OCHEYEDAN, Iowa | You're already on high ground when stepping into Ocheyedan, home of the famous Ocheyedan Mound, the piece of Iowa soil 1,655 feet above sea level, making it Iowa's second highest point. There's a park along Osceola County Road A-22 southeast of Ocheyedan that celebrates this claim to fame; a place I've visited, photographed and written about.
(Ocheyedan Mound was designated as Iowa's highest point until Hawkeye Point, which stands on the Merrill and Donna Sterler farm 11 miles from Ocheyedan near Sibley, was officially awarded that distinction. Hawkeye Point, which has been developed and marketed by the county in recent years, tops out at 1,670 feet. I've also been there and recommend it.)
The claim to fame took on a little different meaning on a balmy Monday afternoon as I drove north and east toward Spirit Lake to cover a substate boys' basketball game pitting Sheldon against Alta-Aurelia. (Sheldon won, 62-42.) Pulling into Ocheyedan for a quick snoop session (just seeing what was going on, really), I noticed a half-dozen workers in the distance scurrying down several steps of stairs attached to the outside of a massive work in progress.
I gazed up and counted the steps. The total came to 232, give or take a couple.
"It's 167 feet tall," said Steve Johanson, the superintendent of this project for Younglove Construction of Sioux City.
The $25-million feed mill for Cooperative Farmers Elevator has changed the skyline for a small town south of Highway 9. Twenty-five construction workers report to the site each day, coming from these states: Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Arizona, New Jersey, Texas and Pennsylvania, all awaiting their marching orders from Johanson, a Younglove employee since 1976.
Interestingly, this is only the second Iowa project upon which Johanson has worked during his career. The other? A facility at Eagle Grove, Iowa, in 1983.
"I built swimming pools for a while and then had some friends who hooked me up with Younglove Construction in Waco, Texas, in 1976," said Johanson, a 1974 graduate of the old Ringsted High School in Ringsted, Iowa, which is now part of the North Iowa Community School District. "I hired on as a welder when I joined and worked my way up."
Younglove, part of Sioux City-based Klinger Companies Inc., has 14 crews working on projects across the country, he explained. Many of Johanson's efforts have been focused on building in the southern and western portions of the country. His biggest? A plant for Halo oranges in De Lano, California, which features a variety of structures spanning 13.5 acres under one roof, including a hospital.
Work on the feed mill at Ocheyedan began last June and won't end until October, a time frame spanning 17 months or so.
Johanson and his wife, Linda, reside at nearby Milford, Iowa, during construction, a detail that has helped Johanson, in a way, connect to his roots. He recalled spending time at the Iowa Great Lakes in the 1960s and 1970s with his parents, Ann and Dale Johanson, who still reside at Ringsted.
"I got to take in some of the free music last summer at the Lakes," he said, noting how the Iowa Great Lakes have certainly experienced growth in his four decades away from the region.
When the new feed mill opens and is staffed, it could portend growth for Ocheyedan. Mike Earll, economic development director for Osceola County, said the site will need 28 full-time staffers to operate. Additionally, the new mill will require 70,000 bushels per corn to operate each day, a figure that translates into 18 million bushels of corn per year.
"It should raise the price of corn here a bit," said Earll, touching on how the mill's demand will offer local growers another alternative for their grain.
And, once the mill is functioning at capacity, some 125 semis with feed, primarily for swine, will depart this towering site, making it, undoubtedly, the busiest high-point in town.