In the first decades of the 20th century, sugar beets were the primary business of Northern Colorado. The first beet processing plant was built in Loveland in 1901, followed by Greeley, Eaton, and then Fort Collins and Windsor. Others would come after them.
Sometime in October, the beets had to be harvested and rushed to the processing plants. It required a coordinated effort between farmers, railroads, and the processing plants. Two critical links were the transfers from the farmer’s wagon or truck to the railcar at the local rail sidings and from the railcar to the beet processing plant.
The earliest sidings had beet dumps. Beet dumps were covered in an earlier post entitled “The Sugar Beet Dump.”
In the 1920s, trucks started to replace horse drawn wagons on the farms. With horse and wagons, the local beet dumps needed to be within ten-miles of a beet farm. With trucks, longer trips were possible and fewer dumps were needed. The railroads began calling the local sidings “receiving stations” and started to mechanize them, both to reduce cost and to speed up the process.
As early as January 1921, the Fort Collins Courier mentioned the introduction of “power dumps with scoop conveyors,” By the 1930s, mechanized “beet pilers” were taking the place of beet dumps. Similar to the conveyor devices used in coal and ore mining, sugar beet pilers used hoppers, conveyor belts, and booms to move the beets from the dump trucks to the railcars or to the large piles of beets that collected at the factories during harvest time.
The pilers came with many variations. This piler is probably an early one, since it is so basic. It seems to be part beet dump and part piler. Unfortunately, the photograph doesn’t have a specified location or date. I guess the date must be early in the transition, maybe circa 1935.
The beet truck is on the ramp with its bed being hoisted so the beets fall out. The beets traveled up the first conveyor to the small box structure that contains the grizzly (see the earlier post beet dumps) to remove dirt and debris. When the truck was empty and off the ramp, it drove between the legs of the screening shed and the dirt and debris was dumped back into the truck before the truck was weighed-out. By the way, you can see the scale house between the legs of the screening shed.
Finally, the beets were moved across the short conveyor and dropped into the rail car.
Again the photograph doesn’t indicate a specific location or date but it is a newer piler, without a ramp and capable of emptying much bigger trucks. The long boom allowed it to empty beets into railcars or onto the outdoor storage piles you see in the distance. At factory locations, the storage piles could grow to over 20 feet high and hundreds of feet long before the factory was able to catch up with the inbound flow of beets.
This piler was located at the Loveland sugar beet plant. While it isn’t dated, it looks older than the last piler in the previous photograph, maybe around 1945. I included the image because the piler is so different. You can clearly see the hoist that tips the truck bed. But how does the elevator work and what are the white bags or piles that are coming down the spiral chute in the middle of the picture?
As time went on, “mini” beet pilers began showing up in the sugar beet fields. This piler was photographed in a field in Sterling, Colorado and the license plate dates it to 1968. Before mechanization, the beets were pulled, topped, and left in the field in rows. Wagons drove along the rows and the beets were manually loaded into them. These field pilers took some of the labor and, presumably, some of the cost out of the process.
The story of the sugar beet industry in Colorado is a story of ups and downs. World War I was a boom period, probably the most profitable years for the sugar beet industry in Northern Colorado; but the depression in 1920, the dust bowl periods, and the price restrictions and labor shortages caused by World War II, all took their toll. In 1960, the Fort Collins processing plant was closed and the sugar beet industry as the major agricultural product was behind us. More on the history of the sugar beet industry when I cover the sugar beet plants in a future post.
If you know more about this topic, please use the comment box below to share your knowledge or stories with us.
This is the third article on sugar beets. Here are the first two articles:
Sugar Beet Demonstration Trains (September 25, 2016)
The Sugar Beet Dump (November 6, 2016)
On Thursdays, for the rest of December, I’m going to showcase an image (or images) that are fun, interesting, historical, or unusual and that require little or no story. I hope you enjoy them, starting with a fun image from CSU’s past.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post and click the “Sugar Beets” category to see all of my sugar beet posts.