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Grain handlers deliver loads from trucks to barges
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
A touchscreen is the latest in high-tech control mechanisms that allows Marty Strandberg to direct where loads of corn and soy beans will be stored at River gulf Grain in Bettendorf.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Marty Strandberg makes sure all the usable corn that is brought to River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf makes its way into the storage bins. Once the trucks that transport the grain have left Mr. Strandberg has room to salvage the spillage.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Filling the grain bins that tower behind Marty Strandberg is a job that keeps him very busy during harvest season. Mr. Strandberg is a grain handler for River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf where he can direct the incoming and outgoing corn and soy beans that the business processes.
BETTENDORF -- As River Gulf Grain's grain handler, Marty Strandberg's job is to wait for corn and soybeans to arrive by the truckload and get them where they need to be.

On busy days, there's not much waiting. Mr. Strandberg sees about 15 trucks an hour then, so he spends most of his time in the control room. But one early November afternoon there was enough time between loads to head to the business office.

The 43-year-old Sherrard man wore dark blue jeans, a thick denim jacket with a sweatshirt underneath it, and dusty brown shoes. He leaned back in a chair with his hands behind his head as he chatted with co-workers.

"This pace will burn you out," he said, smiling.

Soon, though, a truck drove down to the building, and it was time to return to the control room. He took off, walking around the galvanized steel bins. The view at the Bettendorf business includes the Mississippi River, where River Gulf loads barges. The gravel beneath his feet was peppered with a few handfuls-worth of fallen corn kernels.

The walkie-talkie on his hip allows him to communicate with the grain grader back in the office about incoming loads. Mr. Strandberg started at River Gulf in 2002 as a part-time grain grader. In spring 2003, he was hired as a full-time grain handler.

The grain grader's job is to assess the quality of the crop. When the truck arrives, an apparatus is used to send a sample of grain into the business office. It's tested to determine several things, including how moist it is. Then the grain is weighed before it's taken to the dump pit.

In the control room, which is in the dump pit building, Mr. Strandberg watches as the grain is dumped and sends it to the appropriate bin. River Gulf Grain has an automated system, so all it takes to get soybeans to the soybean bin or corn to the corn bin is three touches to a screen.

Elevator operations manager Dan Jamison said in reality it takes several conveyors, legs and chutes to get the grain where it needs to go. On the control panel, workers can see how full the bins are and which portions of the grain elevator are turned on.

"All these pieces have to work in concert," Mr. Jamison said.

The system is fairly new to River Gulf. The company moved from the Davenport riverfront to Bettendorf's riverfront in 2010. Mr. Jamison said the company got into the new building in September, which is when they began using the new system.

Mr. Strandberg said the new system took some getting used to, and the screen is touchy, but it's a lot nicer than the old, labor-intensive system, for which he had to use turn wheels to move the grain.

"It's Cadillac. The other system was a Vego (scooter)," he said.

He said the system also allows grain to go right from the pit to the barge. Once the grain is on a barge, it's headed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Then it's placed on ships and sent overseas. Much of the grain goes to Asian markets.

Mr. Strandberg beat the driver to the dump pit and clicked a button to open the garage-like door. When the truck entered the building, Mr. Strandberg was already in the control room. The driver walked over and peered into the room through a window.

"He wants to know if he can dump," Mr. Strandberg said.

To indicate yes, Mr. Strandberg pointed downward. The driver acknowledged the gesture by mouthing "OK" and giving him a slight nod.

In just moments the corn was released and on its way to the corn bin. It takes the grain about four-and-a-half minutes to travel from the dump pit to the appropriate bin.

In between loads Mr. Strandberg cleaned up the pit area. He used a push broom with bright blue bristles to make the leftover golden kernels of corn fall into the pit.

The 2010 harvest season was a unique one for the company because of two things -- the harvest was over unusually early, and the company was is the middle of the moving process.

"It was over before we got open," Mr. Strandberg said.

He said the early harvest was because of dry conditions. Those conditions also meant that most of the corn coming out of the field was dry, so the grain elevator was able to place it directly into storage bins instead of drying it first.

At River Gulf, Mr. Strandberg said the busiest times are generally "spring and then usually Labor Day to Thanksgiving" and the first few weeks of March, when the river opens back up to barge traffic.

He said winter is a slower time of the year, when the company spends a lot of time doing maintenance work, although loads of grain do come in throughout the winter, when farmers sell what was stored in their grain bins. He said from August until harvest begins is also generally slow, because farmers' bins have been emptied for the year.

Before working at River Gulf, Mr. Strandberg worked for another grain elevator company for more than 10 years. While attending Black Hawk College's East Campus in Kewanee, Mr. Strandberg said he "kind of got hooked on grain there."

During college, he did a work experience at a "little feed mill, seed place." He said he liked being at the business and seeing all the different jobs associated with it. He graduated from Black Hawk with an associate's degree in ag business.

Even though his decision to pick a grain-related career happened in college, he was never very far from grain as a youth. Mr. Strandberg, who grew up in the Woodhull area, said his dad had a hobby farm, and he worked at various farms with corn, soybeans, oats, and hogs when he was in high school.

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept, 30, the 273rd day of 2014. There are 92 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: The ARGUS Boys are very anxious to attend the great Democratic mass meeting tomorrow and we shall therefore, print no paper on the day.
1889 — 125 years ago: H.J. Lowery resigned from his position as manager at the Harper House.
1914 — 100 years ago: Curtis & Simonson was the name of a new legal partnership formed by two younger members of the Rock Island County Bar. Hugh Cyrtis and Devore Simonson..
1939 — 75 years ago: Harry Grell, deputy county clerk was named county recorder to fill the vacancy caused by a resignation.
1964 — 50 years ago: A new world wide reader insurance service program offering around the clock accident protection for Argus subscribers and their families is announced today.
1989 — 25 years ago: Tomato plant and other sensitive greenery may have had a hard time surviving overnight as temperatures neared the freezing point.

(More History)