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Vintage 1910 South Dakota Elevator Remained in Service Until 1998

Date Posted: October 31, 2000

Written by Barb Selyem Photos by Bruce Selyem

Herrick, SD is an afternoon visit on the front porch with rocking-chair historians. It’s “Squeal Meal Days,” with hog roasts and potluck dinners, parades and hayrides, quilt raffles, horseshoes, and peewee races.

It’s a community with fourth-generation families whose ancestors settled here in 1904. It’s a town where there are 23 turn-of-the-century buildings – that’s the 20th century – in various stages of restoration.

Actually, there is a 24th.

Just north of U.S. Highway 18 at the Herrick turnoff, there is a wonderful 1910-vintage grain elevator. Since it sits apart from the downtown area, and perhaps because it has become part of the landscape, it is easily forgotten.

But there may be no more appropriate symbol of a strong, enthusiastic centennial community than this sturdy old wood and metal-sided, cribbed structure. At one time, Herrick had three elevators. This was the first one built, and it is the last one standing.

Elevator History The Chicago Northwestern Railroad arrived in Herrick in 1906, and soon after, the adjoining property was alive with activity. There were lumber yards and stockyards, a coal shed, and grain elevators.

The siding was the “port of entry” for homesteaders and the provisions and building supplies necessary to settle the recently opened territory. And it was the “port of export” for the grain, feed, and livestock shipped from Herrick for sale.

Alex Zorba was one of Herrick’s earliest entrepreneurs. By 1905, he had built a three-story modern mall on Main Street, with grocery, hardware, and dry goods stores, the town post office, professional offices, and an opera house.

Later, he sold real estate and livestock and then started a grain company when he bought this 21,000-bushel elevator from Caspary & Simons, the original owners.

Zorba incorporated the grain company in 1924. He bought a second elevator just to the west in 1925, which was later dismantled. And in 1928, he made his son Ernest a partner. For the next 39 years, most of Herrick’s railroad era, the Zorbas successfully operated this grain elevator and their lumber and livestock yards, extending credit on a customer’s word alone.

New Owners Ernest retired in 1967 and sold the elevator to Abe Vahle, a good friend who owned other elevators in the area. Then in the early 1970s, two brothers, George and Walter Waterbury, bought the Herrick elevator, and it became the Herrick Feed Mill.

Bob Waterbury, a nephew, recalls working there and, in particular, the time he and a neighbor rolled a new 500-lb. head pulley up the stairs – no manlift here – to the cupola. It was a couple-hour ordeal as the pulley could only be pushed and pulled one stair at a time.

He also relates that in the 1970s, the railroad tracks were in such poor repair that train derailments were frequent, and in 1978, the railroad abandoned the line.

Bart and Julia Bartling have owned the elevator, currently Bartling Feed & Grain, since 1991. Originally, they purchased it for their on-farm storage and for its 40,000-bushel scale. In the early years, they stored sunflower seeds, but beginning in 1995, they limited usage to one bin for corn to be rolled for livestock feed.

The elevator has remained idle since 1998. The old wood leg is still in working condition, but the wiring is bad, and the roof needs repair. The cost for making those changes make them unfeasible. The Bartlings have no future plans for use or for demolition.

So the small, 60-foot tall elevator continues its vigil over another harvest. Though its aged machinery stands silent, and its bins are empty, it still serves a purpose. At the very least, it is a familiar signpost for travelers returning home and for those passing by.

But on a grander scale, with its sturdy, simple, built-for-function construction, it is a worthy monument to Herrick’s early pioneers and a symbol of the community’s agricultural heritage.

Barbara Krupp Selyem and Bruce Selyem are a directors of the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society. For more information, contact the society at 406-388-9282; web site: www.country-grain-elevator-historical-society.org.

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