Although the heat wave imperils harvests, irrigation might not come to the rescue

A pivoting irrigation system near distributes water over an Oklahoma field that will soon be plowed and planted.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

ABC World News reported July 5 on effects of the extreme heat that has stretched from Colorado throughout the Midwest. Correspondent Alex Perez talked with Manhattan, Ill., farmer Dave Kestel, who said that without rain in the next couple of weeks his corn crop would be history. The report observed that three-quarters of the U.S. is in drought. There is not much hope for any moisture in the upcoming weeks.

Humans must have water. Crops must have water for growth. When you do not have water, things will perish.

Some agricultural land is irrigated. But there have been complaints that the farmers are reducing the water tables. Colorado has banned irrigation along the South Platte River. Farmers in Weld County requested that Governor John Hickenlooper issue an emergency order authorizing irrigation so their crops can be saved, but he replied that he lacks authority to do so.

Eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and the Oklahoma panhandle, as well as many other areas, use pivot irrigation. The farmer taps a well for water, which is distributed over a field through a pivoting sprinkler arm. From the air, these irrigated areas appear as lush circles. The outskirts of the circles are left barren.

Corn is used for animal feed, making ethanol, and other uses. If this 2012 corn crop fails, it will affect not only agriculture, but other industries as well. If we have a corn shortage, foodstuffs and products made from corn will rise in price. The drought will affect other crops, too, such as milo, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and even popcorn.

One wonders: with so much of the United States having a drought, are we headed into another Dust Bowl era, like the 1930s? We certainly hope not!

Gary Rich explains wheat farming in Colorado and Kansas


Heat waves rising over a field of winter wheat in Goodland, Kan. Photo by Kristen Cart.

By Gary Rich

Here is Agriculture 101. I will tell you something about wheat.

There are two types of wheat. You have hard and soft wheat. Hard is considered winter wheat, whereas the soft is considered spring wheat. Winter wheat is planted in August or September. It is harvested the next summer. Spring wheat is planted in the spring, and it is harvested in August or September.

There are different types of winter and spring wheat. Some will produce better yields under normal growing conditions.

Our Colorado wheat fields that were just harvested will not be planted again until August 2013. Farmers leave the field idle for a year. This is done to keep the moisture in the ground, and to preserve some of the minerals for growing. Here in Colorado, it is called dry farming. When they get ready to plant, they will plant the wheat into the ground, without breaking it up.

A view, two days before harvest, of the Page City, Kan., elevator, built by Johnson-Sampson Construction, of Salina.
Photo by Kristen Cart

Where I was reared, in Kansas, it was wet farming.  We had enough moisture, between the rain and snow. Farmers would use a plow, and plow under the last crop remains, then go back over the field with a harrow, leveling out the ground. Then they would come in with a planter and put the seeds into the ground.

In Colorado, we cannot do this, as we do not have the moisture.

Basically, the states that produce hard wheat are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, western Nebraska, and South Dakota. States that produce soft wheat are North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

Those are just a few basic things about wheat.

Wauneta registers as an important architectural landmark and literary archive

Story by Kristen Osborn Cart

Photo by Gary Rich

The elevator operators at Wauneta, Nebr., have done a remarkable job of retaining the blueprints and correspondence accumulated during the time the elevator complex was designed and built.

In virtually every other case we’ve investigated, blueprints were lost or unavailable, and the histories of the elevators were unknown. At Wauneta, we can track the history of their endeavor very easily.

We know from a newspaper item that the first, straight-up elevator at Wauneta was built by William Osborn, during his years with J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, in 1945.

My dad knew that Grandpa built an elevator at Wauneta, so the story has been verified. A few years later, Wauneta obtained designs for an annex to be built by a winning bidder.

Map of Nebraska highlighting Chase County

Among these designs were two blueprints, dated 1948 and 1949, which were done by Holmen and Mayer, and Mayer-Osborn, respectively. Apparently the first set of plans was not built and a second set was ordered, this time from the newly formed Mayer-Osborn Company.

Other builders also submitted plans. Instead of an annex, however, Wauneta eventually built a second elevator, likely as a money-saving move.

A third elevator was also built.

The first two elevators had access to a rail line, and when the third elevator was built by Mel Jarvis Construction of Salina, Kan., it had no rail access, so runs were built connecting it to the other elevators.

After his recent visit, Gary Rich confirms that Mayer-Osborn built the Co-Op office building, formerly a John Deere dealership, and also a boiler room just west of the dealership. The blueprints are still kept at the Co-Op.

According to Gary, who interviewed a member of the Co-Op board, “The Co-Op provided everything for the farmers. They had the elevator, the John Deere dealership, a grocery store, and a lumber yard. Plus, they had a fertilizer plant and gasoline dealership.” 


Note: Follow the embedded link for William Osborn’s explanation of construction techniques used by Mayer-Osborn in nearby McCook, Nebr.

Pritchett: Three elevators in southeastern Colorado


Gary Rich captured this striking view of the elevators at Pritchett, a small town in Colorado’s southeasternmost county, Baca. The elevators are along U.S. 160–called Railroad Street in the town–on the northern edge of the Comanche National Grassland. While we don’t know the builders of these elevators, some Mayer-Osborn characteristics are to be seen, notably, the step-up headhouse design and ground-level drive-through access of the first building.

Tracking down the builders of some Kansas and Colorado elevators

Photos by Gary Rich

We’re trying to track down the builders of elevators that stand in various places throughout Kansas and Colorado.

They could be Mayer-Osborn Company elevators.

Here are photos of elevators in Pritchett, Colo., above; Limon, Colo., center; and Coldwater, Kan., below.

Brandon, Colo., also has an elevator whose builder we haven’t identified. 

In Kansas, we have looked at elevators of unknown provenance in Bridgeport, Carlton, Coldwater, Lucas, and Peabody. Of these elevators, Bridgeport, Carlton, and Peabody are of the straight-up type.

From Salina, Bridgeport is due south while Carlton is to the southeast. Peabody is on U.S 50 northeast of Newton.

It seems likely that the elevators in these towns were built by Johnson-Sampson Construction Company, or companies that derived from it, because these towns are fairly close to Salina, where Johnson-Sampson was located.

There are elevators in a few places that were certainly built by Johnson-Sampson. These in Atlanta, Galatia, and Fowler are of the step-up type.

Although circumstances around the dissolution of Mayer-Osborn in 1955 aren’t precisely known, we think that after William Osborn left the business, Eugene Mayer, his partner, carried on under another name, and the signature Mayer-Osborn design scheme was used by Johnson-Sampson and perhaps others.

In Chase County, we meet Gary State, an elevator construction veteran

By Gary Rich

Editor’s note: Gary is recently returned from a fact-finding foray in Nebraska.

I stopped at the Chase County courthouse in Imperial, Neb., looking for the dates when the elevators were built in Imperial, Enders, and Wauneta. They did not have much information about the build dates. The only info they have in their records is that the old office building for Frenchman Valley Co-op was done in 1946. The FVC built a new office across the street from the old one.

The ladies on the courthouse staff told me to stop in at the FVC office and talk with Gary State, who might have the dates. Mr. State went to work for Mid States building grain elevators and feed plants. I do not know if it was just Mid States or Mid States Construction. He was living in Imperial when he started working for them.

Map of Nebraska highlighting Chase County

I explained about Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, and Mayer-Osborn Company. He gave me some leads. He told me that Hugh O’Grady is still alive and lives in Omaha. Mid States was started by a man name Erickson. He had seven sons. Six of the sons ended up working for Mid States. One son died at a construction site. He said Jack Russell was a superintendent. He thought that he was living in Seward, Neb.

Mr. State built the second annex, or elevator number two, at Big Springs, and then elevator number three.

He told me that he built the Woolstock, and Goldfield, Iowa, elevators; the feed plant at Fruita, Colo.; and elevators at Garrison and nearby David City, Neb. At the other end of the Cornhusker State, he built the west elevator in Imperial. After the west elevator was finished, he left Mid States and he went to work for the Co-op. This is the reason that he is working for FVC.

♦ ♦ ♦

Okay, here is another thing. I thought that when a construction company built an elevator that they did everything. This is not true. Mr. State told me about a company based at York, Neb. This company did all the belts inside the elevators, all around Nebraska, no matter who the builder was. So we know the belts were installed by a separate company. Now I am wondering if a separate company was onsite to install the leg as they built the elevator up. Or did the general contractor install the leg?

Page City structure exemplifies functional and aesthetic aspects of elevator design

Page City elevator as seen January 26, 2012

Story and photos by Gary Rich

The elevators without a headhouse were called straight-up elevators. J. H. Tillotson, Contractor and Mayer-Osborn Company produced these in the latter 1940s and early 1950s. Their elevators had a smaller diameter pipe that came out about three-quarters up the rail side. Loading a boxcar was time-consuming.

About 1958, there were improvements added for quicker loading of boxcars. These images show the Page City, Kan., elevator. Notice the rail loading chutes are much larger and there are two chutes, so the grain could be loaded equally. These chutes were on all concrete elevators raised during the late 1950s and 1960s. Most boxcars could be loaded within fifteen minutes, whereas on the old wooden elevators it could take up forty-five minutes.

The Page City elevator was built by Johnson-Sampson Construction Company, of Salina, Kan.  It was built about 1958 or 1959. Did Gene Mayer draw up the blueprints for this elevator? We don’t know where he went after the Mayer-Osborn era, which ended after 1955.

Another improvement is the area around the driveway. You can see the three reinforcing columns above the driveway and door. I would think this would add greater strength. The Kanorado, Kan., elevator has a smaller version built out. It is established that Gene Mayer produced the plans for that elevator.

How does a grain elevator work?

By Gary Rich

First of all, let me explain how an elevator actually works. The grain is dumped from a truck through the grates. The area below the grate is called the pit. The leg runs from the pit to the head house. On the leg is a thick rubber belt with buckets or cups. When the leg is started, the belt will move through the pit. The cups will fill up the grain and take it to the head house. As the leg reaches the top, it will arch, the cups will be up side down. When the cups turn to go back down towards the pit, they empty the grain on a conveyor belt. The cups will be facing downward, until the cups reach the pit and the will right themselves, filling up with more grain.

The run is the conveyor belt between the elevator and a storage annex. The run will have walls on the side of conveyor. They could be completely covered, too. Workers will set up the run, to a certain bin. There are openings at each bin. There is generally a door that they can open, so the grain will fall into the bin. They will put another piece of metal on the run, which acts like a chute. Thus, when the grain gets to the proper bin, and the grain hits the chute, the grain will move toward the opening of the run, and the grain will empty into the bin.

Sometimes, there will be a short conveyor belt that can be put under the main conveyor belt from the elevator. It is the same method. The grain will hit the chute, then through the opening, onto the second conveyor belt, which has a rise to it, and it will dump the grain into the bin.

Kristen mentioned that the bins are sloped. Most bins are built this way. You can think of it as self cleaning, as all the grain will come out the bottom of the bin. Now, if they built the bin flat, most of the grain can be removed. However there will still be about three feet of grain that is away from the bottom opening. Then some one has to climb through the manhole into the bin and they must shove the grain through the opening at the bottom. This is the only way that you can empty a flat bin.

The storage annex always has a basement. There is a conveyor belt that runs from a bin, back to the elevator, then up into a hopper. Most elevators have two separate hoppers. One will load a rail car and the other one can load a truck. If you did not have this conveyor belt, you could not unload a bin.

The area where the run is located is enclosed. If you look at a photo of a grain elevator with a storage annex, you will see an enclosed area above the storage annex. Outside this area, the bins are covered with concrete. Inside the run, either part of each bin will be open, or they could have metal slabs that cover the bins.

Details of the Kanorado, Kansas, elevator by J.H. Tillotson, Contractor

Story and Photos by Gary Rich

Kanorado, Kansas–J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, built this elevator. Here’s a view of the south side. Note the windows near the top. J.H. Tillotson and Mayer-Osborn built the no-headhouse elevators with different window arrangements.






This view shows the elevator, the office building and feed mill. I do not have a date for when it was built.






The office and feed mill were built at the same time.








This is a manhole cover inside the elevator.