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Ag driver hauling Midwest's gold is integral to global journey
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Bill Kuhl waits to pull forward before unloading his corn into the large grain bin at River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf. Before having their harvests weighed drivers approach the grain elevator and wait while they have their corn and soy beans are tested for moisture.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Bill Kuhl makes sure his corn is flowing into the bins at River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf after opening the doors on his trailer. It takes only a few moments for drivers like Mr. Kuhl to empty their trucks of grain after having them weighed.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
After having his truck weighed Dan Clark opens the doors on his trailer and lets the corn pour into the grain bins at River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf. Drives like Mr. Clark navigate the weighing process quickly after transporting their harvests to the elevator.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
From under his agricultural hat Dan Clark watches corn pour from his seim-truck trailer into the bins at River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf. Mr. Clark is one of the dozens of area drivers who arrives at the grain elevator to sell corn and soy beans.
ELDRIDGE, IOWA -- Bill Kuhl does not need an armored truck or armed guards to do his job, although for the last 20 years he has played chauffeur to one of the Midwest's most valuable commodities.

One might even call it a jewel, especially where the local economy is concerned.

Mr. Kuhl is an agricultural truck driver, and the "jewel" he transports day after day is corn. Corn is said to be the Midwest's, as well as the nation's, leading food and feed crop.

Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift must have understood the crop's worldly value when he penned the following:

"Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together."

Corn, specifically corn from Iowa, also found its way into the literature of science fiction writer and creator of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.

"Self-confidence is self-determinism," he said. "One's belief in one's ability to determine his own course. As long as one has that, he's got the universe in his pocket.

"And when he hasn't got that, not all the pearls in China nor all the grain and corn in Iowa can give him security, because that's the only security there is."

Millions, possibly even billions, of acres of corn are harvested each year, a good majority here in the Midwest.

"This is a tremendous area to grow corn in," Mr. Kuhl said. "Locally, it's also great because we live by the (Mississippi) River."

And it's from this area of the country that an incredible number of bushels are exported each year to points around the world.

Enter Mr. Kuhl of Eldridge, a driver for Engelbrecht Farms. He plays an intricate role in getting the local corn crop off the farm and into the hands of the consumer. After harvest, the process begins with him.

"I'm just one of the pieces of the process, and all the pieces are important," he said.

And Mr. Kuhl loves his job, especially the variety of experiences he said it affords him. There are no drawbacks to his profession, he said.

After the corn crop is harvested, it's transported by the bushel by drivers such as Mr. Kuhl. A typical load for Mr. Kuhl would be about 900 bushels, or 50,400 pounds.

"This means the completion of the year for the farmers," Mr. Kuhl said regarding loading the corn to be transported. "Now they begin reaping the products of their labor. They've worked hard all year to get to this point."

Mr. Kuhl drives the grain to facilities such as River Gulf Grain, a grain elevator facility located on the Mississippi riverfront in Bettendorf. It has been in business for 25 years in the Quad-Cities.

River Gulf Grain buys grain, particularly corn and soybeans, from local farmers, typically within a 60-mile radius. The facility processes anywhere from 50 to 150 truck loads of grain a day -- loads transported in on massive 18-wheel semi-trucks and grain trailers like the one Mr. Kuhl drives.

Most of River Gulf Grain's customer base is done with harvest by early November. Therefore, the busiest season for drivers, such as Mr. Kuhl, is between September and November, when the most loads are transported.

Most of Mr. Kuhl's time is spent on the road. From the time he actually pulls into facilities such as River Gulf Grain to the time he pulls out is barely five minutes. The process is intricate nonetheless. When Mr. Kuhl approaches the grain elevator, his load is first assessed for quality. To do so, a sample of the load is taken using grain lab tools.

The load is then weighed.

Mr. Kuhl then dumps the corn into a deep grain pit. The corn is weighed again, then dispensed into a grain bin. Mr. Kuhl is then issued a check for the load and is on his way. He may make this trip several times a week or just once or twice, depending on the harvest.

Once the corn is taken in by River Gulf Grain, it is stored and eventually loaded onto barges that use the Mississippi River to transport the grain to New Orleans. From there, the crop is loaded onto ships and transported around the world.

China is one of leading importers of American corn, Dan Jamison, operations manager at River Gulf Grain, said.

The corn grown and transported locally could end up in a variety of products sold worldwide, everything from pet food and livestock feed to ethanol fuel and frozen vegetables.

Dan Clark, a truck driver for Clark Grain Inc. of LeClaire, has been in the agriculture business his entire life. He's been a driver for about six years and hauls bushels of corn by the thousands. A typical load of corn on his grain trailer is 1,000 bushels, or 56,000 pounds.

Agriculture is a step-by-step process, and his job is integral in the process, Mr. Clark said.

"Someone has to get the crop from point A to point B," he said.

According to Mr. Clark, in 2010 around 800 of the 1,000 acres on his family-owned farm were planted with corn. Soybeans were planted on the remaining 200, he said.

"This is probably the best area to grow corn, probably in the world," he said.

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Oct. 20, the 293rd day of 2014. There are 72 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The store of Devoe and Crampton was entered and robbed of about $500 worth of gold pens and pocket cutlery last night.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Michael Malloy was named president of the Tri-City Stone Cutters Union.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dewitte C. Poole, former Moline newspaperman serving as vice consul general for the United States government in Paris, declared in a letter to friends that the once gay Paris is a city of sadness and desolation.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans for the construction of an $80,000 wholesale bakery at 2011 4th Ave. were announced by Harry and Nick Coin, of Rock Island. It is to be known as the Banquet Bakery.
1964 -- 50 years ago: An application has been filed for a state permit to organize a savings and loan association in Moline, it was announced. The applicants are Ben Butterworth, A.B. Lundahl, C. Richard Evans, John Harris, George Crampton and William Getz, all of Moline, Charles Roberts, Rock Island, and Charles Johnson, of Hampton.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Indian summer is quickly disappearing as temperatures slide into the 40s and 50s this week. Last week, highs were in the 80s.

(More History)