Historic wooden elevator to make way for modern grain handling

2014-08-08T11:15:00Z Historic wooden elevator to make way for modern grain handlingBy Phyllis Coulter, Illinois Farmer Today Illinois Farmer Today

WINDSOR — Matt Bennett has mixed feelings about the impending demolition of the historic, wooden elevator here.

As a farmer, broker and elevator manager, he knows the old needs to make way for more efficient systems, but he has fond memories of this elevator which his family operated for two decades.

 “I don’t want to see it go down. This is who I was when I was growing up,” says Matt, whose family sold the elevator to Total Grain Marketing five years ago.

He has remained as a manager of the elevator since then.

“The elevator industry has to run more efficiently and have less overhead,” he notes.

“There has been a lot of investment in infrastructure in recent years. With yields of 230 to 250 bushels per acre of corn in places, you have to have systems able to handle it quicker,” Matt explains.

 “It needs to change,” he acknowledges of the Shelby County elevator in South Central Illinois.

While Matt always will have a strong connection with the Windsor elevator, he soon will be starting a new job as Channel Grain Marketing consultant.

Even with his new job, he will continue to live near Windsor with his wife and children on a farm that has been in the Bennett family for five generations.

He also will continue to growing corn and soybeans with his parents, Tim and Terry Bennett, who had owned the Windsor elevator and live nearby.

The farming operation, which led to the elevator business, started with Tim Bennett in 1967.

Tim had been farming only a few weeks when he was drafted. While he was serving his country, his relatives helped run the farm until he returned.

Soon, Tim was able to buy 80 acres for $600 per acre. It was a lot of money then.

“I was just getting started. But, it looks pretty smart now,” he says.

Tim had to borrow money for the down payment so he was uncertain when another nearby 40 acres became available. It was better land and cost $900/acre, so he bought it, too.

“I really had my neck stuck out in 1971,” he says.

Tim’s operation prospered, so in 1976 he built “a little grain storage” on the farm. It was an unusual choice in his area at that time.

The new Bennett Grains started selling grain from their bins to processors in Decatur.

In about 1982, Tim and Terry bought their first elevator in the nearby village of Gays in Moultrie County. The couple liked the idea of farmer-run elevators.

“It gives more personal service. We treat people the way farmers like to be treated,” Tim says.

“You make a lot of friends,” Terry adds.

“There were customers who were 100 percent loyal and would do all their business with us,” Tim recalls.

Still, sometimes “price trumps service” for farmers looking for the best deal, he notes.

They ran the Gays elevator office from home expecting to be busy in the fall with not “too much to do” the rest of the year. But, when they later bought the bigger operation in Windsor in 1989, it was “non-stop.”

Matt, who was 16 at the time, agrees things got busier for the family.

The wooden elevator in Windsor, which the family is sad to see go, is only part of the whole system which includes round storage and flat buildings.

Just as current owners Total Grain Marketing is modernizing now, the Bennetts started making changes then.

Their improvements included a new office, replacing the 35-foot scale with a 70-foot

scale, adding a dryer, new probe and other items still being used.

“We built it with local labor,” says Tim who was happy to contribute jobs in his community.

The Bennetts had the capacity of about 1.3 million bushels in Windsor.

During busy seasons, they employed about 20 people. Bennett Grain Co. also had about 13 grain trucks and employed drivers and mechanics.

Often, the grain was taken to a dog and cat food manufacturing site in Mattoon and to corn and soybean processors in Decatur.

“It gets bigger, faster and more efficient. It takes some of the human aspect away,” Tim notes of the changing elevator industry.

Despite the faster pace, the Bennetts continued to keep a farmer-owned atmosphere. Some farmers came in daily and enjoyed the free coffee and visited, Tim recalls.

“Some guys would bring a box of doughnuts, and somebody’s wife would bring zucchini bread,” he says.

Terry would bring cookies for anyone who worked on Sundays, when they were opened a half day during busy season.

Tim is proud that that no one was ever seriously injured at their elevator.

“It’s a dangerous business. But in 33 years in the grain business, nobody was hurt,” he says.

Tim and Terry will be sad to see the old wooden structure torn down when the time comes.

Wind damage to the roof and other signs of age show, but the historic structure’s image remains on the City of Windsor’s seal.

Nevertheless, things almost have come full circle for Tim. He started as a farmer and expanded into the grain elevator and trucking business and is returning to his farm roots.

After being in the trucking business for about 40 years, he is selling the vehicles this year.

“And, then we’ll just be farmers again,” says Tim, who will continue to grow about 2,600 acres of corn and soybeans on owned and rented land with Matt.

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