Filling the Bunker Silo

Remembering accidents, near-misses and lessons learned


| December 2005



TheMcCormickDeeringNo2.jpg

Left: The McCormick-Deering No. 2 ensilage harvester, dating to about 1945. Units like this were used to cut silage in the field, and fill silos. “For a one-man operation,” boasted company promotional materials. “Takes the drudgery out of silo filling.” (Images here and below left courtesy of Larry Gay.)

In the summer of 1954, my family moved from the city back to the farm. We moved a lot as I was growing up, but the farm had been my home several times before. Still, silo filling was a new experience for me.

In the area where we lived, there were few upright silos. But there was still a need for cut corn and sorghum for use as silage. In our area in the mid-1950s, the weather was dry, and some of the corn had low yields if left to mature. The hay crop was also damaged by the weather in those years.

Farmers made do. In place of an upright silo, a bunker (or pit) silo was dug into the ground and used to hold chopped corn and sorghum. The first bunker silo filling I saw took place just across the road from our house. A lot of men and equipment were involved in the process, so I was on hand to watch and see how it was done; how the spreading and packing was handled.

The next year, I was called to help a neighbor fill his silo. He had two tractors, both Fergusons: a TO-20 and a TO-30. They were much too small to pull the false end gates out of the wagons used to haul the silage from the field. Because there were few silos in our area, there was little need for self-unloading wagons, and there were no dump wagons yet. We could, however, make a false end gate and place it at the front of the wagon, so it could be pulled back, bringing the silage with it into the bunker.

My family had a Farmall F-20 big and heavy enough to do the job. Once the silage was leveled, my job was to drive back and forth over it until it was packed down. One day, we were pulling the silage out of the wagons from the lower floor of the bunker when, in order to get better traction, I raised the drawbar to a dangerous height for a level pull. Meanwhile, a truck being used to haul silage got mired in a wet field. I was called from the bunker to drag it out. I hooked the cable to the truck, and with the drawbar set as it was, the tractor's front wheels came about 30 inches off the ground. Lucky for me, the engine stalled. If it hadn't, the tractor might have flipped over backwards. I learned my lesson: Never raise the drawbar to such a point that it will make the tractor rear up that much (unless you have wheelie bars on the tractor). I unhooked the cable from the tractor and went back to the bunker. I told them the truck could just stay there.

The next summer, after graduating from high school, I did day work for area farmers, trying to get together a stake to leave home in September, when I would be 18. I was working for a cousin, hauling silage from the field to the bunker. During that time we worked on several farms. Because the custom was to trade work, many tractors and men would converge on a farm to get the harvesting done. Then we'd move on to the next farm.