Jottings: Grain elevators
Grain elevators move grain from the bottom to the top of a silo to aerate the grain. Aeration prevents bug infestations by reducing moisture and heat build-up. For three summers, I worked at Union Equity Elevator Y in Enid, Oklahoma. In the 1950s, Enid's multiple elevator capacity was the largest in the world topping eighty million bushels of grain shipped to Enid from all over the Midwest. Elevator Y was 145,000-square-foot poured concrete collection bins or silos organized like a beehive. It stored up to sixteen million bushels.
The first summer, I attached a cable onto railroad boxcars full of grain to pull them into a shed. In the shed, two large end-clamps secured the ends of the boxcar. A push plate tore the cardboard boxcar door liner. The boxcar was tilted sideways and rotated end-to-end to pour the boxcar's grain into a bin below the boxcar. Sometimes my task was to ride a boxcar down the slight incline to connect to the line of recently emptied ones. Near the end of the first summer, I was injured and had to spend several weeks flat on my back.
I was surprised they permitted me to work the next summer. However, the only thing management allowed me to do was sweep. The Elevator, a very dusty place, had to be continuously swept. It took me a week to sweep the almost three enclosed acres on the top level. My job included emptying two-gallon cans of carbon tetra-chloride fumigant into designated bins to control pests. I was cautioned that falling into a grain bin would be like falling into fermented quicksand, possibly fatal.
When the grain in an individual silo/bin heated up, it had to be aerated. At the bottom of a silo bin, grain was slowly emptied onto a large conveyor belt. This belt carried the grain to a vertical conveyor belt to the top of a ten-story tower. The grain then fell through baffles flushed with powerful fans. On top of the Elevator, the grain fell onto another horizontal conveyor belt and dumped into an empty bin. Occasionally, a conveyor belt malfunctioned, spilling huge piles of grain. There were days I spent the whole day shoveling spilled grain back into a bin.
Occasionally I was assigned to sweep in the basement below the silos. There was no outside view, only poor lighting. There were days I never saw anyone all day. The maintenance man who greased the many support rollers along the multiple conveyor belts liked to sneak up on me and scare me by slamming a shovel against a concrete wall.
There was a one-person elevator to get to any floor. It consisted of a belt three feet wide that ran up and down to the top of the ten-story Elevator. The belt had small metal steps and handholds every ten feet. As the belt continuously moved, you grabbed a handhold and stepped onto a moving step attached to the belt. I still have occasional dreams about the anxiety of getting on and off the moving belt and possibly getting stuck or falling.
The last summer I worked in Elevator Y, I roomed with Bob, a college friend. We decided to save some money and cut each other's hair. With the flip of a coin, Bob was to cut my hair first. I quickly found out Bob had no idea how to cut hair. After several poor attempts to correct his mistakes, I decided to shave my head. Bob changed his mind when it was my turn to cut his hair. The next day, I planned to keep my ball cap on so no one would notice my shaved head and tease me. I forgot about the required daily morning chapel in the basement of the Elevator. We read scripture, sang hymns, and prayed for a safe shift. I had forgotten you did not wear a hat to chapel. I got the raspberries for most of the week from everyone at Elevator Y.
Cecil Denney is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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