Nebraska Center for Writers

THE ELEVATOR MAN
by JON VOLKMER

SOME SAID IT WAS CORN killed a man first. Tim's dad said it had something to do with that particular smell of corn. Like coughing up lungfuls of Green Giant creamed style, he said. Wilmer figured beans was the worst. You don't get your big clouds of dust with soy beans, he'd say, but there was something kind of oily the way it stuck to your throat and lungs. Wheat was bad. Everybody knew wheat was bad, but around southern Otoe county it was mostly hard red winter wheat, and when you're harvesting around 4th of July you're too hot to worry much about dust.
Tim knew milo was worst of all. He was only twelve, but he had Vaughn Jones to back him up. Vaughn had operated the grain elevator over in Talmadge for fifty-one years before he retired and moved to Julian. Tim saw him shuffle past every day on his way to get his mail at the store, pulling that oxygen bottle on little wheels behind him. When Vaughn Jones pointed to the cloud of red dust rising up out of the back end of the truck when the milo was pouring in, shook his head and said that was the most killing grain dust there was, you had to believe it. Vaughn said milo didn't have civilized uses like your corn, wheat, and beans, making bread and like that. Milo was just your basic hog feed.
They were emptying the south bins at the Julian elevator. Three of them, eighteen feet high and fourteen across, corrugated tin cylinders with Chinese-coolie-hat roofs. Had to get at them in high summer when the ground at the south end wasn't too marshy and would hold the truck, Tim's dad said. That milo had been in there seven years, he said, it was turning into dirt.
Tim sat against the side of the bin, in the shade, watching the auger work. It was a big pipe set up on wheels, with a screw inside, sharp and shiny, that pulled the grain in at the bottom end, propelled it up the pipe, and shot it down into the truck with a tremendous racket.
The red dust churned from the truck and hung like disease in the air. It drifted across the road, turning the white gravel red, and coloring the first rows of Wilmer's sweet corn patch with a coppery film. It covered the hood of the truck, the roof, it drifted in through the open windows and settled on the seats, the dash, the black gear shift knob.

Reprinted with permission
from Prairie Schooner, Summer 1986
Copyright © 1986
by Jon Volkmer


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