News: Withee – Freeport Silo Company


Surnames: Herington, Francis

---------Source: Withee Centennial (Owen, Clark County, Wis.) 2001

Northern Freeport Silo Company was started in Withee in 1957 by Hugh Francis. Mr. Francis had previously been involved in a partnership with a business in Marshfield that manufactured building blocks. His familiarity with the cement business, as well as his ability to foresee the need for storage structures with the conversion from baled hay to haylage, led to the formation of a new business entity. Mr. Francis had an acquaintance in Freeport, Illinois, that was involved in the manufacturing and building of silos. He purchased silo forms from this company, dissolved his former partnership and formed Northern Freeport Silo Company.

Hugh Francis was 63 years old when he started the silo manufacturing plant in Withee. He chose Withee as the site for his new venture as he needed good quality sand and gravel for the manufacturing of staves with which to build silos. The abundance of these raw materials in Clark County made Withee the perfect location.

In 1959 Hugh Francis hired Harley Herington of Tony, 1 WI as general manager of Freeport Silo Company. The Withee plant at this time was manufacturing one thousand t staves per day. There were also three silo building crews, consisting of three to four men, that were dispatched from the Withee plant. These crews built silos in Northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and in Eastern Minnesota. The construction of a silo involved hard, back- breaking work. All labor was done by hand from the manufacturing of the staves, loading and unloading them onto semi-trucks and the final construction into a silo.

The stave manufactured in Withee was unique in that it was a wet cast stave while most other silo companies used a dry-tamp method. There were only two other silo companies in Wisconsin that made a wet cast stave. These staves were stronger and more resistant to acids in corn and hay.

As haylage became a popular feed alternative, more silos were in demand. The plant in Withee was required to do one year's work in seven months. A night shift was added in the plant to accommodate the additional demand for staves. Building crews worked from daylight to dusk.

During the mid-1960s, there was a labor shortage due to the Vietnam War. Mr. Francis told his manager, "Harley, if they can walk, hire them". The building crews consisted of one foreman and one other worker. The farmer was expected to supply the necessary additional labor. It was during the sixties that Freeport Silo sent a building crew to England to teach the English how to construct silos.

Hugh's son, John , designed and engineered a Hi-press stave machine during the mid-1960s. This machine manufactured a dry-tamp stave that was formed under high pressure, removing the water and producing a high quality product. The Hi-press stave was manufactured at a new plant in Chippewa Falls. The addition of production capabilities for the silo company also allowed for the addition of three more building crews.

The silo manufacturing and building industries flourished in the sixties and seventies. During the late 1970s there were more than seventy-five Freeport silos constructed within a thirty mile radius of Withee. Harley Herington retired from Freeport Silo Company of Withee in 1975 and was replaced by his son, Larry, as manager. There were many changes in the silo industry at this time. One of the more notable differences was the size of silos being built. In the late 1950s a 14' in diameter by 40' in height was most common. This size usually took two days to build. In the mid-1960s the diameter increased to 16, 18 and 20 feet, with the height also increasing anywhere from 50 to 80 feet. These silos required three to four days to construct.

The silo business began a gradual decline in the early 1980s. By the mid-80s, many silo companies had discontinued doing business. Northern Freeport Silo Company closed the branch office in Withee in the early 1980s.




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