After 44 years, Bob Esplin and his wife Laurie have decided it's time to sell the Delta Elevator.
Bob tried retirement when he turned 62 about 18 years ago, but quickly realized how much he missed the daily interactions with his customers and suppliers. Three years later, he was delighted to take the business back from son Mark and his wife Laura.
Declining health has him again weighing his options, he says.
"We will continue to serve our customers as we have done for the past 44 years until the business is sold," he promises. "We're going to try to sell it to somebody who will take care of our customers."
When originally established, the business was known as the Colorado Milling & Elevator Company. When Esplin came along in 1974, it was owned by Elevators Inc. and its 10 stockholders. Bob says he felt mighty lonely at the closing, facing the 10 stockholders, their attorney and their accountant.
Esplin had moved to western Colorado to work for the Morton Salt Company. After three years he went into business for himself. He later purchased the Mesa Flour Mill, formerly Mesa Feed, in Grand Junction. He recalls he and a partner were poised to open a new feed mill when the business burned to the ground on April 9, 1974. Fortunately, the business was fully insured.
"I sold my ashes there and bought the elevators in Delta and Montrose," he recalls.
Those elevators stored locally grown wheat until it could be shipped by rail to the flour milling operation in Grand Junction. The flour was marketed under the name Pikes Peak Flour.
The Montrose elevator was closed because of the high cost of railroad leases.
The Delta Elevator has endured and become a fixture in the community. When Esplin purchased the business, it was constructed entirely of wood, from the decking around the scales to the feed bins that contained corn, oats, wheat and barley. Over the years, he erected metal bins, updated equipment and laid concrete pads. He tore out the rail siding because he quit shipping grain out of the area when Foster Farms established its poultry facilities in Delta and Montrose counties. He has developed a close partnership with Foster Mills, bagging and distributing the poultry feeds and supplements the firm mixes in the iconic silos next to Confluence Park.
Like Foster Farms, Bob contracts with a number of growers in the area. After they deliver the grain, it's "scalped" to take out the foreign materials. It then goes through a steam chamber where it's partially cooked, then rolled to break the outer covering to make the grain more digestible. Steam rolling is an expensive process, Bob explains. "I think we're the last ones on the Western Slope that does that."
After drying and cooling, the grain goes into a makeup bin. It's then funneled into the mixer, proportioned to the desired nutrient level. No medications or steroids are injected into the feeds during the process, and for the past year, Delta Elevator has used only non-GMO corn.
There's a mash side to the business, as well, which involves grinding grain for poultry and swine.
"We cater to the small customer," Esplin says. "They pull in, we load on the feed they want, we weigh it out and they settle up."
Bob says the elevator has supported his large family, and allowed him to buy a home and a small farm. But all 11 of his grown children are established in their own careers; none are interested in taking over the operation. Son Bobby works at the elevator, but rooms filled with deer and elk mounts attest to his talent as a taxidermist. Bobby's wife Francesca handled the books for the business.
"These are the finest people in the world I trade with, but I'm just too old to be messing around in this business any more," Bob says. His pulmonologist urges him to stay away from the dust, but that's easier said than done in a grain elevator.
"We thank our customers and suppliers over these many good years."