The Government Granary

| June 2009

The greatest changes in agriculture came in the 1930s and ’40s, when farmers converted from horse-and-team power to tractor farming.

After the end of the Dust Bowl and an extended drought, Mother Nature relented and the rains came. No one, especially the farmer and the grain storage industry, was prepared for the abundance of grain harvested.

All farm storage filled quickly and grain elevators overflowed. Railroad cars were scarce, scattered across the Great Plains in the northern grain belt. The big 18-wheeler grain vans of today were yet to be invented. Millions of bushels of grain were piled on the ground in long ricks exposed to the elements.

My father pulled an old, converted horse-drawn grader with a tractor, smoothing off old fencerow ridges of soil on which to pile grain, hoping water would not collect around the ricks. Late each evening, we patrolled the ricks, smoothing out bird or animal tracks to prevent water from collecting in the holes.

After the harvest rush ended, and when the elevators finally caught up, we began hauling grain to town. Neighbors joined together to help in the hauling chore. Dad bought a special grain elevator with a “pig-tail” auger on the lower end to help load endless ricks of grain onto trucks. We hauled as long as railroad cars were available.

There was always some spoilage at the bottom of the ricks where water had collected in the soil. We fed that to hogs or sold it to people who had hogs. I remember one big truck from Austin, Texas, loaded the spoiled grain with scoops. The sour grain stank to high heaven when uncovered and exposed to air.

One of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies offered temporary grain storage in the form of what we called “government granaries.” These were pre-manufactured kits, knocked down for shipment and hauled by rail. Farmers applied for and purchased the buildings through the new agricultural offices set up in each county.

Once the kit was delivered to the farm, farmers built forms and mixed and poured cement blocks on which the granaries rested. Early kit models were crude and ugly but held the surplus grain high and dry until it could be sold. Later kits improved in quality and appearance and eventually became a prairie land improvement on nearly every farm.