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Grain Elevator

grain_elevator2

In most of the rural Midwest a grain elevator like the one in the picture are the tallest thing around.  When the railroads first came to this area their main purpose was to ship agricultural products. Stations were established about every six miles on the new railroads.  The six mile spacing was dictated by the limitations of how far farmers could haul their products in the days of horse farming.  Today in Central Illinois if you drive a road that runs beside a railroad you may notice that there is a town or at least an attempt at a town about every six miles. 

I would guess that most people today have no experience of what a grain elevator is used for.  At the most basic they are used to store the grain that farmers bring in until it is sold and shipped.  My experience with elevators is that of having helped my father harvest his crops. Most of the time I would wait in the field while a truck was filled with grain.  I remember reading a lot of books while I was waiting.  Once the truck was full I would drive it to the elevator.  Generally we used an elevator that was three miles from the field. When I came to the elevator my first stop was on a large concrete pad which was part of the scale that would weigh the truck when it was full. The truck would again be weighed after dumping the grain and that would determine how much grain was in that load.  While on the scale a probe would be lowered to take a sample of the grain.  The sample was used to tell how wet the grain is.  Grain needs to be at a certain moisture level before it can be stored.  Most of the time the grain from the field is too moist so it must be dried. By taking the moisture level when the grain comes in the elevator knows how much to charge the farmer for drying.

The weighing and the probing is done by a person in a building next to the scale.  My main memory of this experience is craning my neck to look back to the wave of the hand from the person inside the house that meant that I could move forward and dump my grain.  The grain was dumped in what looked like a long garage inside the actual elevator. There were metal grates on the floor where the grain that came out of the shoot at the back of the bed of the truck would go.  Sometimes there was more than one grate so you had to pay attention to the guys in the elevator to make sure you stopped at the right one.  Once you were in place all you had to do was to raise the bed of the truck and let the grain pore out.

Inside the elevator was very loud and dusty.  Part of the noise was due to the activity for which the elevator gets its name.  After the grain was dumped it would be elevated to shoots at the top of the elevator and moved to a bin.  If the grain was too moist it would be moved to a bin where the grain would have warm air blown through it to dry the grain out.  The dust in the elevator was came from the dust in the grain.  Corn seemed like it was the worst one for having a lot of dust.  The dust didn’t seem to bother most of the guys that worked inside the elevator.  I seldom remember seeing any of them wearing dust masks.  I even remember seeing one guy smoking a pipe while he unloaded the grain.  This was before it became common knowledge that grain dust could be pretty explosive stuff and smoking was banned inside elevators.  I guess we are lucky that we didn’t get blown up.

So there isn’t a lot more to it. I don’t remember any drama or even minor stories from the days when I was taking grain to the elevator.  It could be very pleasant driving back and forth on a lovely fall day.  Sometimes it was a strain when we started around dawn and didn’t stop till well after dark.  Still I thought that maybe a few people might be interested in knowing what goes on in these rural icons.

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Categories: farm, image, Images
  1. December 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Along similar lines, William Brown has written the first sustained history of the grain elevator, 1843 to 1943. You might find it very interesting.

  2. January 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    As kids, me and a few of my friends used to ditch church and go across the street to climb the ladder on the grain elevator and dare each other to jump from one elevator roof to the other. It’s a wonder one of us wasn’t killed. If I remember correctly, the next right turn past the grain elevators was Harrison, which dead ended at the Villa Grove Golf Course. My parents were members there and we used to go there every Saturday evening for dinner.

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