Friday, May 8, 2009

Tile-binned grain elevators, 1901-1910

On pages 219-220 of American Colossus, I mention the fact that grain-elevator designers, in an attempt to make their buildings "fireproof," experimented with using hollow tile (as well as steel and reinforced concrete) as the material out of which the grain bins were constructed. Above: the Red Tile Elevator in Minneapolis; photo by the Historic America Engineering Record.

Here is a list of pioneering tile-binned elevators built between 1901 and 1910:

-- the Great Eastern, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1901

-- name unknown, designed by Barnett-Record for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Port Arthur, Canada, 1902

-- the Saint Anthony #3, designed by Barnett-Record for the Washburn-Crosby Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1901-1903

-- the Frontier, aka the Washburn-Crosby, designed by Barnett-Record for the Washburn-Crosby Company, Buffalo, New York, 1903

-- name unknown, designed by G. Luther (Braunschweig, Germany), Bunge y Born Company, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1904

-- the Peavey, designed by Barnett-Record for Frank Peavey, Duluth, Minnesota, 1907

-- the Pillsbury "A" (also known as the Red Tile Elevator), designed by Barnett-Record for the Pillsbury Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1909-1910

Where not to buy a copy

Edwin Mellen Press claims that, come 31 July 2009, it will publish a book by William J. Brown entitled History of the Grain Elevators of Buffalo, New York. This claim that has led and a distributor in Taiwan to believe that it will carry the title -- though it is "not yet printed" -- "as soon as it arrives."

Please be informed that this title will never be published by Edwin Mellen Press, nor will it be distributed by or Anyone who has placed an advance order for this book through any of these companies should demand a refund of their one-hundred-plus dollars (!) immediately.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Grand Trunk

On page 216 of American Colossus, I mention that a pioneering, steel-binned grain elevator was built in Portland, Maine, by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1902. Above, we see two views of Elevator #2, which was a very large building (175 feet high, 300 feet long, and 200 feet wide) intended to supplement Elevator #1, which was slightly smaller and built out of wood in 1896. Elevator #1 was demolished in 1943, while Elevator #2 was taken down in 1974.

The Electric Steel

On page 217 of American Colossus, I mention the Electric Steel, a pioneering steel-binned grain elevator built in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was designed by Lewis S. Gillette and built in two stages by the American Bridge Company (1901) and the Minneapolis Steel & Machine Construction Company (1903). As the photographs above show, the Electric Steel utilized a workhouse that stood apart from the 12 grain tanks, which were lined up in a two rows leading straight back from it, so that if a fire or explosion took place, it would not travel easily through the entire complex.

In later years, the Electric Steel Elevator would become part of the Russell Miller Flour Mill, to which it was connected by horizontal gantries that traveled high above ground (see picture above). Today, the elevator still stands and is in use.

The Pioneer Steel

On pages 216-217 of American Colossus, I mention the Pioneer Steel, a pioneering steel-binned grain elevator built in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Designed by the Gillette-Herzog Company and constructed by the Barnett-Record Company in 1901, the Pioneer Steel was owned by the local grain merchant George Frank Piper. In the photograph above, which was taken in 1995 by Jet Lowe of the Historic American Engineering Record, see can see that the elevator possessed a total of 22 freestanding, unenclosed tanks, arrayed in two rows. A conveyor-belt installed in a narrow horizontal gantry was laid on top of the main row of bins. The Pioneer Steel was demolished in 1995.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Dakota

On page 215 of American Colossus and in the caption for Figure 2, I mention the Dakota, a steel-binned grain elevator built in Buffalo in 1901. As we can see from the pictures above, the Dakota was erected next to the Great Eastern Elevator (to the left), another steel-binned elevator built in 1901, and the Frontier Elevator (on the right), an elevator with bins made of reinforced concrete, built in the 1920s. Directly in front of the Dakota stands the land upon which the historic Watson Elevator used to stand.

Designed by Ballou & Shirley and built by the Eagle Iron Works, the Dakota was clearly an experiment, half-bold and half-tentative. It could only store 1.25 million bushels, utilized rectangular grain tanks, and enclosed these bins in a tall and narrow rectangular warehouse made of steel. The gallery above the tanks was itself two stories high and surmounted by a large clerestory, which gave the entire structure a distinctive "hammer-head" silhouette. Both of the Dakota's marine towers were automotive ("loose"). The entire complex was razed in the mid-1960s, during the construction of an elevated highway.

In the same way that the Great Eastern was built upon a foundation made of reinforced concrete and intended to replace a wood-binned elevator that had been destroyed by a grain-dust explosion, the Dakota was built (by the Lehigh Railroad) to replace a wood-binned elevator of the same name (see below) that was built in 1887, could store 1 millions bushels and was brought down by a grain-dust explosion in 1901.

The Great Eastern

On page 213 of American Colossus, I mention the pioneering steel-binned Great Eastern Elevator, built in Buffalo in 1901. Designed by Harry R. Wait and built by the Steel Storage and Elevator Construction Company, with assistance by the Indiana Bridge Company, which was based in Muncie, Indiana, the Great Eastern could store 2.5 million bushels in its sixty-eight different steel tanks, which were freestanding, unenclosed and built in a variety of sizes upon a rhomboidal plot that was situated on the side south of the Buffalo River. The elevator was demolished in 1948.

In the picture above, which was taken in the 1920s or 1930s, we can see (moving from right to left) the some of the Great Eastern's many steel tanks; the Great Eastern's marine towers (both of which were "loose" and connected to the grain tanks behind them through a series of horizontal belts installed high above ground-level); the wood-binned and soon-to-be-demolished version of the Marine Elevator; and the reinforced-concrete grain tanks of the Kellogg Elevator, built in 1912.

The Great Eastern was built upon a raised foundation made of reinforced concrete, which was strong enough to support the combined weight of the steel-tanks themselves and the grain stored within them (see picture above). It was originally built to replace the Eastern Elevator (see picture below), which was built in 1895 with two marine towers (one of which was "loose") and the site of a terrible grain-dust explosion in 1899.

Note that, at roughly the same time that the Great Eastern was built in Buffalo, a Great Eastern Elevator was built in Minneapolis, Minnesota (see picture below). No doubt the large amount of space left between the workhouse in the center and the grain tanks -- made out of tile -- was intended to minimize the possibilities of fires or explosions traveling between them. It appears that the horizontal conveyor-belt that serviced these tanks was installed through the tops of these tanks, not cleanly above or on top of them.

The Electric Elevator

On pages 209-213 of American Colossus, I discuss the Electric Elevator, a pioneering steel-binned grain elevator built in Buffalo, New York, in 1897 (the same year that the steel-binned Great Northern Elevator in Buffalo was built). Designed for the grain trader Edward W. Eames by W.S. Winn and built by his Steel Storage and Elevator Construction Company (based in Cornersfield, Indiana), the Electric was a truly revolutionary creation. Not only were its bins were made of steel, but they were also free-standing and unenclosed (unlike at the Great Northern, where the bins were enclosed in a brick house).

In the picture above, we see the Electric as it was between 1897 and 1912, when it was only equipped with seven grain-tanks made of steel and set down upon a foundation of reinforced concrete. Note well the rather self-conscious pun on visual resemblances between the elevator's two marine towers, one of which (the one on our right) is "stiff" or fixed in position, while the other (the one on our left) is "loose" and capable of movement along a short set of rail-tracks.

In the picture below, we see the Electric as it was after 1912, when another 12 tanks made of steel were constructed.

Except for the Electric's Annex, which was built out of reinforced concrete in 1942, the entire facility was demolished in 1984.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Grain elevators as colossal monsters

Grain elevators, unlike colossal figures, are not complete. Though they have metaphorical legs, boots, and heads, grain elevators also lack key parts, such as feet, hands, torsos, and hips. They are true mixtures or hybrids, occupying the point half-way between machine/buildings and human effigies. As a result, grain elevators both inspire awe in us and frighten us. They aren't, properly speaking, colossal figures; they are colossal monsters.

Perhaps the best example of this fantasy is an untitled engraving that the American illustrator Joseph Pennell made of a grain elevator in Hamburg, Germany, in 1914 (reproduced above; discussed on page 257 of American Colossus). Note well that Pennell's style, generally speaking, was more documentary that expressionistic. But here, the grain elevator -- perhaps a floater-- is a towering bottle-shaped block of darkness, equipped with four or five long arm-like appendages (canal spouts?) and several other, thinner stalks that extend above its head. The entire thing is surrounded by smoke, clouds and darkness. At its feet, there is a tiny craft, battered by dark waves. The overall effect is clearly intended to be frightening.

Grain elevators as colossal figures

I find I am not alone in referring to the American grain elevator as an American Colossus. According to Drake Hokanson, who mounted an exhibit of his grain-elevator photographs in Perry, Iowa, in February 2007, grain elevators are "American colossi -- giant human figures on the landscape like the huge Egyptian statues in the Nile Valley."

Note: the image above does not depict an Egyptian colossus, such as the Colossus of Memnon, but the Colossus of Rhodes. But it is the general idea that matters here, not the particulars. I might just as well have posted the painting called The Colossus (1808-1812), commonly but incorrectly attributed to Francisco de Goya (see below).

As I point out on pages 258-262 of American Colossus, the word "colossus" doesn't necessarily refer to something that is very big, but to something (an effigy) that stands upright. Colossi and other effigies, though sometimes crudely rendered, are always complete figures: they never lack limbs, torsos or heads. This is why representations of them --no matter how big they are -- are always comforting, not disturbing. They reflect back to us images of our own complete forms.

It is quite true that grain elevators stand upright, not only with respect to the flatness of the areas that surround them, but also upon "legs" (elevating mechanisms) and "boots" (the pits into which the "legs" reach). The anthropomorphism of grain-elevator jargon goes even further: one speaks of "loose" legs and "stiff" legs, "head houses" and even the shoulders of grain elevators. . . .