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Who wants to hold the balloon?

Remember that Seinfeld episode when Elaine was working for Mr. Pitt and he wanted to win a spot as a guy who held onto the Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? We could have used him recently.

In the 1960s, my dad built a grain bin here at the farm. It made sense and he put it in a good location, right next to the machine shed. It’s the bin we fill with corn to grind for livestock feed. Well, after a mere 40 years, the foundation under the bin was starting to show a lot of wear. It was heaving badly. That was causing the floor of the bin to change position. That’s not good for storing corn.

Enter the solution. We decided last winter that we’d build a new bin where the old one sits. The old one holds about 7,500 bushels and is 24 feet in diameter. The new one will hold 22,500 bushels and will be 30 feet in diameter. All we had to do was take the old one out, remove the foundation, pour a new one, and then build the new bin on it. Removing the foundation seemed pretty easy. We’re really good at busting up stuff. Building the new bin would be really easy. A crew would show up and do that in a matter of one or two days. That small matter of moving the old one was the fun part.

We started thinking. If we moved it into position to line up with one row of other bins, it would be sitting in the middle of the driveway and block traffic when we needed to get through with wagons. If we lined it up with the other row of bins, it would be in the way there, too. There was this one spot behind the machine shed where the LP tanks sit, though. The four, 1,000-gallon tanks feed the corn dryer. They sit behind the 160-foot-long machine shed. Between the tanks and the other bins is the corn dryer and another holding bin for wet corn coming straight from the field. We fill the wet corn bin and then feed it into the dryer. The wet bin has a cone on the bottom of it instead of a flat floor. That makes the wet corn flow out by gravity instead of manual labor. It’s not that we’re lazy. We prefer to think of it as being efficient. Gravity is your friend. Don’t go against your friend.

If we put the 7,500-bushel bin next to the wet bin, it could be used for storage. Then we thought some more. If we made the old bin a cone-bottom bin, we could use it for wet storage, too. You can buy a kit to assemble the cone bottom for any size bin you want. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Slap a few pieces together, fasten a couple thousand bolts together and you have gravity on your side again.

We did some searching and found a company in Storm Lake that builds such kits. We decided to send Guy No. 1 over to Storm Lake to pick up the kit. When he returned, we discovered that the jigsaw puzzle pieces are kinda hefty. Fortunately, I had an out-of-town appointment scheduled, so I was able to be gone for a day and a half of heavy lifting.

Next, the professional bin crew showed up with a boom truck and got the new bin ready. Then they hooked up their boom to the old bin in order to lift it off its foundation. It was a tad heavier than they had planned. Dad never bought cheap bins. He bought the heavy ones, because he’s not a disposable kind of guy. They could get the bin hoisted off the pad, but they didn’t want to go for a drive with it around the other side of the machine shed. That would require a true professional with an even bigger, cooler truck.

So, we waited. We got the old foundation torn up and hauled away. All we needed was a crane to do some heavy lifting and minor transporting.

The next day was dead calm. Perfect weather for moving a bin. Sadly, the crane guy wasn’t available. He’d be here next week.

Next week rolled around. Dr. Frasier Crane showed up with his big Tonka toy. It was August in Iowa. It was also in the fifties and #@%^&* WINDY! Not the ideal recipe for success.

Frasier surveyed the situation. He only had his little truck with him. It was rated at 23 tons. His big one was rated at 100 tons. With the big one, he figured he could do the move in one shot and go right over the top of the shed. Alas, he had the wimpy truck.

Frasier figured he could hook on and move the bin into position in a series of four separate hops. He’d move the bin, move his truck, then start the process over again. Sort of a Lather-Rinse-Repeat deal. That was fine for the first three hops. The fourth one required a tad more finesse. It would lift the bin into position over the newly assembled hopper bottom cone. Bin Boy and his crew would then position the bin, line up the holes and fasten it into place with bolts. Sounds simple, right?

Let’s review. This bin weighs about three tons. It’s 24 feet in diameter and about 25 feet tall. It has no floor in it and it’s hollow. The wind was blowing at about 20 miles an hour and we’d be on the north side of the machine shed with no windbreak. Put all this together and you don’t come up with a recipe for stability. The solution? Tether it! Slap a rope on that puppy and let a dude hang onto it to keep it in line. Not just any dude, though. Put one of the squirrely little dudes from the bin crew on it. These are the guys who pour concrete and crawl around on bin roofs all day long carrying tools and bolts. They’re kinda lean. Not exactly the type to make good ballast for a bin floating in the breeze. Mary-Kate Olsen would be a better anchor. But this was bin work, so a bin guy would do it. You couldn’t put some fat loser, like, say, ME, on the end of that rope and expect a good outcome. Alvin The Chipmunk would be the anchor. He knows bins.

Frasier got himself and the bin into their final position. He very, very gently moved the levers and made small movements with the suspended bin. Alvin’s feet stayed on the ground the whole time, pretty much. There were a couple times when he took a few sudden steps, but he assured us that was just repositioning, not instability.

The first three hops took about fifteen minutes. The fourth one was more like two hours. The coarse movements weren’t so bad. It was all the super-finesse stuff that took so long. They’d move it into position and then try to line up enough bolt holes to get two or three bolts in next to one another. The wind was not making it easy. Then there was the fact that you had to put two of The Chipmunks on the inside of the bin while Bin Guy and the senior Chipmunk stayed on the outside. They’d put lineup punches in the holes and then slap some bolts through while yelling through solid steel at the two junior Chipmunks inside, “No, THIS ONE! Try THIS ONE! Got it? It’s the one on the corner.”

The corner? Dude, it’s a circular bin! There are no corners. I don’t want you messin’ with the heads of my little Chipmunk buddies here while they’re in the cage. These Chipmunks could very well turn into Wolverines after being taunted in confinement. By the time they’re done, it ain’t gonna be pretty when you let them out. I know I don’t want to be around when it happens.

Fortunately, everything worked out well. No Chipmunks were harmed during the making of this story. The bin was successfully relocated and secured. We were ready for a lot of wet corn this fall.

By the way, while this was going on, I was also busy with a vet who showed up and needed to blood test 30 to 40 pigs, a truck showed up a few minutes after that with 550 feeder pigs, and I had several cows to A.I. in addition to my regular heat detection duties. Oh, and we were trying to combine oats and bale straw, too.

Who needs the state fair for summertime entertainment?

Guy No. 2

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