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Flashback Friday

This is a young Herb working in his Dad's grain elevator in Seaton.  The tiny office is still there, as is the elevator, but after Herb sold it, it belonged first to an Anderson, and now to the Carson family.  It is non-operating and falling down.  Herb sold just at the right time as a lot of grain was being hauled downriver by barge and farmers were no longer in the livestock side of farming as much as they had been.  His father, my grandfather, Verne,  owned it when they moved to Seaton from Smithshire, and then Herb bought it from him in the 60's.  

The office, I recall, had a giant roll top desk in the side room.  Never knew how they fit it in since the doorway was small.  The place always smelled the same: a combination of that pink stuff you put on the wood floors to soak up moisture, and the smell of grain and farm.  You can see the heater vent in the above picture and we were smart enough to stay away from touching that flue.  Through the years Herb had one of those really neat pop machines with the cold water and you'd slide the bottle through kind of a maze to get it out after you put in your dime.  Another was an upright 7Up machine that had the greatest heavy metal handle that you used the heel of your hand to push down to get your pop.  Why I can recall these like yesterday is unknown to me.  Probably because a pop was a treat and it was fun getting it.  Above the big scales was a square date from one of those calendars that you tear off each day stapled to the wall.  It had on it November 6, the day the Wombie and I were born.  It could still be there, maybe, but it looked like the advancing years was taking a toll on it last I remember.  

I recall a lot of laughing and farmers making comments when Mark and I were there.  Usually funny as Hell.  Lehman McClellan would come in in bare feet and stomp out his cigarettes without even flinching.  John Bohan would come in and harass the secretary, Dorothy Smith.  Louis Owens worked at the elevator off and on, as did Chuck Welch.  There was a mad chicken one summer.  He decided to camp out at the office and would attack people who wanted to go inside and again when they came out.  One day he was gone and the scuttlebutt was Louis took it home for supper.  Most of Herb's customers were great guys and fun to listen too.  They surely liked to pick on us, too.  And firing pop bottle rockets at farmers in and around the place was surely a BIG problem, but, hey, it was fun to see some of them dance.  Grain dust? Maybe that's why we only worked a summer or two there.    

This is the place as it looked a few years ago, and it has only become more derelict and dangerous.  Herb sold it on the 80's before the bottom fell out of the livestock and feed business.  The scale house was up the little road to the left and across the street.  Further down you can see the sack feed shed where a bunch of us stayed the night once.  The Wombie and I would stand in a doorway under the awning in the center and fire pop bottle rockets at farmers swinging around ready to back up to get feed.

The feed Herb used was Kent Feeds so we always had new Kent jackets, gloves, caps, calendars and ice cream scoops.  Besides the post office, the elevator was the hub of the town.  It seemed like there was something always going on and people coming by with the latest news.  What I didn't know at the time was the amount of work Herb did and the amount of worry he had to make that elevator work.  He had storage bins not only in the elevator itself but in several Quonset buildings around Seaton full of corn that had to be tested constantly for any moisture that might start to rot the corn.  He had to make grain runs out to farmers to replenish their feeders in the augur truck, and had to sack feed for farmers wanting to take it home like that.  He had railroad cars to fill, and in the fall he worked around the clock with the dryer humming to make sure the corn would be dry before storage.  Corn drying has a smell that is all its own, not unpleasant, but singular, much like the singularity of morel mushrooms.  The constant buzz from the dryer,  and the sight of the fire at the bottom along with the excitement that comes from being up way past your bedtime on weekends during drying season remains a memory seared somewhere on my consciousness.  

These nights would, of course lend itself to great explorations.   It was where Verne would slowly shuffle in, have a seat in an overstuffed chair and rant about the "god-damn Democrats", banging on the arms with the stuffing flying like snow all around him.  It was where, at one time, great mounds of coal would be to the East of the scale house with small tin advertising tokens reading "Black Star Coal".  It was where, just to the north there was the sacked feed shed and while some of us were sleeping over night there one weekend, Harry Bird walked over and saw the open door and keys and took them.  We thought we'd be skinned alive for losing all of the elevator keys when we woke up and couldn't finds them.             

The Wombie and I checked it out when I was back North last summer and I was able to pull out a small section of floor plank I'll keep as a memento.  It is dying; the thing looks like a cadaver with its bones picked.  But once, it was a great place to visit, work and to see the world as a kid and then as a new adult.   The things we take for granted when we are young, or just assume things happen by themselves.  Herb worked hard, and made a good home for his family.  I wish I could tell him, "Thanks."   


  1. Great story Mike. I'm glad I went back to check it out.


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