The grain elevator we’ll be documenting in this article is located in the small Saskatchewan community of Marengo and is a crazy jumble of old and new, of wood and metal. It’s a giant Rube Goldberg-esque affair, a sprawling Frankenvator, comprised of so many different parts of so many different configurations and sizes, from so many different eras, that it has to be seen to be believed. It’s the strangest such facility we’ve ever seen. And we love it!
At the centre of the complex, almost lost in the clutter, and the oldest part, is a half-century old wooden grain elevator. Yup, the very heart of this massive plant is a small, traditional, old school style “prairie sentinel”. Flanking it are a collection of ancient and massive wood-cribbed annexes and a huge number of metal grain bins, of many sizes, most of the latter added within the last decade, all interconnected with conduits and pipes, and used to store, process and load grain. It looks messy, but it works.
History on the older bits and pieces that make up this complex is scarce, confusing and muddled. At the very core is modified 1960s era grain elevator, built by United Grain Growers, that much we know. On either side are some wood annexes. One we known dates from the early 1980s. The others? We’ve no idea and nor, it seems, does anyone else. Even employees at the plant we spoke with weren’t sure.
The many metal bins were added in a piecemeal fashion over the last dozen or so years. It’s grown a lot in that time.
The current operator of the Marengo elevator is Providence Grain and is run as a co-op of sorts on behalf of local farmers. In between them and the old UGG operation, Meridian Grain (sometimes associated with Paterson Grain), ran the show.
While we were photographing the elevator, we were approached by some employees who offered us a tour. Time was short however, but we will take them up on that when we return. Some cranes could be seen working in the complex but I failed to ask what was going on with them. More expansion or perhaps maintenance work? Two possible guesses.
There used to be other grain elevators in Marengo. Like the one we’ve been discussing here, information on them is rather spotty. More research is needed, and we always invite input from our readers.
Passing in front of the grain terminal is the CNR’s Oyen Subdivision running between it’s namesake village just across the border in Alberta, and Saskatoon. Now relegated to branchline status, the track used to run all the way to Calgary until the 2000s. Trains along this line are infrequent and only move when the price or demand for grain is right. Oil trains also run on the line, but given that industry (as of June 2015) is in the doldrums, not much is happening on that front that we could see.
This line was built by predecessor Canadian Northern Railway, around 1910.
The plant has two sidings for grain loading with room for dozens and dozens of rail cars, plus one storage siding. Grain is shipped out sporadically, depending on price and demand and countless other reasons, most of which are at best, at least to an outsider, mysterious in nature.
The loading station appears fairly modern and efficient. A series of steel girders interconnected by cables are there for workers to tie onto, for safety reasons, when they’re on top of the cars for loading. It’ll catch you if you fall! Cars are moved as they are filled, using a small road/rail shuttlewagon or tractor with train coupler. This is pretty common way to do it for modest sized grain facilities like this (Modest size? You’re kidding right? No, there are many that are much, much bigger). In the old days they relied on gravity to move cars. Or cable winches. Big inland terminals often use their own locomotives to do the work.
As grain elevators go, this is the craziest one we’ve encountered…like crazy is a bad thing?. There’s so many parts arranged in such a haphazard way, it’s looks chaotic! From a photography standpoint, it’s VERY interesting. From a curiosity standpoint, it’s mind blowing! We’re looking forward to returning. Perhaps we can arrange a tour when a train is due to be loaded.
Marengo sits not far from the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. Founded just over a century ago, some fifty or so people call the town home.
Stay tuned for more Saskatchewan reports. We visited the Alsask to Rosetown areas recently and saw and photographed lots of interesting things.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Marengo. SK.
Article sources: Providence Grain employees, CNR records, Saskatchewan archives.
Our photographs were shot from public property.