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December 14, 2011
Silos and Christmas
By: Diane Becker
I miss silos. There are new shiny grain bins popping up across the countryside like milkweed but you don’t see anyone putting up a concrete silo anymore.
My dad had a Hanson silo on our farm, which I was proud of all my childhood. We could see the top of that silo when we pulled off the highway onto gravel headed to our farm five miles away. At least I thought it was our silo. It could’ve been our neighbor’s silo to the west or to the south. Concrete silos were the thing for awhile.
Ours was about 70 feet tall with a ladder that led to the top of the concrete blocks. A silver dome cap sat on the top of our little prairie skyscraper. There were additional steps that led to the top of the dome, which only a city visitor armed with a camera was foolish enough to ever climb to. I never stepped even on the first step of the silo although I’m not afraid of heights and to this day love to get to the highest floor of a building to look at the view below. The bottom of the ladder was about eight feet off the ground to discourage farm kids or their visiting friends who think they’d like to see if they could see the state capitol from the top. Or maybe just the steeple of the St. Francis Catholic Church in Humphrey seven miles to the south.
There were a few people who had smiley faces or U.S. flags painted on the side of their silos. Ours had a checkered black and white pattern where the concrete met the silver top. It was a nice silo and it was especially valuable, not for the grain it could store, but for what its real purpose was—to hold the star at Christmas time.
If I could, I’d ask my dad how the heck he ever got that star on the top of the silo. He never claimed to have carpentry skills but managed to construct a six-foot tall star with five points evenly spaced apart. I picture my mom and him winding strings of large colored bulbs around the wooden slats to outline it. That was the easy part. The hard part was getting it 70 feet up the narrow ladder.
My dad wasn’t a thin man. I can’t imagine how he could climb up all that ways wearing his insulated coveralls and tall mud boots. He had to climb up in pretty much darkness as the ladder’s cage was completely enclosed. My husband, Tom, guessed that my dad took a rope with him up the ladder. Once he got to the top of the ladder, he threw down the rope to Mom, who attached the star and then he hoisted it and assorted extension cords up the side. First, it had to be a little difficult coming up to the top of the enclosed ladder to pop your head out into the big wide open sky then, as you perch there on the ladder, pull up an unwieldy star.
He probably used his pliers and number nine wire to attach the star to the top of the ladder and the wire was wound tight because that star hung there for many years.
I picture my mom plugging in the end extension cord dangling down the side of the silo to test if it worked, which would be hard to see during the day from the ground. It was probably hard for even Dad to tell if those bulbs were lit from two feet away.
Lit they were, though, and what a surprise it was for my five siblings and me to come home that evening and see that beautiful star shining at us from the top of the silo. I think the Wise Men would’ve ended up at our doorstep if we’d had that star up 2000 years ago.
Alas, farmers don’t put up those sturdy concrete silos anymore. Steel grain bins are more useful, I know. Silos weren’t meant to hold bushels of grain which is ready to haul to the elevator any day of the year. Silos held moisture laden grain and even silage which had a tendency to get hot. We had the fire trucks out one fall day trying to douse the heat that was being generated inside our silo that was used less and less in the ‘70s. A new, shorter, steel grain bin now stood next to the concrete silo where the firemen spent hours spraying water through one of the blackened doors as the sound of the Nebraska football game on the radio poured out of the fire truck’s cab. This wasn’t the first silo fire they’d put out that fall.
We’ve got a bin on our farm but it’s not that tall, not really tall enough to mess with putting a star on. The antennae on top of our house is probably taller and I don’t know if I can convince Tom to rig up and wire a star to the top of it.
There’s just something majestic about tall silos and a dark snowy evening looking up at a star on the top. Not sure we can match that but we can always try—maybe a star on the side of the barn will do. Wishing a Merry Christmas to you and yours!