LIVING AND WORKING IN SILOS AND WHY IT CAN BE DANGEROUS

Tom Seest
7 min readMar 18, 2021

An Advanced Exploration of a Narrow Topic That Can Be Dangerous

FARM COUNTRY

I grew up in the small town of Hopedale, Illinois, in the middle of Lincoln’s prairie, surrounded by farmers and farmland. It was not uncommon to see each farmer have several silos on their property, along with grain bins. For those that don’t know, farmers use silos and grain bins to store grain and feed for their cattle, pigs, and other farm animals raised for food. There is a complete science that surrounds the development and the engineering behind grain bins and silos.

PLAYING ON THE FARM

We attended church, what we called meeting, on a farm located in Delevan, Illinois owned and operated by Paul Brown and his family. Paul and his family were very gracious and allowed us to play around the farm as kids. I have fond memories of playing in the grain bins and climbing on tractors and motorcycles and lawn mowers and seeing all sorts of farm animals. I remember my first experience climbing into the grain bins and playing on the corn. It’s also where I ended up having my first asthma attack.

FALL HARVEST

I also have fond memories of the fall harvest when Paul, his dad, Daniel, and his son, Dan would spend time riding the combines and using tractors to haul back the grain wagons full of corn and loading the corn into the grain bins, using grain augers after the corn had been dried. As a child, it was a fascinating process to watch and to learn and understand all the engineering involved just in getting the grain into the grain bin.

FOOD FOR FOOD

In most cases, the grain was used as food for food. They actually had systems designed to move the grain from building to building, where the pigs and hogs would eat it. Then, as the hogs grew old, they would take the pigs to market ,where they would be sold and eventually processed to become the bacon that I so love to eat. In some cases, they would sell the corn instead, if they had a surplus that the animals would not eat. Later on, they quit raising hogs and animals altogether and just raised corn and soybeans and other crops. As a child, observing and watching it all was a fascinating learning experience.

HARD WORK

Paul and other farmers in the area would hire kids to hoe beans, to remove the weeds that would clog the harvesting equipment called combines, detassel corn, and perform farm chores as needed. In some cases, Paul would allow us to help him and his family build hog houses where hogs were raised and also help clean them from time to time. I learned that farm work was hard work and that, combined with my allergic reaction to corn with asthma, led me to not want to work in silos for a living. I decided I would have to find other ways to work hard and lose money.

GRAINS SYSTEMS INTERNATIONAL — ASSUMPTION, ILLINOIS

While I never worked in silos or grain bins again, I did end up working for Grain Systems International (GSI) in Assumption, Illinois. GSI is the world’s largest builder and provider of grain systems and grain bins in the world. In my chosen field of computer work, and programming, it was a very interesting place to work, but even there I did not work in silos. The type of work that I had to do allowed me to interact with all the departments in the company including engineering, manufacturing, and sales. It was fascinating to work there, and learn how grain bins are designed and manufactured and delivered to the customers on the farm. Most people that worked there came from nearby farms or farming communities and had a vested interest in making farming a better experience for farmers.

SAFETY, RISKS, AND REWARDS

Farming is a profession that has lots of risk and lots of reward. And it can be very unsafe at times, due to the environment and the wide variety of manual work that has to be done. I learned a lot about accidents around grain bins and grain silos and how people die every year in accidents in these locations while at GSI. Inside the grain bins, which are tall, round structures full of grain, the grain can collapse and have a quicksand effect and bury farmers and farm workers. And, improperly designed or improperly engineered or improperly installed grain bins can collapse and hurt, injure, or kill the farmer or farm worker. Most farmers are aware of the risk and wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. They love what they do and the sense of accomplishment at harvest.

MISSILE SILOS AND THE ARMS RACE

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, after World War Two and the Korean War, the United States and the Soviet Union started building massive stock piles of missiles, and most of these missiles that were intercontinental would be launched out of a van maintained in missile silos. Later on, when the arms race died down, people could then purchase or tour these missile silos even if they weren’t in the army or the military. However, it could be unnerving to tour a silo due to the limited number of entrances and exits and the long narrow nature of a silo, and these silos were buried underground, for the most part, to hide their existence.

COMPANY SILOS

When you go to work for large companies or corporations or organizations, you can often find yourself working in silos. But this obviously has a different meaning. In small organizations, you tend to understand and work with everybody in the company and are aware of the difficulties and challenges each person in each department faces every day. However, in large organizations, many times you may not even know what the person that sits next to you does or what department they work in. The workers that perform these job positions have little interaction with other people or departments and are often referred to as “working in silos,” because they focus on very specific tasks and have little interaction with others in the organization.

UNAWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE UNAWARE OF

In many of these large organizations, since people aren’t aware of the other job functions and job tasks, many times they make decisions or make choices that have a bad impact on the people working in other silos. So a person working in purchasing may limit the amount of paper they purchase for computer printers and have a large impact on people that are trying to get their work done in accounting. So, often, people that work in silos tend to step on the toes of other workers in the same organization.

HUMAN SILOS

The modern medical complex has a tendency to treat the human body as a series of silos, where various experts are deployed in silos to fix specific problems with organs or systems. The same danger and risk occur there as well. As an example, an expert on the lungs may prescribe treatment that is beneficial for the lungs but may be harmful for the heart or the kidneys. So often, these silos in medicine can be dangerous and cause harm to the patient. This is why many patients also have general practitioners or service providers that try to keep an overall view of the care for the patient, to avoid any harmful or deadly incidents.

RESEARCH AND CLINICAL SILOS

The existence of these silos was never more evident than over the last year with the COVID worldwide pandemic. People would often defer to the “experts” in science, but these scientists and clinicians most often work in silos and have specialties. A researcher or clinician in cardiology may be a poor expert to defer to or refer to when it comes to immunizations, vaccinations, or virology. Fortunately, there are organizations and individuals that monitor these silos and review and produce study and research results. But it can lead to confusion and danger as well.

ME

In any case, I hope I’ve given you a good overview of how grain bins and silos affect your life, both on and off a farm. And how thinking or acting or working in silos can be dangerous but effective and rewarding. Feel free to follow my ramblings at the links listed below:

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Tom Seest

I Help Entrepreneurs Harness the Power of Artificial Intelligence to Grow Their Businesses.