The story behind the WSJ’s story of a cast-off elevator in Burlington, Colo.

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By Ronald Ahrens

From reading Wayne G. Broehl, Jr.’s huge history of Cargill, I’ve become alert to other news about the grain-trading behemoth. So a Wall Street Journal article, titled “Growers’ New Clout Tilts Farm Economy,” caught my eye on Aug. 16 

“Powerful farmers push Cargill, ADM for better prices, and may soon compete,” the sub-headline reads.

According to Jacob Bunge’s story, several factors have risen in importance to give large farmers more leverage.

One is that farmers have more storage capacity for their grain. They don’t have to sell soon after harvest, going to the local elevator and accepting the current price.

A second factor is more options for direct sale of crops to stock feeders or ethanol plants.

And like everything else, there’s a digital aspect. “Venture capital-backed startups are developing services that scan a wider range of grain buyers or connect farmers directly with food makers,” Bunge reports.

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Bunge’s story in the Journal tells of a Cargill grain buyer who “said his job got harder still after Cargill in 2016 sold the Burlington, Colo., grain elevator–and later, nearby cattle feedlots that were reliable destinations for the grain grown by many of [the buyer’s] contacts.”

Here we skidded to a stop. Burlington, Colo., is in the records of Tillotson Construction Co. My uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, worked on Burlington and recalls a 1950 incident there involving a train and cement mixer. The locomotive derailed, but no one was injured.

The 300,000-bushel Burlington elevator had eight tanks of 20 feet in diameter and 115 feet in height. It was a twin-leg elevator with a pit 19 feet deep. The cupola measured 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 44 feet high. Pulley centers were 168 feet apart.

Could this be the same elevator Cargill sold two years ago? The big company has “divested itself of some far-flung grain elevators that aren’t near a railroad or river.”

And Bunge recounts another marvel: the anecdote concerns an Illinois farmer–one who tills 9,000 acres and rents out 5,000 more–who partnered with another farmer to buy a 750,000-bushel Cargill elevator. 

If they don’t find it too expensive to operate and insure, dispatching large quantities of grain when and where they want will be a challenge for Cargill and ADM to face.

 

An elevator in Minden, Neb., offers few clues and one gangling oddity

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By Ronald Ahrens

Our friend Kim Cooper sent this photo of an elevator in Minden, Neb. We see no mention of Minden in the records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha. One dependable characteristic is that Tillotson built a with center driveway. This elevator has a side driveway.

Although we don’t know how many elevators were constructed by Mayer-Osborn Co., of Denver, or where they were built, an educated guess says this isn’t one of their jobs either. Mayer-Osborn had developed a stepped-headhouse design with rounded corners. Here, there is a step, but nothing like the proportions we have seen at an Mayer-Osborn elevator–the one in Follett, Texas, for example.

So we called up Minden and spoke to Brent, who runs the location. He confirmed that the freestanding tall structure on the elevator’s left in this photo is an outdoor leg and is used to load trains.

And Brent said the elevator was built by Sampson Construction. “I want to say 1960s for the original house,” he said.

 

Even more views of Buffalo’s terminals and more grain-trade history, Part 3

By Ronald Ahrens

As seen in two previous posts, Kristen was in Buffalo the other day and took photos of the terminal elevators. Here’s the third in the series of three we’re doing with our own commentary as well as some lines from Cargill: Trading the World’s Grain, by Wayne G. Broehl, Jr. These lines show how central Buffalo was to the grain trade.

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“This place has an ADM sign on it but it was deserted over the weekend except for a flock of geese and one of pigeons,” Kristen reported. “It looks pretty worn down too.”

“Quite a headhouse,” I said. “Originally a Cargill elevator?”

* * *

June 7, 1932: “May people connected with Montreal shipping felt quite threatened by the new Albany deep-water port. So too did other communities along the water route to the St. Lawrence, particularly Buffalo.” — p. 536

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“The other side taken from the drawbridge,” Kristen said.

“I do not normally associate kayakers with grain elevators,” I said.

* * *

“Another frequently used routing for Canadian grain was through a Lake Erie port, typically Buffalo, where it might be milled into flour. If the flour was for United States consumption, a duty of 42 cents per bushel of wheat had to be paid. If it was for international sale it could be reloaded under ‘milling-in-transit’ privileges and escape duty.” — p. 541

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“Its neighbor across the water is just as big,” Kristen said. “It also looks quite old.”

“It could use some sprucing up, but that’s not our department,” I said. “Oh, and try this historical view

* * *

1941: “So Cargill too moved once more to increase its own storage capacity … The capacities at Buffalo had been vastly expanded–an addition to the Electric Elevator there increased this one terminal from 1.75 million to over 5.2 million bushels; with the Great Eastern and the Superior, the Company now had over 12.4 million bushels just at that one location.” — p. 582

More views of Buffalo’s terminals and some related grain-trade history, Part 2

 By Ronald Ahrens

As mentioned in the previous post, Kristen was in Buffalo the other day and took photos of the terminal elevators. Today’s post is the second in a series of three we’re doing with our own commentary as well as some lines from Cargill: Trading the World’s Grain, by Wayne G. Broehl, Jr. These lines show how central Buffalo was to the grain trade.

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“It’s the face of Gold Medal flour,” Kristen said.

“It’s a winking face,” I said.

* * *

“The Farm Board created further consternation by its avowed aim to hold its March wheat contracts until the contract terminated, then take actual grain. Thus, physical grain had to be delivered to Chicago by the shorts to fulfill these contracts. Most of these short contracts were held by private-sector grain traders, but a substantial amount of their physical stock of grain already had been moved forward in the pipeline to eastern terminals. Cargill, its Midwest storage already glutted, had shipped large amounts of grain through the Lakes to the Buffalo and Ogdensburg, New York terminals, paying transportation costs to get it there. If this eastern grain had to be used to fulfill the short contracts, either by physical movement back to Chicago or some compensating trade, the grain traders wanted to recover the transportation costs they had already expended on it. The Farm Board refused to allow this … John [MacMillan] Sr., outraged, fired off missives to everyone in Washington about the Farm Board ‘squeeze.'” — p. 349

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“You can smell the cereal from across the canal,” Kristen said.

“If only it were a scratch-and-sniff photo,” I said.

* * *

“In June 1930, Cecil C. Boden from the Omaha office was assigned to a newly opened Cargill branch in Rotterdam, Holland. John [MacMillan] Jr. told him: ‘While ultimately we expect to have you doing a very large business for us … we wish caution to be the keynote.’ He also reiterated the long-standing company credo relating to ethical conduct: ‘We wish particularly to stress the fact that our future success abroad will depend entirely on our standing in the trade. The motto of our Buffalo office ‘We deliver what we sell’ is an excellent one to remember.'”

 

 

 

Views of Buffalo’s terminals and some related grain-trade history, Part 1

By Ronald Ahrens

Kristen was in Buffalo the other day and sent photos of the terminal elevators there. In a short series over the next three days we’re going to post them with our own commentary as well as some lines from Cargill: Trading the World’s Grain, by Wayne G. Broehl, Jr. These lines show how central Buffalo was to the grain trade.

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“Terminal elevators, Buffalo, New York,” Kristen said.

“The white elevator has a funny face,” I said.

“It’s the face of Gold Medal flour.

* * *

“Cargill’s most common route for export wheat was by lake-shipping to Buffalo (from either Milwaukee or Green Bay), then by rail through to New York City, where the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad maintained two huge waterside terminals, one holding 2 million bushels, the other 1 1/2 million.” — p. 47

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“Floating tiki bar!” Kristen said.

“Floating tiki in Buffalo–who knew?” I said.

* * *

“[Arthur M.] Prime [“self-styled barley king of Duluth”] and J.B. Cooper, Cargill’s Minneapolis barley trader, continued to dovetail barley purchases from the two locations as well as with the office at Green Bay, and all three offices dealt with an agent from Buffalo, Dudley Irwin.” — p. 110

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“They had a zip line set up between the Labatt’s elevator and the big one. A destroyed elevator foundation is under the zip line. You can see it on Google Earth,” Kristen said.

* * *

“John Sr. and Lindahl began to consider the purchase of a terminal elevator in Buffalo, which would have led to a trading office in that important city. In early 1909 a terminal building came available, but MacMillan turned it down because it was not fireproof…” — p. 144

“As Cargill’s barley went forward to the Buffalo markets, Irwin said he had difficulty in selling it, writing Prime, “We are losing our trade every day just as I told you we would, and for the simple reason that we are shipping dirty barley … It is all right to say you will ship your barley in the dirt and sell it for feed … that is your own business, but if you are going to sell to maltsters you have got to ship them barley as clean as our competitors will furnish them, or fall down.” — p 144

 

 

 

 

Kingfisher Co-op history, Part 3: Further expansion and maturity

Here are the final pages of the 11-page history published in 1984 by Kingfisher Cooperative Elevator Association.

In 1955, after notifying contractors to send in bids, the co-op added a 320,000-bushel elevator. This supplemented the 240,000-bushel elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, in 1946.

“A new skyscraper had been added to the landscape, and the farmers took pride in the contribution they had made to their community’s appearance and prosperity,” the history says.

You will find the Tillotson elevator on the left in the aerial view of the 1955 skyline (p. 8).

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Kingfisher Co-op history, Part 2: Incorporation and steady growth

This is second of our three postings to give you the 11 pages of history published by the Kingfisher Cooperative Elevator Association on its 50th anniversary.

In these pages you’ll learn that one surviving founder of the co-op recalled “with pleasure how the grain cooperative changed farmers’ lives” in the area. On March 10, 1934, a group of 10 men met and arranged for articles of incorporation. Later, they hired a manager for $125 per month.

On the third page here, you will see the 240,000-bushel elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, in 1946.

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