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Equity Elevator & Trading Company reaches century mark

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 03/20/2013 9:05 AM

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WOOD LAKE, Minn. — Wood Lake's Equity Elevator & Trading Company has reached a milestone thanks to the support of its loyal members.

The elevator, celebrating 100 years of business, was recently inducted into the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association's Century Club.

Reaching the anniversary says a lot about the cooperative's members, said elevator general manager Ted Winter.

"They have been very supportive of the business," he said. "They are the key to the success of the elevator."

While some elevators have multiple locations, Equity has one location in Wood Lake.

There have been other elevators in the southwest Minnesota community. As settlers homesteaded in Wood Lake Township, they plowed the prairie soil and planted small grains. When a new rail line was built from Hopkins to Watertown, S.D., a flurry of business started in the town — including the Pacific Elevator Company, which established a grain buying station. The first grain delivery arrived in 1884. Soon a second and third elevator were built to handle the grain.

Equity Elevator & Trading Company was formed on July 3, 1912 but didn't receive its charter until Sept. 12, records show. It started operations in existing elevators with 64 charter members.

Wood Lake had five elevators by 1919 in what became known as "elevators row." There was the Allas Elevator, The Great Western Grain Company Elevator, Pacific Elevator Company and two elevators operated for Equity.

Business was good and Equity added a feed mill in 1925.

The next decade wasn't stellar. A lack of rainfall, the Great Depression and bankruptcy was hard on the enterprises. Equity Elevator voted in 1932 to discontinue its dividends on flour, feed and coal and to sell on a smaller margin of profit. Corncobs were selling for almost as much as the corn. The cobs garnered $3 per load. Farmers received 18 cents a bushel for corn and paid $10 per ton for soft coal.

Because of the decrease in grain receipts, both the Great Western and Wood Lake elevators closed. Eventually only Equity Elevator & Trading Company stood alone.

In its first quarter century of business, the elevator paid dividends of more than $300,000 to members. Even in 1934, at the close of the business year, the elevator showed dividends of $5,955.22 That's not bad considering the poor corps and low grain prices.

It thrived after going through the depression. By 1950 the elevator constructed a 120,000 bushel capacity concrete elevator that reached 138 feet in height. At the time, it was the tallest structure in Yellow Medicine County.

The elevator continued to build to meet patrons' needs. In 1959, the elevator received approval to build six 15,000 bushel steel grain bins for more storage. It purchased the land it was built on from the C.N.W. Railroad. A grain dryer was constructed and a fertilizer plant was built. Annexes for more grain storage, a shop and new office were completed.

As Melanie Gatchell gathered the elevator's history, updated for the centennial by Anne Anderson, they noted that the elevator is more than a place where farmers buy and sell grain.

"It is a beacon that alerts others to the presence of a town from miles away," they wrote. "It dominates not only the landscape of rural towns, but also the social life of those who live and work there."

The elevator is a place to get the grain prices, find out the weather forecast, buy some dog food, read the auction bills, drink coffee, eat peanuts, gossip and tell jokes.

"Elevators are a part of life in rural Minnesota," they continued. "The logo for Equity Elevator is two hands shaking. Those hands don't just represent deals being made, they represent the elevator and the community working together to strengthen the community from which they live and work — a pact, if you will, a promise for a better tomorrow."

Today, Equity Elevator & Trading company has 718 shareholders and handles corn, beans and wheat, grain drying, feed, grinding and mixing, seed, fertilizer, ag chemicals and custom spraying.