There used to be a lot of them around. You could see them from a long ways off because they stuck up so high. I am referring to the old silos that once stood adjacent to the barn of nearly every reasonably sized farm in central Utah. They were almost exclusively built in the years between 1910 and 1920, an era when almost everything was done by hand labor.
They were built using a large ring-type form, one section at a time. The size of a silo was defined by the size of the ring and/or by how many rings high it was. For example, a 12-ring silo, which was the average height, held 100 tons of corn silage. It took 20 acres of corn to fill a 12-ring silo.The corn to fill it would be planted by hand with the old hand planters one step at a time. The mature corn would be cut with a sickle and hauled to the silo on flatbed wagons. There it would be fed into the chopper, which hurled the newly ground silage up a pipe into the top of the silo. Silos were designed with a narrow opening up one side, with steel inset rungs that served as a ladder, and a notch on the inside for boards to be set in place to cover the opening as the silo was filled. As the silage was fed to the cattle in the winter it would be thrown out through the opening and the boards removed one by one back down as the silo emptied.
I remember going to Elry Wild's as a kid - this was much later, when tractors had replaced most teams. Elry had all John Deere stuff, green as the corn it hauled and chopped. We would stand inside on the silo as the high whine of the chopper throbbed and echoed in the massive round space, so loud you couldn't talk to one another. We would dare each other to climb up the rungs, and see who would jump into the silage, from the highest point.
On other occasions, when no one was around, we would climb to the top of silos just for the thrill of shinnying around the top edge. Halfway around you had to control your thinking not to panic, because if you fell from that height it would be the end.
Which is probably the main reason the old monoliths are slowly disappearing. With the impingement of suburban development and so many kids around, the temptation to climb silos has not decreased, and many farmers - and owners of old farm property - concerned about the potential liability, have slowly torn down the old silos; no small task, considering the odd mixture of metal used as reinforcement by their builders - everything from heavy gauge net wire fencing to angle iron from outdated farm equipment.
Seems like every time I pass a silo I can't help but feel a sense of the heritage behind it. I can imagine a crew of farmers with makeshift scaffolding 20 or 30 feet up, working on about the eighth or ninth ring. Several men are at the bottom mixing concrete by hand and lifting it up hand over hand. By the time they're finished, the whole weight of the silo will have been lifted into place by hand.
Just like when a house is built today. Except for the concrete and a few of the heavier beams, by the time it is completed, the builders will literally have lifted the whole structure into place a little at a time, like an army of ants slowly building a colony. Which is why it makes me sad to see the big silos go. Somehow, the sturdy old concrete giants represent the work and sacrifice of a whole generation, fading now unnoticed into the dusty pages of history.