ARCO Dehydrating halts alfalfa processing, weighs options
The sound of sliding grain could still be heard within the past week at ARCO Dehydrating, but the facility will no longer be processing alfalfa. The Lake Park business had been drying alfalfa for feed and other agricultural purposes for decades. Royce Krummen, shop foreman at ARCO, posted photos online Nov. 13, 2018, informing his community the alfalfa portion of the business was winding down.
"With many mixed emotions, I had the honor of taking these pictures. This is the last load of alfalfa that will leave ARCO Dehydrating," he captioned the post. "Thanks to all that have helped over the last 70 years. We couldn't have done it without you."
The company may continue its other operations including farming and processing row crops. Request for further comment on the decision to end alfalfa dehydration was declined by plant manager Steve Krummen, father of Royce Krummen.
The senior Krummen has been with the Lake Park business since approximately 1968. The plant itself began in the mid-1940s under Clayton Arnold of Lake Park. Clayton announced his intention to start the dehydrating business in January of 1946, according to archives of the Spirit Lake Beacon. The business was branded the following year with the name ARCO — a hybrid of Arnold's surname and that of his then business partner John Cory. The partnership did not last, and Clayton continued solo while keeping the name.
The business began with about 25 employees, according to a 1980 interview. In November 1949, the Lake Park News announced an expansion of plant production to include dehydrated poultry litter. It later added a pellet mill in 1956. The change was said to save time and money because the product could be shipped in bulk. The business officially became incorporated in 1964. Less than a decade later, an editorial in the March 11, 1971, edition of the Lake Park News estimated 100 local boys had worked at the plant to finance their college educations.
"Lake Park would not have been considered for natural gas if it were not for the summer usage by ARCO," the editorial read. "It has been a tremendous boost for the Municipal Light Plant with their big usage of power … So it's not just a group of tin buildings, steel towers and smelly burners. It's a vital part of the town of Lake Park."
The smell seemed to grow on future generations. After the photos of the last alfalfa shipment were posted, many responded by lamenting the loss.
In order to salvage a dwarfed corn crop which had been stunted by drought in September 1976, the plant began pelleting chopped, whole corn. The plant was processing 1,000 acres of alfalfa and 500 acres of wheat when it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1997. At that point, the plant was capable of processing 10,000 tons of alfalfa pellets during the growing season. The plant employed eight full-time employees. The company was known to double its employees during the growing season, and often operated more than 150 hours per week to handle the volume, according to news archives.
The business survived a number of fires over the decades, including a winter blaze which burned for more than a week. The Jan. 20, 1949, edition of the Spirit Lake Beacon said the fire started in one of the facility's warehouses and was difficult to fight because of the smoldering alfalfa.
"The steel sheeting which was torn away to get at the fire will not be fit to use in repairing, and it is not known if the steel girders are intact," the article read. "The interior is hanging full of icicles much like a cave … Many of the firemen and volunteer helpers are nursing frozen ears, noses and faces and hands from the intense cold and the water which froze on their faces as it struck."
The article said the fire department put out some of the last remnants of the fire days later with a garden hose and city water.
Another of ARCO's warehouses was destroyed by fire in September 2009. Six of the area's fire departments were able to contain the blaze to the building and prevent damage from spreading. The engine compartment of a skid loader was determined to be the cause of the destructive blaze.
"Words cannot express our deep appreciation for the courageous volunteer firefighters who came to our rescue in the devastating fire at ARCO Dehydrating," the company said in a letter the following week. "Because of their efforts, explosions were averted and much was saved. One cannot underestimate the value of these brave individuals and the support staff of the Lake Park rescue unit who fed and cared for them."
Though the business purchased a significant amount of municipal gas and electrical energy, Lake Park City Administrator Marie Mathiesen said one of the major ripples in ARCO's reshuffling may be the loss of seasonal employment.
"They employed a lot of summer help, especially the youth," she said.
Mathiesen recalled the business being a touchstone of the community when she herself was a child growing up in Lake Park.
"They were a fixture of the city, so of course it's not anything we like to see happen," she said.