The iconic grain bins outside of Janesville that carried the town's name and for years served as hometown, agriculture-themed welcome to visitors were partially destroyed in a mid-June windstorm and won't likely be resurrected.
But townspeople recalled their establishment with nostalgia
As Paula Arndt tells the story, it all started one day in 1988 or 1989, when Janesville State Bank President and fellow Janesville resident Mike Finley counted the grain bins on the west side of town. There were 10. That’s the same number of letters in the town’s name.
Since they were right along the highway leading into town, he thought painting one large letter per bin would be an interesting and unique way to welcome people into town.
Dill Elevator owned the bins, and they were in use for grain storage at the time. The Dill folks were in favor of the idea.
With a committed group of volunteers, a grant of paint from the Valspar Paint Co., loaned equipment from the City of Janesville and private companies and individuals, the project was ready to fly.
Artist Laurie Dimmel, who taught art at the Janesville school, had created not just the outline for the letters, but also the eye-catching sun and rainbow backdrop for the letters. She drew it out on the bins, and the 20 or so painters arrived.
“We finished it the weekend before Hay Daze,” Arndt recalls.
Finley says the core crew was made up of bank employees, but the community as a whole came together to support and participate in the project. It took only two days to paint the rainbow flowing across all 10 bins. “They were two long, full days,” Finley recalls. The finished project was stunning.
“I’d go to meetings in the Twin Cities, and people would comment on the rainbow bins,” Finley says. “I talked to politicians who right away commented on the bins. It was very well known.”
“It was so fitting for a farming community to have this,” Arndt says. “It just said so much about who we are.”
No one remembers how much paint it took to paint 10 large grain bins in rainbow colors anymore. “Math was definitely involved in the calculations,” Arndt says.
Knowing there would need to be touchups, extra paint was figured in, says Finley. “We stored the extra paint in the bank basement for years, so the colors would match.”
In the ensuing years, it was discovered that some colors fade faster than others, and touch-ups were needed. The first touch-up was needed in 1994, the second in 1997.
When fading colors failed to live up to the vibrancy of the community in 2004, someone suggested painting the bins to match the City’s water tower, which is blue and white. Less upkeep would be needed, and the original volunteer painters, who were by then 25 years older than when the project began, liked the idea.
Frank Galler owned the grain bins by then, and for the most part, they sat empty.
“Because they were empty is probably why they blew over,” says Finley. In a wind, rain and hail storm in mid-June, three bins bearing the letters “I,” “L,” and “E” were tipped over and destroyed.
“Maybe we can get some volunteers and go tip them back up,” Arndt joked.
But the insurance company says they are totaled, Finley says, and that means the landowner will be removing them.
Since the rainbow bins were first painted, U.S. Highway 14 has been re-routed to the south, so the bins were no longer as important as they once had been in welcoming people to Janesville.
Though it was a large project to coordinate, and a labor-intensive project to keep up, Arndt says, “It was worth it. People enjoyed it for many, many years.”