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The Greenway Elevator

Keck, Mary (Odenbach). "The Greenway Elevator." Northwest Blade, 24 January 2012.


Greenway Elevator

For those of you who remember when the Greenway Elevator was in operation, I’d like to take you back in time. Elevators like the one in Greenway were often referred to as Prairie Cathedrals, since they stood out on the landscape. This certainly was the tallest structure for many miles.

The Greenway Elevator was owned by Emil Perman during the 1930’s. Ed Odenbach joined him in 1940 as a partner, and the business became the Perman-Odenbach Elevator. Ed managed the elevator from 1940 to 1968. Because the business was flourishing, Emil Perman purchased an elevator in Herreid in 1946, so Ed became the sole proprietor of the Greenway operation. A quonset was built on the east side of the elevator in 1957 and was used for storage of equipment. On the south side of the driveway of the elevator were a set of buildings adjacent to the side track (coal sheds). In the fall of the year, Ed would order train cars of coal and customers would be notified of which dates the train would arrive with the coal. They would bring their trucks or trailers and would shovel coal directly out of the train car’s door into their trucks. The coal from the train was bituminous coal from Sheridan, WY, and/or Roundup, MT. Sometimes, when the coal supply was exhausted and there was not enough need for a train carload, they would take a truck to Firesteel, SD, to pick up lignite coal, which was a cheaper grade. If the train cars weren’t emptied of the coal, it would be unloaded into the coal sheds on the sidetrack until needed by customers.

Customers were extremely important, so each Christmas, the elevator presented customers with a "premium" gift. Often, these gifts were ball point pens, a toothpick holder, a calendar, or small pottery "apple" pitcher with the name of the elevator imprinted on the front. (These pitchers are now collector items).

The elevator was at its peak during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Frequently, during the busy harvest season, trucks would be backed up 35-40 deep, ready to deliver grain. This included Saturday and Sunday, since the grain needed to be unloaded in a timely manner. The trucks were then weighed inside and the grain dumped into a pit. After the grain was cleaned, it was transported to grain cars which were on the rail next to the elevator. During the 1960’s when grain was in abundance, the grain was placed directly on the ground and then transported by truck.

The hours at the elevator were long and dirty; Ed would come home covered in grain dust and his eyes were often swollen from the dust. There was always a hired man to help, although Ed did the weighing, bookkeeping and other duties involved with the elevator. In addition to the regular elevator business, Ed was also the town barber. That business consisted of a stool, a hair clipper, a comb, a brush and a cape. Ed charged 25 cents for a haircut, but most all of the kids in town got free haircuts when he could no longer stand to look at them! Ed also owned one of the first welders and did welding for the local farmers. He also charged 25 cents for this service. (A family joke about his conservative nature related to his welding. He once welded the handle back on a flyswatter instead of purchasing a new one). Ed also owned a bulk station in Greenway from about 1959-1966. His brother, Henry Odenbach, managed the bulk station for him. In addition to all of these duties, Ed farmed, owned horses, cattle, sheep and pigs.

The elevator was also the gathering place for local retired men, mostly farmers, to congregate and visit. Many times, there would be up to 20 men all enjoying each other’s company and hashing over the business of the country and the local gossip. The elevator was especially busy on Wednesday and Saturday evenings when all businesses stayed open for customers. Farmers would bring their eggs, cream and milk to be sold and in turn, purchase groceries, gasoline and essentials.

One of the advantages of where our home was located was that we were directly within sight of the elevator driveway. That vantage point gave my mother an edge. When my Dad left work to come home to eat, if, by chance, she was a bit behind preparing lunch, she’d hurriedly set the table and at least give the appearance that lunch was ready.

Dark green work clothes were well-made, withstood many washings and were mostly stain-proof, so my Dad wore them to work every day. My mother always had them neatly washed and pressed for him.

My personal memories of the elevator are mostly from a child’s point of view. The elevator held a lot of mysteries for children; the ladder that went down into the depths of the pit, the grates that allowed the grain to be poured from the truck beds after weighing, the large scale that weighed the trucks, and the area where the grain was transferred to the grain cars. The office was simple; a few chairs, a desk, a pop machine and the hair cutting area. There was also a huge safe --off limits to kids. The one I thing I appreciate now, as an adult, is that the elevator and my Dad were never off limits. We were able to go see him whenever we pleased, and I don’t recall ever being told we were in the way. When I think of my Dad, I automatically think of the elevator. He spent a great share of his life there and was literally the last person to live in Greenway.

The elevator is now owned by my brother, James.

Reprinted with permission of the Northwest Blade

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