The First Fertilizer Storage and a Barbed Wire Plaque

Antique barbed wire plaque.

The barbed wire plaque made by the motel owner. It’s a nice sample of antique barbed wire from the late 1800s used across the western US.

The fourth Monolithic Dome built outside Idaho was in Chandler, Oklahoma for Bill Matthews in 1978. I had written an article for a fertilizer magazine explaining how a Monolithic Dome would be a terrific fertilizer storage. Bill read the article and flew to Idaho to see our domes. We hadn’t built a fertilizer storage, yet. His would be the first and it opened the gates to fertilizer domes all along the Mississippi River.

First Monolithic Dome fertilizer storage.

The first Monolithic Dome fertilizer storage—constructed in Chandler, Oklahoma, 1978.

First fertilizer storage

Bill inspected the Monolithic Domes in Idaho and was satisfied we could do the job. He needed a fertilizer blend plant to mix different fertilizers together for local farmers. We designed a 75-foot diameter dome with six internal bins.

I took my crew to Chandler. It was our first fertilizer plant, but not our first dome. We knew what we were doing. We inflated the membrane and got to work. Bill’s place was right next to Route 66—the historic road across America. All day long we heard people slamming on their brakes, squealing to a stop to see this new type of construction.

It took about eight weeks including the interior partitions and everything. It was a fun project.

Barbed wire plaque

When I went to pay our final bill with the motel we were staying in, the owner gave me this wonderful plaque he made. It was carved into the shape of the United States and attached to the front were thirty-something samples of barbed wire. It shows the various types of barbed wire invented by farmers and ranchers from 1868 to 1973. I loved it. It’s hung on my office wall ever since.

Fertilizer storage in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Inside the 105-foot diameter fertilizer storage in Oskaloosa, Iowa. One of many fertilizer storages built along the great rivers in the central U.S.

Launched an industry

The company delivering fertilizer to Bill Matthew’s place could see the advantages to the Monolithic Dome fertilizer storage. They bought six more over the next two years to be built in Catoosa, Oklahoma. The barges moving up and down the river reported the domes to other folks along the Mississippi and the other big rivers and we ended up building lots of Monolithic Dome Fertilizer Storages along all the major rivers that are used for barging.

Over the years we have developed bigger, nicer, fancier fertilizer storages including one that is now in its fifth year in Texas. It is so energy efficient that they pay to air condition it which prevents moisture getting into the fertilizer and prolongs the life of all equipment used in the building. It is totally fire safe and a spectacular facility for Eldorado Chemical in Texas.

Weathered 35 years.

After 35 years, the dome was looking a bit worn. In the 1970s we used to peel the Airform membrane and coat the dome. Turns out to be cheaper and better to leave the membrane on.

Cladding the past

Thirty-five years later, Bill called and said the outside of the dome was looking worse for wear. The years had clearly taken it’s toll. Not to mention that fertilizer itself is very toxic. The Monolithic Dome worked perfectly. It just needed a new exterior. I suggested we use stainless steel cladding. Tragically, Bill died a short time later in a serious accident. His wife, Nelda, hired me to clad the dome with stainless steel. With this new exterior the dome is good for another fifty or one hundred years.

Stainless steel cladding.

Stainless steel cladding renews the storage for another 50 to 100 years.

We also built her a new store at a new location and it has got to be one of the fanciest farm stores in Oklahoma.

I often think of how we have made friends with people like Bill Matthews and his family and others as the domes have gone up. We thank them all.

This story republished from The President’s Sphere blog.

Lincoln County Farm Center.

Inside the new Lincoln County Farm Center store.

Lincoln County Farm Center.

Lincoln County Farm Center store built by Nelda Matthews.

Keeping up with the Domeses

Sign up for the monthly Monolithic Dome Roundup email newsletter for the latest news and links about innovative architecture, thin-shell structures, and the Monolithic Dome industry.