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Friday, May 22, 2020
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New Fertilizer Terminal Opens in South Milford

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, May 22, 2020

Never before have I covered a ribbon cutting ceremony with a train arriving in the background, but that was my experience on Monday, when Edd's Supplies of Shipshewana opened a new fertilizer terminal in rural LaGrange County.

In my 25 years at the Exchange, I have photographed ribbon cuttings at county fairs, grand openings for businesses and, most recently in January, a new diesel technology education center in Elkhart. For these photo ops, the format is usually very simple: the dignitaries pose for the camera while someone cuts the ribbon with a giant pair of scissors. They hold their pose for a few seconds while the camera snaps, and then it's over. People shake hands, chat some and then leave.

But on Monday, the format was a little different. Amidst a driving rain, the various dignitaries and I were waiting at this remote location between Wolcottville and South Milford for a 14-car train to pull into the new SEE Terminal to unload liquid fertilizer into the giant storage tanks.

Timing is everything in life, especially in the media business. For this shoot, I wanted to have everyone standing in place and looking at me when the locomotive pulled up behind my subjects. The dignitaries included three co-owners, Nate Fanning, Jeff Osborn and Jim Young, along with Beth Sherman of the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce and Keith Goodman of Lake City Bank. The majority owner, Steve Fanning, was not present.

The company's name, SEE, is an acronym representing the first names of its principal owner, Steve Fanning, his father and company co-founder, the late Ellsworth Fanning, and co-founder Ed Swartzendruber, who is retired.

Because of the rain, we waited until the last possible moment to move out of the shelter and into place, about 100 feet in front on the train tracks. In such situations, I usually provide some guidance on where to stand and other details. But in this case, each person found their spot without any coaching from me. They unfurled the long ribbon, and Fanning executed the ceremonial slice just as the locomotive pulled up behind them.

The train was moving slowly as it approached the terminal, so I had an opportunity to snap several photos. I noticed that my camera was dripping with moisture. I tried to cover it as much as I could with my notebook, but it was impossible to keep the camera dry.

In photography, redundancy is a good thing. Photographers always take multiple shots to improve their chances of getting one that is perfect. In this case, I took five shots.

After returning to the loadout building, we all took a few seconds to dry off. Beth Sherman joked that "today was a good day to be a duck." Also, we thought it was ironic that, with the abundance of water, the liquid fertilizer wasn't delivered by boat.

I interviewed members of the Shultz family, who own the short line railroad that provides service to the fertilizer terminal. I didn't realize there was a locally owned railroad company in this area. I was surprised to learn that the Indiana Northeastern Railroad Co. has been in existence since 1985 and owns 105 miles of track in northeastern Indiana, southern Michigan and northwestern Ohio.

According to Gale Shultz, product will travel by rail from Georgia to the Norfolk-Southern terminal in Montpelier, Ohio, where the Indiana Northeastern picks up. Edd's will receive about 10 carloads a week.

Shultz is happy to pick up Edd's as a new customer, but he said local farmers will also benefit from having a better supply of nitrogen located close by.

The new fertilizer terminal near South Milford replaces one which Edd's Supplies owns and operates in Chicago. Before this new terminal opened, the company's supply of fertilizer was transported by truck to its headquarters in Shipshewana. Jim Young, who manages the Chicago terminal for Edd's, said the company's current supplier encouraged them to build a local terminal that would accept product by rail. The co-owners worked with the Indiana Northeastern to build a 2,000-foot spur off the main line that runs north of the 80-acre property.

Construction on the $3.5-million project began last December and is nearly complete. All that remains to be done is finish the installation of one of the storage tanks and hook it up to electricity. Young expects the facility to be fully operational by June 1.

The terminal itself has three storage units, including one 2-million-gallon tank and two half-million-gallon tanks. Fanning said the facility will be fully automated and can be operated remotely from Shipshewana.

Young said the terminal will store three types of fertilizer, 32 percent, ammonium thiosulfate and ammonium polyphosphate. These products will be sold to Edd's customers in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

Again, this experience was a first for me. I learned so many things about the fertilizer industry, a local railroad company and how to take photos when my camera is soaking wet. I doubt if I will ever face this situation again, of taking a photo of a ribbon cutting ceremony with a moving train in the background, but if I do, I'll be ready!

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