100 years ago, when Ballou's grandfather, Clarence Jefferson Ballou,
scratched a living out of this section of the Great Plains, wood was in
"When he came here, they had to haul in lumber from Solomon," Ballou said.
The lack of that standard building material, in part, was what turned his grandfather's head toward concrete. Lots of concrete.
"He was a great believer in cement," Ballou said, "because of the permanence, I think."
younger Ballou, who was born in 1927 and named Corlis J., took his
grandfather's initials early on. Everyone knows him now as "C.J." or
"Cork." The name Corlis would probably draw blank stares, he said.
of what the original C.J. built still stands: a barn, chicken house,
garage, stock watering tanks and other structures dot the property.
"This was all done with a hoe and mortar box," Ballou said. "There was no (cement) truck at that time."
A portable stock tank
grandfather was going through so much raw material that, apparently, it
attracted the attention of the Portland Cement Association, which sent a
reporter and cameraman to the farm in the 1920s for a story that was published in a company publicity brochure.
"How Concrete Made a Good Farm
Better" featured pictures of Ballou's concrete creations and included
one of the creator himself in a rocking chair relaxing on -- what else
-- a concrete patio enclosed by a concrete railing. The article listed
42 ways Ballou used concrete, including one novel innovation: a portable
"See the numbers?" said Ballou, pointing to the numeral "4" etched in the lip of the tank.
"They made it in sections so it could be taken down and moved if they wanted to," he said.
The concrete garage comprises two walls separated by a 4-inch air space for insulation. Why all that trouble for a garage?
"He loved concrete, I guess," Ballou said.
A concrete stove
concrete wood stove furnished heat on wash day and, although the
original farmhouse was wood-frame, it featured a concrete stove inside.
still standing are some of the concrete arches Ballou's grandfather
created to hold up a grape arbor, which provided a secondary function.
"That was the sidewalk out to the outhouse," he said.
Ballou uses the barn and the other structures for storage now, but he has no plans to raze any of them.
"I wouldn't tear them down. They're already here, permanent, more or less, and usable."
amazed as he is now by his grandfather's handiwork, he wishes he had
taken more of an interest and learned more of the process when the old
man was alive. The elder Ballou died in 1948.
"You know, you never think to ask these questions until the people who know the answers are gone," the younger Ballou said.
--Gordon D. Fiedler Jr. can be reached at 822-1407 or by email at