By Mary Wilson
Since 1930, the May family has been milling about Grandview when J. Russell May bought Grandview Feed Mills, located on the corner of 6th and Rhodes, for $2000 from a man by the name of Edward Curtis. Over the years, May Milling Company has become a local institution. On Sunday, July 13, Rod May, Jr. shared the history of the family business with members of the Grandview Historical Society.
Currently working as manager of May Milling, Rod, Jr. is a fifth-generation mill worker for the May family. His father, Rod May, Sr., operated the business from the late 1960s until his semi-retirement in 1994. Perched on a seat made of feed bags, Rod, Jr. joked that the May family should go into the furniture business.
The May family has been in the grain business since 1898, when Rod, Jr.’s great-great grandfather came from Scotland and got into the cooper barrel-making business in Independence. When business began to decline in the 1890s, he switched gears and installed an elevator and a scale and started the grain business. That would become the May Coal and Feed Company at 407 South Liberty Street in Independence. The family also owned May Grain Company in Dodson, MO.
In June of 1938, the Mays acquired Quisenberry Feed Manufacturing Company, located at 258 W 3rd Street in Kansas City. This plant produced the feed for the Grandview mill and for many feed retail stores in the Midwest, and the base of operations was moved to Quisenberry, later changing its name to May Way Mills, Inc.
In September of 1939, Grandview Feed Mills burned down. The mill burned for two days, due to an overheated ball bearing in the oat crimper. The entire facility was made of wood and tin.
“There were people in Grandview who would come home, eat dinner, and then go down to the mill to watch it burn,” said May.
It was a total, devastating loss. Today, all that remains of the original building is a concrete walk-in safe. After the fire, J. Russell bought the Dodson mill from his father, Nephi May, for $1. In 1940, Grandview Feed Mills opened a new office across from the old plant on Rhodes Avenue. There were two small warehouses and a large haybarn located at 6th and Main.
Both small warehouses burned down later, and operations were moved inside the large haybarn. With its plank floors, milling machinery and an elevator installation, Grandview Feed Mills changed its name to May Milling Company in 1940, where it continues operations today. The interior of the warehouse was built with old wooden boxcar sides.
When they reopened, customer parking space was needed on the east side of the building. At the time, the Mays leased land from the railroad. When lease pricing kept climbing to the point where it wasn’t worth the price, the Mays then moved the entrance to the west side of the building, with use of the new dock and entrance beginning in 1994.
Due to J. Russell’s failing health in 1957, Rod, Sr. moved to Kansas City, where he worked with his father in the office until he was no longer able to work. J. Russell died in 1971, and when his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1985, ownership of the two companies passed to her sons, with Rod, Sr. taking over operations.
In 1989, Quisenberry Mills was sold to Timothy Blevin, and was closed within the next two years.
Over the years, former employees have come in to tell stories of their times working in the mill. The family looks forward to hearing from visitors of the past. Presently, May Milling Company sells its own brand of dog food, horse feed, wild bird food and several kinds of feed for domestic birds. The only feed produced and bagged at their location is the domestic bird feed.
May Milling is also home to cats, and patrons may remember the calico with the reputation of being the best “mouser” ever. Located at 606 Main Street in Grandview, May Milling also carries different brands of feed for all kinds of animals, as well as cooking spices, dog treats, and an assortment of other items.