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Open for business again . . . The Carpio elevator started accepting
grain again last Thursday, with spring wheat taken first and durum
on the schedule. The elevator has been out of service since
an explosion and fire there October 22nd. The crane, put in
place by Gregerson Salvage to get water to the top of the bins,
is still operating on the north side of the facility, ferrying
equipment up and down for final repairs this week.
By Caroline Downs
Carpio residents heard a welcome sound last Thursday when the motors and conveyors at the elevator rumbled to life after nearly three months of silence.
“We’re dumping grain in Carpio again,” said Dan DeRouchey, manager of Berthold Farmers Elevator (BFE) which operates the Carpio facility. “We’re taking spring wheat now. Next week, we’ll look at taking durum and canola.”
The Carpio elevator has been closed since an explosion in the grain handling system surprised employees and the town’s citizens on the afternoon of October 22nd.
No one reported any injuries from the blast or the fire that followed. However, the sight of flames and smoke at the top of the concrete bins prompted Carpio and Burlington firefighters to evacuate nearby homes and businesses. Canadian Pacific Railway suspended operation of the rail line through Carpio for several hours.
Carpio residents returned to their homes later that night, but the fire continued to smolder over the next few days. The BFE board contracted the services of Gregerson Salvage Inc. of Waubay, SD, to help extinguish the fire and remove, one truckload at a time, the approximately 250,000 bushels of grain still stored in the concrete bins.
“It was primarily soybeans, which have more oil,” said DeRouchey. “We had to pull the grain out to put the fire out. One hundred percent of what was in the [concrete] bins had to come out.” He pointed to the now-repaired steel sides where holes were cut near the bottoms of the hoppers behind the elevator’s load-out room.
Better to move grain than fire . . . The explosion and fire went
through the distributor at the top of the Carpio elevator and
along the spouts down into various bins, which impacted
the majority of the facility. The equipment has since been
repaired and re-lined by SM Associates Construction crews
who have been onsite since October 24th.
“A bigger explosion
than any of us thought”
With assistance from Gregerson Salvage’s crews and a crane, BFE employees finally had the opportunity to inspect the top of the concrete bins four days after the explosion. Carpio citizens and drivers on U.S. Highway 52 through town saw the huge yellow crane in action, but little information about the situation was made available.
“When it happened, we were fairly quiet about it until we could get a few things figured out,” DeRouchey said, adding that discovering the source of the explosion was difficult.
The exterior of the elevator appeared unscathed, but conditions inside and below the bins concerned the staff and board. “It was quite a bit worse than I thought it was going to be,” said DeRouchey.
After studying the damage and other evidence, DeRouchey concluded the fire started when one of the elevator’s four grain legs, Leg C, stopped operating. “It could have been plugged with grain or there could have been a loose leg belt,” he said. “The belt started to slip near the top of the grain leg, but the drive pulley kept on turning. When that happened, a lot of friction and a lot of heat were generated within seconds.”
Those conditions led to an explosion that rippled across the top of the elevator through the approximately 20 spouts that channel grain into designated bins. “When the explosion occurred, it followed down those spouts and mushroomed from there,” said DeRouchey. “It was a bigger explosion than any of us ever thought.”
According to DeRouchey, dust throughout the top of the elevator was ignited, along with wooden slipforms in place at the tops of the concrete bins. The outer slipforms were removed after the bins were completed in 1994, but the inner slipforms had been left behind, a common practice at the time.
“So, at the top of the bins, there was this burnable material,” said DeRouchey, “and we couldn’t get up there to put it out.”
To add to the problem, the integrity of the concrete top was compromised on one of the middle bins in the south row. “That bin got the hottest for the longest amount of time,” said DeRouchey. “It was just about full, about 10 or 20 feet from the top, and the steel I-beam across the center got hot enough to sag.”
Working at 170 feet above the ground . . . The crane and lift
box set up by Gregerson Salvage have ferried water, workers,
equipment and parts up and down the sides of the Carpio
elevator's concrete bins since October 23rd. Workers will take
their final rides to the top of the bins and back this week
as most repairs are completed.
Contractors put Carpio
elevator back together
Once the soybeans and other grains were hauled away and the fire completely extinguished, the widespread impact of the explosion became more apparent in everything from the grain legs to the electrical wiring.
Gregerson Salvage began the work of clearing the structure, including the removal of any wood still in place at the top of the bins and the other damaged elements of the grain handling system. Gregerson also hired C-Tech Restoration of Norfolk, NE, to wash the concrete bin interiors and remove the smoke smell.
The BFE board contracted with SM Associates Construction (SMA) of Monticello, MN, for the repair work. Crews arrived with their equipment within a few days of the fire. “Basically, we turned the driveway into a shop,” said DeRouchey. “At times, I think we had 30 people working out there.”
Step by step, the elevator was put back together. One of the critical jobs involved replacing all the wiring, with Burlington Electric crews handling that aspect.
“All the electrical, all the manlifts had to be redone,” DeRouchey said. “They pulled the wire out of the conduits in the whole facility and replaced all the electronics.”
The panel room, located in the basement, had to be completely redone after that room filled with water from the firefighting efforts. “It takes a lot of electrical to run this elevator, more than what you’d think,” said DeRouchey. “The power bill here is $7,000 a month.”
Because the electrical needs were so extensive after the fire, the BFE board decided to use the opportunity to upgrade all the facility’s electronic systems. Hope Electric of Hope, ND, subcontracted for that job.
“Now, instead of push buttons to start and stop all grain moving operations in the elevator, everything is computerized,” said DeRouchey.
The SMA crew had a list of tasks to complete, including chopping out the concrete top that sagged. “They re-poured that bin top about a month ago,” said DeRouchey.
The elevator’s distributor and spouts were dismantled, repaired and re-lined, and assembled again. The four grain legs were upgraded. “We replaced every leg belt from the bottom basement to the top of the elevator,” said DeRouchey, “and all the bearings had to be replaced.”
New bucket cups were attached to all four legs, and electronic equipment was installed to monitor the performance of the belts and bearings. Now, a grain leg will automatically slow down or stop operating if a pulley starts to slip.
“The biggest equipment usage we have is the loadout leg,” DeRouchey said, explaining the system has the capacity to lift 30,000 bushels and load 10 cars in an hour. “The grain gets lifted up to the top [of the elevator] at least three times before it goes out to a rail car.”
He praised the efforts of the SMA crews, who worked on the elevator straight through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to take advantage of decent weather conditions.
SMA foreman Dan Dirks strode around the top of the elevator Thursday afternoon, directing the final welding and repair jobs as snowflakes landed on his shoulders and classic rock music blared from a yellow boombox. “We’re fixing everything that got burned,” he said, “and we’re just about done. Next week, we’ll be out of here.”
The elevator’s load-out room and the precision scales housed there appeared to have suffered little damage, other than the electrical wiring. “We believe the equipment will operate accurately,” DeRouchey said. “We had a scale company come and check it, so we’ll get a train here next week and try it.”
Spring wheat hauled to the elevator last week was conveyed to the shorter steel bins. The concrete bins should be in use again within the coming days. “We’re hoping to be operating at 90 percent by Friday,” said DeRouchey.
Final repairs will be completed in May. The bin with the new concrete top still has spider-web cracks in the walls around the top 10 ten feet.
“We have a contractor hired to come and reinforce the concrete,” DeRouchey explained. “They will have to pour about a four-inch sleeve inside the bin, down about 20 feet on the sidewall. We want to get the bin warmed up before we do that.”
In the meantime, space is needed and that bin will be used. “We’ll probably fill it about half full for now,” DeRouchey added.
Grain legs are key . . . Dan DeRouchey, manager of Berthold
Farmers Elevator, is pleased with the upgrades made to the Carpio
elevator's grain legs in the past three months. The explosion
that impacted the elevator was believed to have started from
friction caused by a loose belt undetected in one of the legs.
However, monitors now installed in the four grain legs will alert
staff to any such problems and shut down the grain handling
system if operations are compromised.
Back in business
With the Carpio elevator down for almost three months, BFE scrambled to accommodate their customers. “We did whatever we could out of Berthold,” said DeRouchey. “Some of our farmers hauled to Berthold and some hauled to our competitors.”
Four employees are based at the Carpio site, but they were put to work in Berthold. BFE even utilized the old elevator still standing in Carpio to load 40 cars for CP Railway.
“We did the best we could do to keep our commitments to buyers,” DeRouchey said. “I’m real happy with the construction crew and our employees. They all handled it well.”
Three months of repairs tallied a cost of nearly $4 million in materials, equipment, labor and lost grain value, but the situation resulted in upgrades for the Carpio elevator that should serve customers for years to come.
Now, as the elevator comes back into operation, DeRouchey allows himself to smile. Trucks approach the driveway and dump their grain as usual, while staff members collect samples of wheat and direct operations from the new digital control system.
The damaged equipment has been piled near the entrance to the elevator. The scorched and bent steel pieces serve as the only visible reminder of those anxious days in late October.
However, along with the events related to the elevator explosion and fire, DeRouchey holds a clear memory of the response from volunteers in the area through those days.
“The community really helped out,” he said. “The fire departments, the ambulance crew and all the volunteers leaving food for us.”
He paused and shook his head. “We know we inconvenienced the community a lot and I haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “They just did a great job.”
For more information about operations and schedules at the Carpio elevator, check the website at www.bertholdfarmers.com or call 701-453-3431 or 800-568-6909.