I was cruising Slater recently much like I did as a teenager (minus the loud mufflers and Buddy Holly tunes). As I drove down Main Street heading west, I realized something was missing. It took a while to sink in and then it hit me like a ton of bricks – the old elevator. Of course, the elevator has been long gone, but for some odd reason it was the first time I really thought about it. Must be another sign of old age.
I then drove slowly down the street, jumped the curb and parked my car in about the same spot where the elevator once stood.
In my mind’s eye I could still see that old wooden structure, covered in tin. It looked just about like any other old elevator. Only this one was special to me. It did a lot more than just store grain. It served as a meeting place where farmers would gather to discuss the ways of the world with elevator employees, town folks and – especially – fellow farmers.
Generation after generation had left their footprints on its dusty floor for one hundred or so years while it dominated Slater’s skyline, carving out pathways in the well-worn wooden planks.
As a youngster I became a regular visitor. Where else could a kid learn about crop conditions, the cheapest way to repair a tractor muffler and who has been a frequent caller at the Viking Villa in Huxley all at one time? Combine that with the pop machine and an occasional free juicy tomato or not-quite-ripe-apple, and it was a good place to while away some time.
Then there were the two members of the staff. Thin, quiet Henry Lilland seemed to be the exact opposite of his burly and boisterous boss, elevator manager George (Bulldog) Jennings.
While Henry kept busy sacking bag after bag of grain in a back room and barely showing his face, George was always occupied taking charge of the heated discussions that took place in the front office.
A fireplug of a man, George was known for his explosive expletives that would always dominate the conversations in the front office.
Probably the most vivid memory I have of George is him busily loading his rifle with birdshot while cussing the existence of any sort of bird. That rusty old Remington was the most important tool in his campaign to decimate the flying population of the town.
Ironically, just a few years later, my friend Slick started working at the elevator while still in high school. When George retired, Slick took over the helm and pretty much ran the place by himself.
During this time, the elevator and the nearby lumberyard were both owned by Bob Larson. Some of the employees at the lumberyard would occasionally be called to help out at the elevator, but mostly, Slick was on his own.
Of course, that didn’t keep me from stopping in to visit, even after I had finished school and had become part of the working world.
Within a few years, Slick had completely taken over. He had stepped into George’s shoes and was the leader of any discussion that might ignite at the elevator.
There are many stories I could tell of Slick’s reign at the elevator, but there is one that is special. Seems several of the regular crowd were busily discussing the latest government subsidies being bestowed on one group or another, when someone noticed how dirty the window on the north side of the office had become.
Another debater asked why Slick never took the time to clean the windows. Before long, the condition of the window had become a major source of irritation to the group. Slick didn’t say much, but it was evident that he didn’t like the way the conversation had swung.
Finally, he picked up a hammer and walked over to the window and broke it out. He calmly walked back to his phone and called the lumberyard. “I’ve got a broken window over here. Send someone over to replace it.”
That took care of the dirty window.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.