May 7, 2009

The Relationship Between Coal and Sunflowers

I remembered this morning that I forgot to post the pictures I took at the feedlot in Shepherd. So I've added them to my post about our break down from yesterday.

Yesterday was an uneventful day, which was fine. I think we needed one after Tuesday's crisis. We drove straight through the 730 mile trip, stopping to eat in Forsyth, MT, then again to fuel and get something for dinner in Jamestown, ND. We drove through Fargo. I know the flooding is old news, but even in the dim twilight hours, it was obvious they were quite soggy. Poor folks. Flooding is not fun.
We pulled into Crookston, MN last night around 9:30 and decided to stop there, leaving the last 25 miles for this morning.
Up at 5:00 and pulling into Anderson Seed Co. in Mentor, MN at 5:45, we were second in line to unload.

There are a number of coal mines in southeast Montana and northern Wyoming. I thought a load of coal was interesting. I was of the impression that no one uses it anymore, other than there are some power plants that are still fueled by coal, and I thought all the coal from these mines were for that purpose. As it turns out, there are a number of uses for the stuff. What we hauled was called Stoker Coal. Its small stuff, and Anderson Seed Co. uses it to heat their sunflower seed dryer. They get two loads of coal a month. They must be drying a lot of seed!

There are three common ways to unload a hopper trailer. Most often we pull across a pit in the ground and open our hopper doors over the pit door, letting the product down into the pit where it is augured into its appropriate storage area. We have also dumped on the ground, driving along slowly as the product siphons out, leaving long trails behind us. Then the guys who bought the stuff will use a front end loader or tractor to push/scoop the stuff into a pile for storage. The second most common method of unloading is this one.

A tractor attached to an auger is pulled up next to the truck. The high end of the auger is positioned over the top of the storage bin. The other end of the auger is beneath the truck. The tractor PTO powers it, and as the product slides out the hopper doors, it is augured up and dumped into the storage bin. This is the coal falling into the auger. See the red spiraled pieces? That's what the tractor PTO powers. They turn and basically move the coal, seed, fertilizer, or whatever product it is, up into the bin. As luck would have it, a pin on the auger got sheared just as we were starting, so we had a brief pause while they fixed it. But overall we were unloaded very quickly. I think there is something beautiful and artistic about grain elevators and silos. Anderson Seed Co. produces seed for use in wild bird food.

There are about a million sea gulls here. The ones with black heads and black wing tips. Not really sure what they are doing in western Minnesota, other than enjoying the bounty of harvested sunflower fields. But their are clouds of them in the sky, and hoards more in the fields. We're done unloading, and they are graciously letting us use their power washer to washout the trailer. See why I like this so much? The people are so nice and friendly and helpful. You'd never see a produce warehouse saying, "Oh sure! Help yourself to our washout facility. No there's no charge. Hey, you missed a spot. Let me get that for you." Nope....they'd laugh in your face if you even asked.

And as soon as he's done washing, we're reloading right here at Anderson Seed Co. How convenient! We've got a load of sunflower chips that are going to Mead, WA. That's just north of Spokane. A little over 1200 miles. We'll be there before noon tomorrow.

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