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The Last Windrow: A disappearing farm icon

A “Classic” Last Windrow follows with a story about an institution that has undergone many changes in recent years. But, those of my generation will remember these icons of farm country as a centerpiece of their busy lives. 

This column was written in 2001. 

Someone brought me a picture of an old grain elevator the other day. The building no longer exists in our community. It has been replaced by an apartment complex. Small-town elevators have gone the way of the true small farm.

Looking at the picture I could almost smell the bags of seed corn, the soybean meal, the molasses pellets all mingled with the scent of ground corn and oats. I could picture the farm trucks weighing on the scale and tipping their loads into the steel grate above the hopper. 

Huge columns of dust rose during this operation and men with shovels stood alongside, coated with grain dust. Most never wore dust masks. They came into the elevator to warm up, looking as though someone had coated them with flour.

We bought feed, lumber, coal, barbed wire and other farm supplies at the elevator that served our piece of farm country. It was a necessary stop on most of our trips to the city. Prices for grain and seed were posted on blackboards that had not been cleaned in some time.

The elevator manager would sometimes poke his head out of the office to say hello and sometimes give a sales pitch on a new type of fencer or a new product to make the cows milk better. Our manager wasn’t much of a salesman. He seemed to like working on his bookkeeping better than visiting with us.

Elevators like the one in the picture I have hanging in my office were also a gathering place for the farm crowd. Seldom did one see the local city folk under its roof. Men with big, calloused hands and reddened faces could be seen leaning on the counter or sitting on one of the tattered kitchen chairs discussing the prices of commodities or which livestock commission firm seemed to be doing the best job. Deals were struck for machinery, livestock and rental land and the news was spread about upcoming farm auctions and why the farmer was selling out.

Some of the smaller elevator offices sported a card table complete with a deck of bedraggled playing cards. During the slow winter months games of pinochle, whist and uecker were played by some of the farm crowd. A stained coffee pot was usually plugged in somewhere and once in awhile there might be a package of store bought cookies found lying beside the over-brewed and thick “joe.”

We placed our order for feed or seed and then drove to the warehouse part of the building where we handed our order to a worker with a wooden push cart. He plopped the bags one atop another until the order was full and loaded the bags into the trunk of our car. Our elevator sported a lumberyard as well and just about every board on our farm came from it. 

Elevators such as the one in my office picture are becoming more a part of history. The consolidation of the farm industry has eliminated the need for small country elevators. Most of the elevator building that stood in the small town of my youth has been torn down. Now only the huge grain silos stand alongside the railroad tracks. 

Our local seed and feed house now sells about as much wild bird seed and deer corn as they do cattle pellets. New types of customers wearing fashionable sneakers and driving newer vehicles are seen transacting business. Bib overalls are seldom seen. An apartment complex now stands where the old elevator in my picture used to be. 

All a part of a changing rural scene.

See you next time. Okay?