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Starting at an Early Age ... March/April 2008

Date Posted: April 16, 2008

Written by Barb Selyem. Photos by Bruce Selyem

Ed Bergschneider was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

The oldest of nine and a father of nine has been a scrapper all his life.

“Can’t be done” has little meaning to him. However, he does admit he would no longer haul a 200-lb. motor up a manlift, wrestle it up a 12-foot ladder, and install it on the head shaft of a bucket elevator.

His definition of impossible is a challenge that requires ingenuity and often involves creating something workable in a way no one has thought of before.

Ed is a risk taker and an innovator.

Starting Young
In 1957, Ed purchased a grain elevator in Franklin, IL. He was only 22 years old at the time. The Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier called him the “youngest grain elevator proprietor in the country.”

Just two months earlier, he had graduated from the University of Illinois College of Agriculture. Ed had returned home with intentions of farming, but Clarence Jewsbury offered the Jewsbury Elevator at Franklin for sale.

Elevator origin. W. C. Calhoun, who became active in the area grain industry in the 1890s, had built the metal-clad, crib elevator between 1905 and 1910. Calhoun operated it for almost 40 years, until he sold to Jewsbury in 1943.

Designed for team and wagon, the elevator could hold about 12,000 bushels of grain. Later, a frame addition to the west side increased capacity to 17,000 bushels.

In May 1942, a tornado damaged the headhouse and Calhoun raised the wood leg and removed the corn sheller. The original manlift is still in place.

It appears the elevator has been powered by electricity since it was built. Franklin’s first power plant was erected in 1892, more than a decade before the elevator was built. Plus, there is no sign of a concrete mount where a gas engine would have rested.

Taking the Plunge
Buying the elevator was a huge decision. Ed’s father, Leo, owned an elevator about two miles north of Franklin but only used it for his own farm storage. Ed thought that by buying the elevator in town, he might be helping his father by eliminating a competitor.

But the $17,500 price tag was a lot to consider. While Ed was still mulling it over, another fellow bought the elevator. As luck would have it, this was not a popular decision with the man’s wife, and within a few days, he asked Ed to take it off his hands.

Ed took over the elevator Aug. 24, 1957 and changed the name to the Franklin Elevator. He didn’t think anyone would be able to spell Bergschneider.

Innovation: Year After Year
Since the elevator no longer had a corn sheller, and some farmers were still hauling corn on cobs, Ed made a deal with a local trucker who owned a portable sheller. He also added a grain dryer. Ed thinks this is probably one of the earliest dryers to be installed at a country elevator.

Concrete storage. Business grew, and demand for storage increased. In 1963, Ed contracted with Roberts Construction of Sabetha, KS to build a 120,000-bushel concrete elevator. Roberts began construction the week of July 4 but did not begin the slip until Sept. 18.

Worried that the elevator would not be completed in time for fall harvest, Ed changed the plan to eliminate the smaller rectangular headhouse. By winter 1963, the bins were full.

Eventually, Ed had to admit that it was no longer practical to keep adapting the wood elevator. The liability was too great and compliance with OSHA regulations too difficult.

Once he added the 650,000-bushel concrete annex in 1974, he no longer needed the small, antiquated elevator. It has been idle and empty since the late 1970s.

The Next Generation
Today, the next generation of Bergschneiders, Ed’s children—Beverly Watson, Mike and Tony Bergschneider, and son-in-law Bruce Roegge—are running the Franklin Elevator, but not without Ed’s involvement.

“Dad still comes in every day, and though he says he’s turning things over to us, he just can’t let go completely,” Bev says.

The younger Bergschneiders would like to see the wood elevator torn down. But for Ed, it is part of the history of his company. It reminds him of hard work, his roots, good customers, good employees, and all the ingredients necessary for a successful 50-year business. For now he’s considering the next challenge—renovation and reuse.

Barbara and Bruce Selyem are directors of the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society. For more information, contact the society at 406-388-9282; e-mail: bselyem@country-grain-elevator-historical-society.org.

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