Vintage agribusiness ready for wrecking ball in Rock Island expansion project

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- Heavy equipment emerges like a dinosaur from a cave on Monday, July 9.

"We won't know until we get into it," said Brian Bollmiller, Valley Construction, as he carries scraps from the past.

"You had steel, wood and bricks," he continued.

These are remnants from Rock Island Plow Company. A one-time rival to John Deere, it dates back to the 1850s, on property now occupied by Dohrn Transfer Company.

"A building that was torn down had mule stalls in the basement, it was so old," recalled Heather Dohrn, Dohrn Transfer's vice president of sales.  "This was probably the newer building of Rock Island Plow, but we're going to say it was built in the early 1900s."

After also serving J.I. Case until 1988, the building sat vacant for decades. Some eight stories of bricks decaying from useful to ugly. There's even a live tree growing out of a broken window on a top floor.

"It's a beautiful old building," Dohrn said. "But it's gotten to be a safety issue because some of the bricks are falling down."

It also stands in the middle of Dohrn Transfer Company. Demolition, by way of a wrecking ball, will make way for needed expansion. They expect the project to take about three months.

"The safest route was really to do it brick-by-brick," Dohrn said. "We want to make sure we get any of the asbestos out."

Bollmiller, who helped to tear down other original buildings nearly 30 years ago, is back for this job.

"Everywhere you stood, you were under a roof," he recalled.

Dohrn Transfer will improve truck bays and parking. This growing family business counts on some 1,200 employees in 21 locations.

"We're going to add some more docks here, and then we'll have just a better system operating all the way around it," she said.

Bollmiller's scooping, much like the dinosaur, represents extinction and expansion.

"It's a neat building," Dohrn concluded.  "So it's sad to see it come down."