovina, Tex. (We lived across the state line in Clovis, N.M.) for 1.56-million bushels of storage for Sherley-Anderson Grain. But how could we call a calendar year complete without going back to Tampa for cement tanks and some buildings in Busch Gardens for The Austin Company?

The next few years capped Daddy’s career. In 1961, he superintendended a cement plant in Wilmington, N.C. for Rea Construction. 

General Portland, a cement producer in Chattanooga, followed in 1962. Then on to Kansas City, Mo. for two million of storage for KC Terminal Grain. Another 4.7-million storage and office came in 1963 for Producers Grain Corp. of Plainview, Tex.—including, for the first time, steel tanks. 

Our final stop, in 1964, was Eaton, Colo. (we stayed in Greeley) for a Great Western Sugar mill.

That summer, at Andy Milnar’s urging and honoring Chalmers’ perspective, Daddy was promoted to vice president and field superintendent. Chalmers, who by then had passed away, thought of him as the best they ever had among the long journey of 125 superintendents in far-flung sites from 1927 onward. 

Determined to succeed, Daddy stayed at it and did what he loved until his own tragic death at 59–just before retirement–in 1972. Mama survived him by 17 years when she died in a car accident.