Giant American flag painted on South Dakota elevator celebrates 'We the People' of Andover
For the fifth year, Agweek reporter Mikkel Pates reprises his Flags On Farms feature for Independence Day, featuring flags of the United States on farms and agribusinesses in the region. This year, our featured vignette is from a former grain elevator at Andover, South Dakota, with a 30-by-60 foot U.S. flag painted on it.
ANDOVER, S.D. — The heart of America can’t be far from Andover, South Dakota, and you can see it from the highway.
“It’s us,” says Scott Hanlon, owner of Hanlon Brothers, a construction company with facilities here. Hanlon and friends have painted a huge flag of the United States on an old elevator his company owns. It’s visible for miles, along U.S. Highway 12, and is Agweek’s centerpiece for a Flags on Farms feature for Independence Day.
The Andover flag in recent years has given a bigger profile and identity to the town, population 78, that is about 30 miles east of Aberdeen, South Dakota. The community is known for the annual James Valley Steam Show.
”It’s just the sign of a community that works together, that’s farming,” Hanlon said, of the giant painted flag. “It was designed for this small community, the farming community. And for everybody who drives by, too. We’re all part of the picture.”
Small town spirit
The 30-by-60 foot flag came about when organizers of the annual James Valley Steam Show in 2017 asked Hanlon if they could use the company’s 60-foot excavator to put into the air to hang a huge U.S. flag. The steam show organizers thought a flag would be just the thing to draw attention to the threshing show, held the weekend after Labor Day.
“Well, it was a little windy that weekend and I thought, by gosh, I don’t want to have an issue with something,” Hanlon remembered thinking.
Instead, Hanlon thought it would be better to paint a flag on that elevator building — something that would be there for “We the People — all the time.”
Hanlon approached four friends on Labor Day.
“They said, ‘When do you want to start?’ It was a beautiful week. They started on Tuesday and by Friday afternoon — just before the threshing show parade — they had the flag done."
They hand-painted 13 stripes, exactly with the width of the panels. “We laid it out in proportion to the width of our tin,” he said.
The stars were a different problem.
Scott’s nephew in Aberdeen is in the auto body business and called his “vinyl guy” who soon provided the 50 vinyl stars “By gosh, we had 50-plus stars made and we didn’t ruin one,” he said.
The display was a hit before it was even finished. Semi-tractor trailers going by on the highway blew their horns. Some seemed to hit the rumble strips. The first night, we had only 13 stars on,” Hanlon recalled.
“It’s funny how everyone knows us,” Hanlon said. “We got a few phone calls, ‘You’re missing a few stars, I hope you know.’ It was like, ‘Yeah, we ain’t quite got them all on.’”
Steeped in ag
Hanlon has a deep love for his farming communities, steeped in a multi-generational business that serves multi-generational farms. Hanlon Brothers has facilities in the South Dakota towns of Andover, Verdon and Groton. His company does gravel hauling, feedlot cleaning and excavating.
Scott was in the business with his brother, Guy, who died in November 27, 2021. Two of Guy’s sons work in the business.
Hanlon Brothers provides gravel to Day, Brown and Spink counties. They custom-clean cattle feedlots and field-apply manure. They dig and custom-clean stock dams, hitting the water table to provide water to cattle through the summers. They do some demolition work.
Like many farming families, the Hanlon family was not without its tragedies and heroes. Scott and Guy were 8 and 14, respectively, when their father, who started the business, died in an airplane accident. Their mother, Viola, ran the gravel business on her own until the boys bought it in 1980.
In 2015, Hanlon Brothers tore down the former historic Waldorf Hotel in Andover for a California landowner, who also owned the old elevator. The hotel was built in 1903 and was placed on the National Historic Register in 2010, but was falling apart. As part of the demolition deal, the Hanlons acquired a six-acre elevator, which also has a spur on the BNSF Railway.
The Hanlons revamped the elevator’s fertilizer building and turned it into a shop. They tore down a non-functioning co-op elevator to the east but kept this “annex,” that once stored 50,000 bushels of grain and continued operating until about 1990. Old-timers in the town remember pulling up a horse and buggy to the elevator.
‘People stop by’
Ilene Helmer is the chairman of the three-person trustee town board and was the town’s postmaster for 30 years. She and her husband, Orville, moved to town in 1963. They farmed and hauled grain to what was then the Bagley Elevator, later sold to DaMar Elevator (for Day and Marshall counties), and then private individuals before it closed.
“I thought it was an asset to the community and very patriotic,” Helmer said, of the flag project. She was delighted.
The Hanlons put up lights so it is visible 24 hours a day.
Helmer lives close by and often sees motorists stop and take pictures. One time, the Groton Snow Queen, who went on to be a Miss South Dakota, came over and took pictures with Scott in front of the flag. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem once stopped by for a photo.
“It’s just inspiring,” Scott said. “ And like I said it’s for us — our nation, the United States. We the People.”