The History Behind Almota Elevator Co.

“Almota”: A Nez Perce word that translates to “torchlight” or “moonlight fishing” (1).

The Lewis and Clark expedition camped at the mouth of Almota Creek on October 11, 1805 (2).

The Federal navigation system arrived in May 1970 with completion of the Lake Bryan impoundment of the Snake River, above Little Goose Dam (3).

Prior to 1970 the Company was licensed a corporation in the State of Washington in 1919. Initially it was a simple warehouse to store sacked wheat which could be shipped by steamboat on the Snake River during high water periods. The village of Almota along the Snake River 40 miles from Lewiston, Idaho and near the mouth of Almota Creek; was a major territorial shipping point for goods of all kinds, prior to the arrival of railroads to Colfax and the surrounding area. The Company also shipped wheat by box and bulk rail car on the Oregon Washington & Idaho RR for many years after its arrival early in the twentieth century.

In October 1972 Lawrence Hickman, a Colfax attorney, argued before the United States Supreme Court for the proper valuation of the Company’s leasehold improvement assets. This was the result of the condemnation action carried out by the US Army Corps of Engineers prior to the inundation of the original location for the federal waterway. It was the case of Almota Farmers Warehouse Company versus U.S. (4) (He was successful). And the case has been often cited because it was a first case requiring the federal government take fair market value of improvements on leased land into account in condemnations.

The first facility footprint, at its current location, consisted of three wood cribbed buildings, (a main house with leg and rope man lift and two annexes), a truck scale and receiving pit, and the barge loading belt, tower and spout. Additionally, two hopper steel shipping bins were built. Later two more hopper shipping-bins were built and two large slip-form concrete silos.

Today there are eleven storage structures of all types except wood crib. The original wood crib buildings were all demolished and replaced. The total rated capacity of the facility is 2,703,000 bushels. There are three receiving pits, two ninety foot scales and one eighty. The berthing facilities of the river wharf consist of five steel dolphins and a center sheet pile cell. The facility has loaded three barges in one multi-shift day. The dock can berth two barges at once end-to-end. There are electric winch and cable fleeting systems to slide the barges up and down stream under the spout.

The Company also owns two satellite elevators. One is known as Union Center, on SR 194 about midway between Almota and the intersection of US 195. It has a rated capacity of 426,000 bushels and is operated seasonally for wheat receiving and also year-round for domestic feed barley handling. It has been utilized recently also for receiving and holding garbanzo beans for another commercial party.

The other satellite facility is located at the Mockonema rail siding on former UPRR near the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds on the Endicott East Rd off of SR 26 West of Colfax. It has a rated capacity of 457,000 bushels and also operates mostly seasonally for wheat and also for domestic feed barley handling.

The corporate headquarters and merchandising office is at 126 S Main St in Colfax.

The Company is a privately held “C” corporation, currently with 290 stockholders holding 113,763 outstanding shares. It files an “1120” federal income tax return. It is not a “cooperative”, though it has paid a cash dividend every year since 1975. Membership or stock ownership is not required to do business with Almota Elevator Company.

The Union Center facility which is an inter-sticed concrete facility and metal flat house was purchased from the former Whitman County Growers.

The Company acquired the Mockonema Elevator Company in 1985 through a merger and exchange of stock after that company was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1983 and needed someone to rebuild the facility for its farmer-owners to deliver the crop. The prior facility was wood cribbed and one steel bin. After the fire, AEC built three corrugated steel bins there. More recently a 90 foot pit truck scale was added to replace the aging 40 foot scale.

The business model has remained quite simple and constant throughout the Company’s history. It is one of buy, sell and handle grain. The key has always been volume and a keen competitive edge. The river mode of transportation to the Columbia River District export elevators in the Portland, Vancouver, Kalama, Longview destination is the key advantage for the Company and that has been passed on to the local grower of grain all these years. This has been a relationship of mutual benefit between the Company and its many valued local grower customers, as well as the export buyers at the destination market.

1 Washington State University Library Archives Website, 2002

2 The Volcanoes of Lewis and Clark October 11, 1805, USGS website, 2004

3 www.nww.usace.army.mil/Locations/DistrictLocksandDams/LittleGooseLockandDam, 2014

4 www.Oyes.org/cases/1970-1979/1972/1972_71_951, Chicago Kent College of Law, 2014

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