NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
December 17, 1998
Plains Folk: Plains Hoopless
Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University
©1998 Plains Folk
I thought I knew something about silos in the Great Plains landscape until a few weeks ago, when I claimed to be an authority on the subject. Now people are sending me photos and information about all sorts of structures I never heard of before. (Works every time, thank goodness.)
People are sending details about wooden silos in particular, and one of the characteristic types of the northern plains was the woodpanel silo. This was composed of short horizontal panels held in place by vertical metal frames, and the whole thing wrapped together horizontally by round iron rods around the outside. Harris Aftret writes to say there is one of these standing on the place he farms in Grand Forks County, and he's kind enough to enclose several photos.
The silo has a wood-shake roof with a wooden mast sticking up from the apex, but the main body is only about 12 feet tall. Either this has been cut down, or it must have had a pit under it to extend the storage down below ground. I'm going to have to go by and check it out.
Lawrence Dirk of Devils Lake writes and encloses a photo of the old home place, which previously was the town site of Odessa, N.D. The photo was taken from the barn roof and shows two wooden silos, one of which, a pre1900 structure, is of particular interest.
Dirk says it "was made of vertical 2x4s flat side nailed together with a piece of rope between them by the outer edge to make it curve to make a round silo. The 2x4s were covered with tar to preserve them." This description may be hard to picture, and the silos on the place have blown down, but I think I get it.
What helps me understand the description is another letter and photo from Tom Schlachter of Schlachter Lumber Co. in Gettysburg, S.D. He says, "My Grandfather N.J. Schlachter of Gettysburg patented and sold plans for a hoopless stave silo between 1890 and 1915 in the Midwest." And he adds, "As far as I know there are none still standing."
The photo from Schlachter is a beauty. It shows four workmen erecting a silo. They have excavated and are building atop a foundation about 5 feet below ground level. Looking out of the hole is a fellow in a threepiece suit, whom I take to be old Mr. Schlachter. The workmen are nailing long 2x4 staveslong as the silo is tallinto place vertically. One man is swinging a stave up into position. The other three are on footstands, one above another, hammers at ready waiting for the stave to be put into place so they can nail it. It appears that there are little tails of rope protruding from the top of the staves, indicating that pieces of rope are being used as spacers along the outer edges of the staves so that the silo wall curves round.
In other words, the Schlachter hoopless silo from Gettysburg appears to be the style, if not the very model, that was erected on the Dirk farm at Odessa. The Schlachter photo bears this promotional legend: N.J. Schlachter's Hoopless Stave SiloNever Blow Down. Unfortunately, the Dirk silo did blow down!
Actually, I can't quite reproduce the legend I roughly quoted above, as the writing on the photo is full of inversions and transpositions. I'm not ready to say for sure, but I've seen enough evidence now to venture the opinion that some of greatest artisans and folk engineers of the Great Plains were dyslexic. Given what we know of learning and communication styles today, this is an interesting line of thought.
The subject at hand, though, is silos, and thanks to these correspondents, I'm now aware of a whole new category of historic buildingshoopless vertical woodstave silos.
Source: Tom Isern (701) 231-8339
Editor: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136