Thursday, July 1, 2010

Elevator Operation 101: Ground Piles

Todays lesson in operating an elevator is about piling grain on the ground.  Even with three facilities with a combined storage capacity of 3.9 million bushels, there will be more wheat produced in the county than the elevators can hold, so the only option (other than turning away business) is to dump it on the ground. This is obviously not an ideal storage plan, as rain and heat will eventually cause spoilage, but for the short term it keeps the grain coming in. 

Grain piles are created by large augers powered by the PTO (power take-off) on a tractor.  If you've never seen a grain auger, picture the threaded portion of a screw - but much larger - inside a metal tube. When the threads turn, they push the grain through the tube and out the other end.

The trucks empty into a portable hopper - either a "swing-away hopper" (like the red one in the picture) rolled under the truck or a "portable pit" (blue) which has ramps that allow the truck to drive across it.  The hopper feeds the grain into a large auger which lifts it up and drops it onto a pile. 
You start with a small pile and end with a h-u-g-e pile like this:

Because it takes longer to empty a truck into an auger than into the elevator, Dave has piles going in five different locations to try to keep traffic moving.  Naturally this calls for five tractors, five portable pits and five augers - which means fifteen times the breakdowns and repairs.  It certainly keeps everyone moving to keep all that equipment running during sixteen hour days. 

When harvest is complete and the grain is sold, the process will be reversed, all the wheat will be picked up, loaded into trucks or trains and shipped.  But that's a lesson for another day. 


  1. Great photos. They really help to tell the story. I didn't know they could/would store excess grain on the ground. That's interesting.

  2. Your pictures are very dramatic. This whole process is so interesting. I've seen those big wheat piles but I didn't understand them.