Pa. silo company a modern marvel

January 13, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The sight of a farm silo is as common as corn in the country, but most folks probably do not give much thought to how these storage structures are built, or who builds them.

"We do a lot of that on our show. Take everyday things and explain how they got there," said Gloria Morris, a producer for Actuality Productions in Woodland Hills, Calif. Her company produces many of the "Modern Marvels" programs for The History Channel, including a program featuring a local silo builder that is scheduled to re-air this Saturday.

"Containers," the episode that will air at 4 p.m. Saturday, includes a segment on Sollenberger Silos Inc. of Chambersburg, which Morris said she found by searching the Internet.


"I typed in largest silo or biggest silo and came up with them right away," Morris said.

"We'll be working on 100 years before you know it," said Bob Francis, the national sales manager for Sollenberger Silos. He said the company, which he joined in 1984, has been building silos since 1908, when it was founded by Avery Sollenberger.

The company's work includes the largest farm silo in the country, a 148-foot concrete structure in Berks County, Pa., that is featured in the program, Francis said.

"It's probably the largest in the world, but we're not sure," he said. The silos are made from poured concrete, a material that better lends itself to very large silos both structurally and economically, he said.

"You can drive out to Mercersburg (Pa.) or down to Waynesboro (Pa.) and see hundreds of silos we've built over the years," said Francis, who appears in the segment. The company has built them as far away as Wisconsin, Maine and Florida, although most of its work is done in the Mid-Atlantic states, he said.

"When I came here in 1984, the average farm silo was 60 to 64 feet," Francis said. The average is now about 92 feet, he said.

The company uses "jump forms" in building the silos, according to Francis. Forms for 4-foot-high sections of the silo are erected and the concrete is poured. Once three levels have been poured and set, the lowest form is moved to the top and another section is poured, he said.

"In good weather, just about 11 days will do it," Francis said of the average construction time. That includes setting up, constructing the concrete cylinder, putting on the roof and tearing down the equipment, all done by a crew of two to four people.

Silos are not limited to the farm these days, he said. The company also builds them to house wireless communications equipment and there are many other industrial uses, he said.

"Anything that flows from water to corn silage" can be stored in a silo, Francis said, including aggregates and waste products, such as the sawdust and wood chips from a furniture factory that is later processed into other products.

The company also makes concrete panels for horizontal bunker silos, which are used by farmers, but also by companies and municipalities for storing road salt, cinders and recyclable materials, he said.

Morris said silos are just a part of the "Containers" episode, which also looks at the history and manufacturing of tin cans, shipping containers, corrugated paper and glass bottles, as well as the underground salt domes used to store oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

When to watch

What: "Modern Marvels" will feature an episode on containers that will include Sollenberger Silos.

When: Saturday at 4 p.m.

Where: History Channel (check local listings)

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