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Going with the grain: Local company adding $1.3 million ag facility and another lumberyard

STERLING – We should all be so busy when we’re 87.

Rock River Lumber and Grain Co., which has been expanding throughout the Sauk Valley and beyond since 1931, is adding a $1.3 million storage and grain dump facility at its Sterling rail site, and its subsidiary, Frary’s Lumber, has acquired a longtime family-owned Fulton hardware store and home center.

The new elevator at 2809 W. Lincolnway not only will add capacity but also will be more efficient for farmers, said Carey Bauer, co-general manager of the company.

It will hold soybeans initially, but it’s good for either corn or soybeans, and should be up and running by harvest.

“We’ve been shipping more and more soybeans by rail – that’s our main focus at the Sterling location – and that seems to be a growing thing for us,” Bauer said.

Rock River has nine grain storage facilities, including Sterling, two agronomy centers and, with the addition of Brinkman Building Center, three Frary locations.

The majority of the Brinkman staff – 10 of its workers – were hired and will remain at the 915 Second St. location, said Jake Thompson, internal operations manager.

Rock River bought the Brinkman equipment and inventory, which includes a little more hardware than Frary usually carries, and assumed operation Monday, which happened to be its 87th anniversary – it was incorporated June 25, 1931.

Plans call for adding a kitchen and home decor design team and a flooring department “in the not too distant future,” which the other two stores also offer, Thompson said.

Like the Sterling and Prophetstown sites, the Fulton Frary will be part of Do It Best Corp., a member-owned hardware, lumber, and building materials cooperative based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“We’re very excited to continue to operate the business in Fulton,” Thompson said.

Rock River Grain, Frary Lumber and Brinkman all have deep roots in the area.

According to Sauk Valley Media archives and the companies’ various websites:

Brinkman & Pessman Lumber Co. was founded by Wilbur Brinkman and Wesley Pessman in 1948. Bill Brinkman became a principal in his dad’s business in 1971, and he and his wife, Gaile, bought Fulton Lumber Co. in 1982.

Bill ran both for 4 years, then combined them at the Second Street location.

He died May 12, 2016, at the age of 67, in Gilbert, Arizona, where his wife now lives full-time, and his family, which includes daughter Niki and son Matt, who also live out-of-state, decided to sell.

Frary Lumber was founded in Prophetstown in 1896 – 122 years ago – by J.E. Frary. Rock River Lumber and Grain bought the company at 412 Washington St. in 1968 and enlarged it in 1975.

It opened Sterling’s Frary store at 2707 W. Lincolnway in 2005 as a show room and hardware store; it expanded that site to a full lumber yard in 2008. 

At the time of Rock River Lumber and Grain’s incorporation, the Prophetstown company included Yorktown Lumber and Grain and Lyndon Lumber and Grain.

Although coal was king for a while in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it subsequently developed a voracious grain- and lumber-based appetite.

It bought the Lyndon Feed Mill in 1935, and Erie Lumber and Grain and the Prophetstown Feed Mill in 1944. It bought Hooppole Lumber and Grain in 1951, Rock River Fertilizer Co. in 1953 and Manlius Grain and Supply in 1955.

The Prophetstown Feed Mill facility and Erie Feed and Supply were opened in 1960, and it bought the Mosher Bin site, north of Prophetstown and 53 government grain bins in 1967.

It bought Frary the next year.

More drying and grain storage facilities were added in Hooppole in 1975 and ‘76, and Tampico Farmers Elevator and M&D Ag of Galt were added in 1997 and ‘98.

The old Northwestern Steel & Wire scrap yard and Ryder truck terminal was bought in 2003, and the rail terminal was built in Sterling; a 24-hour diesel fuel station was added t years later.

Rock River bought Morrison Farmers Elevator and Supply in 2007, which included three locations and fertilizer facilities west of Morrison and north of Sterling, and added another agronomy plant in 2012 when it bought GFI of Rock Falls.

It also started subdivisions, Brookhaven and Prairie Meadows in Prophetstown.


Go to to learn more about Rock River Lumber and Grain Co.'s services, and its long history in Whiteside County.

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