NORMAN — Editor’s note: This is first in a two-part series exploring Norman’s history in connection with the Rhodes granary and the rise and fall of the local, small dairy industry.
The demolition of the Rhodes granary began Wednesday following approval of the contract by the Norman City Council on Tuesday. Rhodes Grain Company’s time has come and gone, and with it, the agricultural era that once marked Norman and most of America’s history.
“I always found it a very interesting structure,” said long-time Norman resident Bob Goins who lived nearby. “It’s going to be missed by some of us... I understand these things are part of our changing urban scene.”
For Norman, the story of the granary revolves around the rise and fall of the local, small dairy industry and the grain that once fed dairy cattle.
Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodes Grain Company, first got into the business when he purchased Massey Grain Company at 104 W. Comanche where Food and Shelter for Friends is now, said Richard McDonald who worked for Rhodes Granary for 40 years.
Cecil Rhodes had two daughters, Sherry and Kathy. McDonald married Sherry Rhodes. Mrs. Cecil Rhodes is 92 and living in an assisted living center in Oklahoma City, McDonald said. Cecil Rhodes passed away in 2003, and McDonald ran the granary until it went out of business in 2008.
McDonald thinks Cecil Rhodes bought Massey’s in the early ‘50s. Massey Grain Company is listed in a 1950 Norman telephone directory.
“At that time there was a lot of farming going on and they bought grain from the area farmers,” McDonald said.
Massey operated a livery stable, an ice dock and a feed business but had no children which opened the door for Cecil Rhodes to buy the business.
Cecil Rhodes worked a deal to take over the granary business and then purchased the property north of Acres Street in the ‘50s, McDonald said.
Ray Doussett also worked for Rhodes Grain Company. He started right out of high school working for Cecil Rhodes at Massey’s. He worked for Rhodes off and on for over 50 years.
“I started when they were still making feed at Massey’s and unloaded grain down there in 1958,” Doussett said.
The original property at 602 N. Santa Fe Ave. where Rhodes granary is located was owned by the Kunkel family. McDonald said they were plumbers and a prominent family early on in Norman’s history. The Kunkels had a warehouse there, then Cecil Rhodes built the storage tanks and grain storage facility using the warehouse as his base.
“In 1958, Mr. Rhodes had wheat stored in the old block building, what you would call the warehouse,” Dousett said. “It was government wheat.”
Wheat was often shipped out in boxcars on the railroad.
There were two elements to the grain business. Storing and shipping grain was one element. Manufacturing livestock feed was the other part of the business, Doussett said.
“My dad was one of the builders on the sheet metal building of the milling part (of Rhodes granary),” Doussett said. “He was a dairy man and did construction on the side.”
“We purchased grain from local farmers and we would buy grain from trucking companies and store it in our facility and process it into livestock feed,” McDonald said. “When I went to work there in the late ‘60s our principal business was making dairy feed. We serviced 20-plus dairies in our area. All of them are gone now.”
McDonald said Norman’s dairy business evolved from “mom and pop milking a couple of cows and churning butter and cream.”
On weekends the farmers would bring those dairy products to town to sell and would hang around and spend some of those earnings.
“Saturday was a big night in Norman,” McDonald said.
That changed in the 1950s as many farmers expanded their herds and went into the dairy business full-time.
After the farmers expanded operations, they didn’t have time to process their own feed from stored grain.
“Cecil kind of pioneered in the bulk feed for the farmers,” McDonald said.
Rhodes Grain Company delivered bulk feed to the dairy farmers, and hauling companies would stop at the farms and buy the dairy products.
“They (the farmers) never had to leave the farm after that,” McDonald said.
“Everyplace you went in Cleveland County and McClain County and Pot (Pottawatomie) County there was a little dairy with 40 or 50 cows,” Doussett said. “There wasn’t any big ones on this side of the river.”
Doussett worked for Cecil Rhodes off and on for over 50 years.
“We were working with awful good people,” Doussett said. “Mr. Rhodes was always good to me. I had some good customers, and it was a nice time. At one time I had 26 or 27 dairy customers that I delivered to.”