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CLAYTON RYE

By Staff | May 23, 2014

Occasionally we will read or hear about a fire department dispatched to take care of a controlled burn.

Which means it was a controlled burn right up to the moment they decided it was time to call 911.

After that it was an uncontrolled burn.

Last week, southern California, in the San Diego area, experienced an out-of-control burn when extremely dry conditions combined with hot winds blowing in from the desert.

The elements created several fires, possibly assisted by trouble makers, destroying homes and causing large evacuations as firefighters attempted to get control of the fires.

Last Saturday morning I watched a mostly wooden elevator in my hometown that was built in the early 1950s set on fire intentionally to make room for bigger, better and faster grain handling equipment.

It only took an hour from start to finish when the structure collapsed in a heap of twisted corrugated steel.

It was hard to watch that burning structure and think about New York City and Sept. 11, almost 13 years ago.

When it was built, I believe I was about 5 years old and it replaced a similar looking elevator from many previous years probably going back to when my town was in its infancy about 100 years ago.

When it was new, about 60 years ago, I am sure it was considered the state of the art for the early 1950s.

For much of its life the elevator was well used and, from what I could tell, never completely abandoned.

That is quite a testament to a design from the days when four-row planters were big equipment and corn yields were about one-third of what they are now.

I dumped many wagon and truck loads of corn into its pit along with all my neighbors for many years.

It helped load a unit train of 25 railcars with grain, back when a 25-car train was a big deal.

Think of 60 years of grain flowing through a structure and it was probably repaired and rebuilt many times in its life.

Of course, it wasn’t just the old elevator – it was the people whom I saw around it, employees and farmers.

Most of them have passed away by now.

Watching the old, wood structure with its skin of corrugated steel slowly burn made me sentimental for what it represented.

I thought of my dad who was on the elevator board for a several years.

After his board tenure, a younger group of farmers replaced hime. They expanded the elevator by building larger bins with borrowed money, something that did not happen when dad served on the board.

I made a comment about the expansion of the elevator and my dad, with disgust in his voice, said, “Hmmph, its being run by the Pepsi generation.”

In its final act of service, the old elevator provided a training session for our volunteer fire department assisted by fire departments of two nearby towns.

There were quite a few of us curiosity seekers who watched the event and after 90 minutes, there were only a few left to watch the collapsed elevator slowly burn.

So, there are uncontrolled burns that destroy lives and property.

And there are controlled burns that we use to heat our homes, grill a steak, propel our vehicles and bring down an old elevator that has outlived its usefulness.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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