Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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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.