It’s certainly not a misstatement to call it a local landmark. After all, the stars and stripes–adorned apex of the building stretches more than 135 feet into the skyline of Eugene’s downtown core. It’s the dominant structure looking west from Skinners Butte and for passing freeway motorists glancing just beyond the I-105 bridge.
Grain Millers: It’s an odd architectural amalgam of 70-year-old concrete, wood, and metal grain silos holding court over huge storage bins, grain transfer chutes, and robust machinery married to massive quantities of oats and smatterings of barley, wheat, and rye. Grain Millers seems to be a small mystery of timeless proportions. It’s also the largest grain mill on the West Coast and the No. 2 oat manufacturer in the US.
In their earliest incarnation, the silos at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street held chicken feed. George Zellner built the structures for his sizeable onsite chicken farming business during World War II, when a perceived need for food protein was an important part of the American zeitgeist. Zellner shipped hundreds of thousands of eggs across the landscape. He also found profit in manufacturing feed grain for all manner of domestic farm animals, and he leased out ground-floor market space to farmers, restaurateurs, and artists. Then in 1986, he sold the whole shebang to Christian Kongsore, Sr.
Kongsore founded Grain Millers. A Norwegian immigrant, Kongsore was a master at milling oats. His vision allowed no room for chickens or greengrocers or animal feed. Instead, the business was tied to his realization that consumer demand for oat products was growing exponentially. And the Eugene mill site alongside railroad lines offered an ideal location for importing huge quantities of inexpensive grain from Canada’s western provinces.
Today, 35 years later, Grain Millers still quietly mills and ships tons of naturally processed, organic grains and grain products to many of the largest food manufacturers in North America. And Chris Kongsore, Jr., president of West Coast operations, quietly confesses that he still holds firm to the modest, folksy Norwegian philosophy his father insisted was the underpinning for Grain Millers’ success: “The whale that spouts the least is the whale least likely to be harpooned.”