If you missed last week's blog, you may want to go to Part I of this story about grain storage on the prairie. Otherwise, it may seem as if I am starting in the middle of the story!
This week I will continue with later structures for storing grains, starting with the wooden granaries sheathed in metal, like the structure pictured at the right. Like my family granary pictured at the start of last week's blog, these old granaries usually had a cupola atop the ridge beam of the main structure to provide venting of the stored grain. Heat can build up in the grain and ignite the dust and powdery chaff, and fires can start without proper venting. Some of the larger cupolas, more like little houses, may contain lifts and a means to view the grain bins below.
In response to last week's blog, Jim Coburn posted a comment on face book, an excerpt from which he has given me permission to share on my blog. He wrote, "I was working for the Preston [KS] Co-op at this time, and the wheat harvest was complete. Steve Lewis instructed me to go to the...old tin elevator located between Highway 61 and the Rock Island railroad tracks. I was to check the transfer of wheat from one bin to another. This required my use of the weighted lift to get to the top. Steve gave me an explicit warning to be sure and latch the lift before exiting at the bottom."
"...I momentarily forgot to set the latch on the lift. That moment was just long enough that when I turned back to set the latch, the lift was just beginning its disastrous accent. It gained speed as it hurtled toward the top. And, of course, the offsetting weights were gaining speed as they hurtled toward the bottom. The final outcome was a spectacle to behold. The weights went crashing through the flooring into the basement compartment, leaving a gaping hole in the floor. The lift hit the top, broke many things and then, it too came plunging down, leaving another even larger hole in the floor."
"The only thing that prevented Steve from killing me was relief that I hadn't ended up in the basement of the elevator with the lift and the weights. ... Actually, Steve Lewis was relieved that I was not injured."
There are still a few of these old metal-clad elevators left, and these two photographs are among my favorites.
More familiar are the mammoth concrete elevators with their white-painted surfaces visible for miles across the flat Kansas landscape. The movie "Picnic," starring Kim Novak and William Holden, was filmed in Hutchinson, the location of the elevator pictured above right.
In the mid-1900s the co-operatives that operated most of these elevators kept them sparkling white, usually with the name of the town written near the top of the elevator and often with a wheat or corn decoration painted on the side. From a distance these sentinel towers loomed above the rooftops of small towns and larger cities, dominating the horizons.
Today, the white paint is graying and the images of grain decorating the sides of the elevators are fading. The concrete monoliths are being replaced by more industrial-looking metal elevators--stocky silver turrets reflecting the sun. At many Co-ops, the old and the new stand side-by-side. As farms have grown larger, many farmers have built their own metal bins to avoid transporting grain to the elevators during the busy harvest season and to avoid paying rent for storage as they hold the grain awaiting a favorable market for their crops.
In prosperous years, the abundance of grain harvested may exceed the storage capacity of the elevators and bins. In that case, it becomes necessary to store the grain on the ground.
According to his estate inventory, at the time of Isaac Werner's death in 1895 he had 245 bushels of wheat stored in the wooden granary at his farm, which the administrator of Isaac's estate sold for $124.63, less the fee paid a neighbor to haul the grain to town. In comparison, a grain truck today might easily carry 48,000 pounds or 900 bushels in one load. Isaac would be impressed!