Cold steel Cherry Street landmark torn down Tuesday

Cold steel Cherry Street landmark torn down Tuesday A worker checks to make sure cables are connected securely to a portion of the blue tower at Ludey's Ready Mix Tuesday afternoon. The tower, a landmark along Vermillion's Cherry Street for nearly five decades, has become obsolete and was disassembled. by David Lias Workers braved bitterly cold temperatures earlier this week to take down, piece by piece, a long-standing Vermillion landmark.

The structure known simply as the "blue tower" at Ludey's Ready Mix, 1016 E. Cherry, finally grew obsolete after being in service for almost five decades.

Just as old buildings eventually fall to a wrecking ball, the tower was torn down using a large crane.

Some portions of the structure evidently are still of value; workers painstakingly lowered large elements of the tower to the ground, perhaps so they can find new life in a more modern facility.

What can't be re-used from the tower may likely be sent to a scrap heap � an ironic fate, since the tower was used time and time again to help construct much of modern-day Vermillion.

The tower certainly wasn't attractive. Most townsfolk easily took it for granted as they drove by it each day on Cherry Street.

But the cold steel assembly of girders and bins that once held gravel and ready mix concrete was a vital part of a long-running family business.

"It's a real important piece of history to my family � I don't know that it means that much to the rest of the town � but that thing has stood there for almost 50 years," said Jeanette Stone Tuesday afternoon.

Stone's parents � Lawrence "Ludey" and Delilah Williams � first operated Ludey's Sand and Gravel at the Cherry Street location.

"They then turned it into Ludey's Ready Mix," Stone said. "I'm not going to know the exact year, because I was little, but I would say it was in the late '50s."

Williams picked a perfect spot to operate the business. It was well outside the city limits for the industry that worked at processing sand and gravel and eventually concrete.

"When Dad bought that piece of land, it was considered way out in the country," Stone said. "We have pictures of a big old barn out there. When we (Stone and her twin sister, Lynette Melby) were little, we used to go out and shoot firecrackers out there, because it was outside the city limits.

"The town has caught up with it," she said.

Stone remembers the role the tower often played in the operation of her parent's business.

"They would take a front end loader and put rock and sand in this big tub," she said. "It would then get carried by a conveyor belt up to the top of that tower, and then drivers would back up trucks to it and fill them up."

Today, Ludey's Ready

Mix seems a bit out of place. It's smack in the middle of Vermillion's center of retail commerce, not far from several restaurants and a couple of strip malls.

Ludey and Delilah Williams operated the business until 1996. They sold it to Standard Ready Mix of Sioux City.

Ludey Willliams died in 1997.

The Iowa company owned the ready mix firm approximately four years, then sold it to Jensen Brothers.

"What's funny is Standard was going to get rid of the Ludey's name," Stone said. "They just let the sign go to pot, and little by little all the trucks were starting to say 'Standard.'

"When the Jensen Brothers bought it, they decided to hang on to that Ludey's name, I think, because they wanted to seem local."

Ludey's Ready Mix is in competition with a new locally owned company � Midwest Ready Mix.

"I think they (Jensen Brothers) wanted to hang on to any local element they could," Stone said. "So they spiffed up the sign and the trucks and it's going to stay Ludey's now. Which made Mom happy."

Newer equipment was put in place at Ludey's in recent years.

"They just didn't need this one tower anymore," Stone said. "This thing is so old that I'm sure they needed some newer technology; it just got outdated."

The tower may have been old and showing its age. It may have lacked in esthetics, but its appearance still had the power to bring up fond memories, Stone said.

"When we were little, Dad used to put a great big red star up on the tower for Christmas," she said. "For many years there was a big star on the top."

Stone and her mother drove down Jefferson Street Monday on their way to the Cherry Street Grille, a restaurant located practically in the shadow of the tower.

"Mom saw them starting to take it down," she said, "and I thought she was going to cry. It was so hard for her to see them taking that down."

The tower, Stone said, symbolized much of what her parents accomplished together over the years in Vermillion.

"They worked at that business very hard," Stone said. "That's one thing we had � we had hard-working parents. They just worked it together, and worked it for decades."

A ready mix company doesn't first come to mind when one thinks of a typical family business.

It was perfect, however, for the Williams family.

"Mom would be out there on the phone and doing the books and, I'm sure, driving the guys crazy," Stone said. "Dad would be fixing trucks and driving trucks."

Delilah Williams played a crucial role to help Ludey's Ready Mix during big projects.

"Whenever they did a big 'pour,' like a bridge or a piece of highway, they didn't want to let the guys go to lunch and take a chance at losing them," Stone said, "so she'd just do a bunch of cooking and feed them all."

Some long-time Ludey's employees are still working at the Vermillion business.

"She still bakes goodies for them and takes them out there. She's still babying them. And they baby her, too," Stone said.

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