Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Silo Light

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Much later in the summer (1:17 PM on August 28) my friend Lazlo and I climbed into this abandoned, concrete silo containing nothing but lovely astral light and the sun's beam marking the hours of the day, a holy place. When in use, grain or chopped vegetable material was blown up a pipe running along the outside of the silo, poking through the dome and shown here, top right. By the end of the summer this silo would have been full.

In the previous TODAY'S we climbed a metal Harvestore silo, but the silos pictured in the shot are similar to this one. Harvestores are unloaded mechanically from the bottom, but silos like this were unloaded by hand. One subscriber wrote to me recollecting the process,

You have to remember also that before the days of the automated silo unloaders,  farmers had to climb these things twice a day and fork out silage by hand.  Up and down the slippery rungs of the enclosed chute and ladder.  If you didn't concentrate on every hand and foothold, it was simply a freefall to the cement pad at the bottom.  Its too bad they couldn't have developed a trench silo system first.  But then imagine photos of farms without silos.

The farmer who emptied this silo would have used a silage rake (or silage fork) which looked much like a pitch fork but with probably twelve tines set close together. Whatever the nature of the silo, the purpose was to preserve high quality feed through fermentation. A good silo needed to be close to airtight. Being inside it must have been a heady experience.

Although silos like this one are still commonly seen in farm country, very few are still in use. Harvestore silos which provide a much better seal against air and include mechanical unloading are still used at a few farms, but today most silage is made in trenches and loaded and emptied with tractors.


Trotter said...


Ted Roth said...

I certainly never expected to find this when I climbed through the opening. Thanks for the visit.

Dick said...

Forgive me for not reading the text, I only enjoy the wonderful picture.

Ted Roth said...

No problem.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being slow, but I just came across your photo. I love the light you captured.
But I do have to correct a misconception-these silos did have mechanical unloaders. The unloader hung from the triangle structure you can see in the dome. It had an auger that rotated about the center and blew the silage down the chute. As the level dropped, you had to lower the unloader down with a cable system. Everything else you said is quite true-you still had to climb up the chute ladder for maintenance and to open the next door as the level dropped, and the fumes or lack of oxygen up there during fermentation could kill you.

Emery Roth II said...

Thank you for this clarification. I'm a city boy, and I learn as I go. As you probably realize, few of the old concrete and tile silos are in use today, and the only silos I've seen in operation are the Harvestores. If you know where one of these is in operation, I'd love to try to photograph it.