How a 1950 elevator matches advanced farming practices in Cordell, Oklahoma

DSC_2318Story and Photos by Kristen Cart

Once we discovered that the Cordell, Oklahoma elevator was built by Mayer-Osborn, it became a priority to pay a visit.  Luckily an opportunity presented itself when I went shopping for an Australian Shepherd puppy for my son Jesse. Deadra Buffing breeds lovely pups at Horse Creek Aussies right there in Cordell, and we found the right dog, so off I went on a puppy mission, first flying to Oklahoma City then driving two hours west to Cordell. (I’m sure there were breeders closer to home, but this coincidence was too good to pass up.)

DSC_2335But the first stop was the Mayer-Osborn elevator. After a quick tour around the outside with my camera, I stepped inside the Wheeler Brothers Grain Company office. There, Jim Balzer greeted me. He was more than happy to share his insights and long experience with the Cordell elevator. His stint at the elevator spanned a number of owners, beginning in 1979 with General Mills.

General Mills sold their Oklahoma operations in about 1984, including elevators at Cordell, Bessie, Carrier, Reading, and the terminal at Enid. Logan Farms bought the Cordell elevator from General Mills, then Johnson’s Grain bought it. Goodpasture, out of Texas, owned it for awhile. Wheeler Brothers finally bought it in 1996 or 1997.

After 1984, a truck spout was added on the west side of the elevator, and the train spout on the east side was remodeled using salvaged parts. The old wooden doors were also replaced with metal ones. Jim said the elevator is holding corn for the first time, an atypical crop for the area, but a sign of the times due to ethanol subsidies.

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Jim Balzer has worked at the Cordell elevator since 1979. The small elevator has stood as long as he can remember.

The structure is completely unique, having two driveways. It’s special features are its two legs, each rated at 5,000 bushels per hour, to achieve an unload rate of 10,000 bushels per hour. Most elevators of this size and age have long since retired because of limitations in their loading rates, if not for their lack of capacity. Jim said their newer, larger elevator at Cordell, when running “full out” with its single leg, only surpassed the old elevator by a little bit at 11,500 bushels per hour.

In the past, all manner of vehicles would line up to unload their grain at Cordell. The earliest were horse-drawn wagons, used in the old wooden elevator days (before Jim’s time, he noted), where the farmers would scoop the grain manually into the pit. Jim showed me a bit of concrete foundation by the tracks where the wood elevator used to be. A slow leg was no problem then, because the choke point of the process was the farmer’s shovel.

Years later, after the concrete elevator was built, farmers drove their trucks in and unloaded them much more quickly. They would queue up in the hot sun and wait their turn, while Jim’s young daughter brought them cold pop from a wagon.

Now, nothing much smaller than a semi-tractor trailer will bring grain, and the leg speed is much more crucial. Rail cars are also serviced at the small elevator. The Cordell elevator was far ahead of its time, able to keep up with advances in farming practices. It is a testament to the forethought of the original designers that the Mayer-Osborn elevator still meets the need.

The Mayer -Osborn Construction Company is identified on the manhole cover

The Mayer-Osborn Construction Company is identified on the manhole cover.

The Mayer-Osborn elevator in Tempe, Arizona is a jewel in an upscale setting

DSC_0047Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Phoenix is well out of the way for a pilot based in Louisville, Ky., and living in the Chicago area. It takes a bit of intentional finagling to get into Phoenix with enough time to visit an elevator. Fortunately, the Mayer-Osborn grain elevator in Tempe sits at the foot of a hill, just a few miles off the end of an active runway at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A steady stream of airplanes flies directly over the elevator, either coming from, or going into the airport, depending on the wind conditions. After seeing it many times from the air, I arranged for a four hour layover in Phoenix, which was just enough of an opportunity to grab a rental car and go see it.

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Manhole covers are embossed with the company name. Each annex bin has a manhole cover.

The straight-up styled elevator with its annex was built in 1951 for the Hayden Flour Mill, a Tempe landmark which had already been in operation for decades.  It once proudly displayed the “Hayden Flour Mill” name, painted along the annex side, in lettering that has been painted over at least twice. The white paint has now faded enough for both lettering jobs to show through.

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Hayden Flour Mill

 

My dad,  Jerry Osborn, remembers when his father worked the Mayer-Osborn job in Arizona. Dad would have been about seven years old. The job was one of many that took Bill Osborn away from his home in Fremont, Neb.

The Mayer-Osborn elevator and annex nestle at the base of a hill, gracing the neighborhood like a white gemstone in a gleaming setting. The Hayden Flour Mill, which has a strong historical significance to the area, is a rather unremarkable looking building, located at the base of the elevator. The neighborhood has grown up around it with shining highrises, shops and hiking trails, erasing the former industrial setting, and replacing it with an upscale ambiance.

It is fortunate that the mill and elevator add character and personality to the place, and that city planners have recognized their value. Now a park and lawn surround the mill. The mill’s windows have been screened so that tourists can look inside, and historical plaques detail its history. The elaborate plans for the mill have been put off after the market crash in 2008, but fortunately the goal of preservation has not been abandoned. It is good to see one of my grandfather’s elevators safely ensconced in a community that values its presence.DSC_0030

Mayer-Osborn elevator contract proposals are preserved at Wauneta, Nebraska

Much of the time on the road was spent marketing. William Osborn at the wheel

William Osborn at the wheel. Much of his time was spent selling elevators to prospective buyers.

Story by Kristen Cart

The Mayer-Osborn Construction Company built their elevators from 1949 until about 1955. To do this, they had to beat out a number of formidable competitors, both large and small, vying for the same jobs. But they did not win the contract every time they tried. One example of their perseverance survives at the Frenchman Valley Co-op at Wauneta, a town in southwestern Nebraska. Mayer-Osborn did not win their bid, but their contract proposals, made over a period of several years, are still kept in the co-op vault among blueprints and records spanning almost 70 years.

The cover letter for the Mayer-Osborn contract proposal at Wauneta, Neb.

The cover letter for the Mayer-Osborn contract proposal at Wauneta, Neb.

When I was first trying to get a handle on the scope of Mayer-Osborn’s business, I asked my dad, Jerry Osborn, which partner did most of the marketing. I was under the mistaken impression that Eugene Mayer was in charge of all that, and I thought that all my grandfather William Osborn had to do was show up and start pouring concrete.

“No,” Dad said, “Gene Mayer took care of the office and accounting, but your grandpa did a lot of the sales.”

This ad for Mayer-Osborn Company ran in Farmers' Elevator Guide over a period of several years in the early 1950s.

This ad for Mayer-Osborn Company ran in Farmers’ Elevator Guide over a period of several years in the early 1950s.

Grandpa put many miles on his cars, visiting prospective clients, when he was not supervising an active construction site. He spent almost all of his time on the road. Dad recalls that he and his mother were home alone during those years, while his brother Dick was in Korea and his sister Audrey was married. We have a few pictures of Dad with both of his parents, but they were taken at a job site. The sales part of Grandpa’s job took much more effort than I had ever imagined.

For a closer look at the Mayer-Osborn plans for Wauneta, Neb., and the final outcome of their efforts, stay tuned.

Musings about an Absent Father

By Kristen Osborn Cart

My dad has been writing a memoir about his life growing up in Nebraska, as the son of Bill Osborn, builder of the Mayer Osborn elevators.  It struck me that after about 1939, Dad scarcely mentions him, other than to note his absence.  Grandpa was gone all of the time. Over the years the Osborn cousins have assembled photos from those times, and it is very striking that the photos of the Osborn home became scarce from about then. The few pictures we have from later on were from visits, and from the various projects he worked on. Bill Osborn was the photographer in the family.

William Osborn, 1952.

By the time I knew him, he had long since retired from that occupation, and he was home, taking care of his tropical fish business. He would find time to take his little granddaughters fishing (my cousin Diane and me), after night crawler hunting by flashlight, of course.  He was an affectionate grandfather, and he loved my mom.  He read the morning paper over breakfast, and ate his eggs sunny-side-up, mopping up the last of them with his toast. And he didn’t talk much. The elevator phase of his life, in my mind, consisted of a framed photo of an elevator (McCook Equity Exchange), and Dad’s assurance that it was grandpa’s first elevator he built on his own.

My cousin, Diane, brought out a cache of photographs of grain elevators one day, not too long ago.  Most were not marked, though the one from Kanorado, Kansas, had it’s location and capacity written on the back.  We have identified almost all of them, but a few are still mysterious, so now that it has been thirty-five years since Grandpa died, we have something to ask him.

This summer we are planning to go find some of the grain elevators he built some sixty to seventy years ago, many of which are still in use.  The buildings can’t tell us about his jovial smile, his mischief, or his aggravation at workers who left after their first paycheck.  But I can imagine him there, just as I suppose my father had to.  At least Dad could visit sometimes.

William Arthur Osborn, 1965

Osborn letterhead reveals new dimensions to the elevator story

Story and drawings by Kristen Osborn Cart

Note: Kristen recently visited Nebraska and located a batch of family papers. 

William Osborn retired from building elevators in 1955, but he continued maintaining them.

It was not until sometime in the Sixties that he switched careers and started a tropical fish business, breeding fancy beta fighting fish and guppies in tanks he welded himself. The fish shop was in his basement. It made a fascinating place for a young granddaughter to explore.

Apparently, he still had some elevator repair company letterhead paper lying around, because I found it and used it for some of my drawings. How they survived all of these years is a mystery to me.

All I ever drew were girls and horses. 

A contemporary view of Mayer-Osborn’s Blencoe elevator

Last holiday season, when she visited the Mayer-Osborn elevator at Blencoe, Iowa, Kristen Osborn Cart snapped this photo of a framed photo hanging in the office. It shows an early view of the elevator, which was finished in 1954. Her own father helped with the construction. The gleaming coat of white paint gave the structure an ultramodern look.

It’s official: Mayer-Osborn built Big Springs’ original concrete elevator

Story and Photos by Gary Rich

Who built the Big Springs elevator? The winner is Mayer-Osborn Company. The manhole covers have Mayer-Osborn on them. It was built in 1951.This structure is today called Elevator 1. A six-bin annex was added afterwards. I do not know who built it. There were no manhole covers.

Another annex was built by Mid States. They call this Elevator 2. It has its own leg. This annex has about sixteen bins.

Mid States also built the third annex, which has its own leg, too. There are two huge bins. 

I asked manager Larry McCroden about the primary crops raised around the area. The two biggest crops are corn and wheat. Secondary crops were sunflower seeds, for making sunflower oil, and millet. Some oats were grown, but there hasn’t been any oats tendered to the Co-Op for the past four years. Most years, corn was the number-one crop with wheat coming in second. I would say that there was about twenty percent more corn than wheat. One year was an exception. I believe it was 2008. Farmers delivered more wheat than corn that year.

The Big Springs Co-Op is independent–no other elevators in any towns. It says a lot that an independent Co-op can survive during without merging or being taken over.