Thirty years ago, the Froning and Deppe Elevator at 213 Duff was burned as a 3-day fire training exercise. During the first day, a low storage shed was used for practice as it was ignited and extinguished several times. The second day the tall north bin was burned, and on Sunday, the old cob shed to the south finished the controlled burns. For insurance reasons, elevator owner Bob Deppe was invited to light the first fire. ISU fire extension personnel coordinated the burn using men and equipment from the Ames Fire Department. The dramatic blaze on Sunday produced a smoke plume tall enough to spark calls from concerned Marshalltown citizens. This event ended a century of grain storage in downtown Ames.
Ames Daily Tribune, October 10, 1979
TOO OLD TO MODERNIZE, TOO BIG TO MOVE
A city grain elevator that saw central Iowa through good years and drought years is scheduled to go up in smoke this weekend. The 75 year old structure is too old to modernize and too big to move.
"It's too bad it sits in the center of Ames or I would have never torn it down." Bob Deppe said during one of his last trips through the elevator. It's been part of the Ames skyline and business scene since 1904. Before that, another elevator stood on the same spot [but north of the tracks]. That structure was built around the 1879s and burned in 1904.
If the weather cooperates, the two elevator buildings will be burned to the ground in controlled fires this weekend. (A storage building, located between the two structures, was burned Friday afternoon." The fires are part of a training exercise for the ISU Fire Extension Service and the Ames Fire Department.
Deppe speaks with respect as he tells of tales and successes associated with the elevator. Until a year ago, it loaded boxcar after boxcar and truck after truck each day with 1,800 bushels of corn in 13 minutes. Deppe said that's a speedy rate compared to other country elevators, a somewhat sluggish rate compared to very modern elevators.
"An efficient, well-built elevator" is how Deppe described the structure as he pointed to the "legs" which bring the grain out of the bins and into the railroad cars. He noted the scale, which was one of few in the country used to weigh boxcars in recent years.
Seventy five years ago the elevator was probably built for $7,000 or $9,000 - that includes the scale - a sizable item in the overall coast of the elevator. Deppe said it would likely take a quarter-of-a-million dollars to replace the setup. And possibly that much to add on storage facilities and bring it into compliance with OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. In order to keep up efficient operations, Deppe said, additional storage areas would have to be added. The storage capacity now is at 405,000 bushels of corn.
There was a "crummy drought" the first year Deppe bought the place. And another one in 1977 that hastened the elevator's closing. Millions of bushels of corn moved through the elevator over the years. At times Deppe said it's tough to tell what stories about the elevator are true and what ones are tall tales. One he's heard often - and believes to be true - involves the molasses holding tank just east of the elevator. One time the Cuban Black Strap molasses arrived. but there was too much molasses in the tank car for the molasses pit and the result was a stream of molasses across Lincoln Way. The Ames Fire Department apparently had a "horrible mess" to flush away.
The Molasses was so rich, Deppe said, that people from around town would buy jugs full from the elevator. In recent years, Deppe said the elevator sold bird seed, pet food and lawn seed. There was quite a demand for these products, he said. A dusty sign in the elevator office listed somewhat outdated prices for these commodities. Harpsichord music coming from a nearby radio seemed fitting as Deppe pulled out a 1912 shipping record. If the weather cooperates this weekend, records, tall tales and memories will be all that's left of the elevator that now stands south of the tracks in downtown Ames.
Ames Daily Tribune, October 29, 1979
FIRE EXERCISE NEARLY PERFECT
The controlled burning of the old Froning and Deppe Elevator this weekend is pretty close to a text book example of how elevator fires should be fought. Keith Royer, supervisor of fire service education with ISU's Fire Extension Service, said the burning went according to plan - with very few exceptions. One snare he mentioned involved high voltage power lines to the north of one of the structures. Firefighters had to put extra water coverage on the lines to keep them cool while the elevator burned.
Because of the way the fire was controlled, Royer said the bins fell straight down. "It all came down in very good shape," he said noting the method used to influence the direction in which the bins fell. "But that didn't happen by accident," Royer added.