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Big Bow's new big bin

In the southwestern Kansas hamlet of Big Bow, there's big talk about the local elevator's new construction project.

Really big talk.

The Big Bow branch of Skyland Grain, LLC, is putting in a new grain bin at its location just west of Ulysses, Kan. But, it's not just any new bin. This steel grain bin, when finished, will hold 1.1 million bushels of grain--the largest of its kind in the state.

Grain production in the area around Big Bow is big business. The average yearly corn harvest brought into the Big Bow location can reach 3 million bushels, according to Branch Manager John Battin. With harvests that size, Big Bow has regularly had to store its corn harvest on the ground because of space restrictions in its bins following wheat harvest.

"Right now, we are chock full of wheat, and we'll move about another 100,000 bushels of wheat over to the old co-op," Battin said. Currently, the Big Bow location has about 2 million bushels, or thereabouts, of capacity. With the new 1.1 million-bushel bin, that still may not be enough for tremendous corn harvests, he said.

"The benefit is basically we can eliminate the amount of grain we have on the ground and that we have to pick up," Battin said. "Even with this new bin, we may have possibly 800,000 bushels, or so, of harvest we may have to still store on the ground.

"That's just corn, we store all of our (sorghum) on the ground because we have no space," he added.

The construction project is the responsibility of Woofter Construction and Irrigation, Colby, Kan. Larry McDonald and his team of builders, engineers, and others have consulted with Skyland Grain on every aspect of this new monumental bin.

"WT Contractors of Ulysses, with Dave Tarbet, did the concrete. Cross Country Construction from Minnesota is doing the actual bin erection, while we're the millwright and general contractor," McDonald said. The bin was designed by GSI Grain Systems, Assumption, Ill.

"GSI is the biggest grain bin manufacturer in the U.S.," McDonald said. The company is based in the heart of the Corn Belt--Illinois. And so it's ironic that this 1.1 million-bushel bin is being constructed in southwest Kansas. For this project GSI shipped 17 semi-loads of specially designed panels to the Big Bow site, McDonald said.

"We should be on time to be done by Oct. 1," McDonald said. The team has already spent about five weeks of 10-hour days in construction.

Looking at the elevator's criteria for placement and construction, the crew had to mostly deal with space constraints and soil stability.

"When they first contacted us about building a 1.1 million-bushel steel grain bin, we knew we could do it," McDonald said. "Some people may think that's too much grain to put in one spot, but really with temperature cables and storing drier grain to begin with, we can control the moisture content of the grain."

"It's put in the only place where we had space to put one in," Battin said. "The reason it's 135 feet, instead of 155 feet (across) is room. For a 1.1 million-bushel bin, it really fits in nicely. Basically, we can feed off of our current 90-foot bin into there with very little extra work." Battin said there will be no load-outs from the new bin. Instead all the grain will be retrieved via an underground drag that is hooked up to the current 90-foot bin and inside the main house.

Another issue, before the foundation was poured, was the stability of the soil. Battin said the soil consistency tests showed three different types of soils in the single construction zone. So, they had to dig down 18 to 19 feet, take the dirt and mix it together, and bring it back eight inches at a time, compacting it the whole time, he said. "I think even though it took time and energy, we met the challenge and the floor will be in good shape," Battin said.

McDonald said Woofter Construction has already had several calls about putting in other massive bins like this one, and while nothing is set in stone, he anticipates more will be built in the country.

For now, though, the folks of Big Bow, Kan., plan to enjoy their big claim to fame.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.



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