Story and photos by Chris & Connie.
Built a century ago, the grain elevator we’ll be exploring in this report once stood alongside the train tracks in the small community of Gartly Alberta. Moved in the 1970s, it can be found on a farm just down the road from where the village once was.
Until quite recently, it was used for grain storage by the farmer, but today is no longer needed and its future, at best, is uncertain. Advertisements have been placed listing it for sale, but an old beaten and worn building like this, even one that has some good historical significance, which it does (more on this in a bit), is a hard sell. There has been little response.
Museum societies and groups, no doubt, would relish the chance to acquire it, move it and put it on display somewhere, and that’s a hoped for outcome. The cost of moving it would be astronomical though, making this an extreme long shot at best. Who has the money? Other farmers would have no interest. It’s too small and simply too old to be used as a grain storage facility today.
Is the building likely to face a more ominous end? Wood salvage firms, I suspect, might be the most interested parties. Old timbers can be quite valuable. Or perhaps it will simply get demolished and the material hauled away, piled up or burned. The owner seems uncomfortable speaking of either of these possible outcomes, but in a reluctant tone that tends to suggest they’re also the most likely. I sense he’d love to see it saved.
The elevator dates from the mid-1910s and was built for the Home Grain Company. That firm was an early and modest player in the Canadian grain industry and was absorbed into the much larger Searle Grain Company in the late 1920s (interesting note: Home was always owned by the same people who later established Searle). The old Searle lettering can be seen where some siding has fallen away.
It’s one of a handful of Searle Grain elevators left standing in the province today – there used to be over a hundred belonging to the firm, at one time. This makes it pretty rare. Doubly so, given the old lettering is still intact under all that metal cladding.
Searle joined up with the Federal Grain Company, a fairly large firm, in the late 1960s. A few years after, Federal’s Alberta operations were amalgamated into the Alberta Wheat Pool, the province’s largest grain firm. It was around this time, early 1970s, when the elevator was closed down and soon after sold and brought to the farm where it’s been ever since.
This move was no doubt a challenge even in spite of the short distance it had to travel. Gartly, now completely gone, was only a couple clicks away. The building is awfully tall and top heavy and there were some good sized hills along the way.
On arrival here the building was converted to run off electricity. The old engine that used to power all the machinery, a Continental Red Seal model, made the trip but was never used and today is buried under some lumber. It’s too new to be the elevator’s original power plant and must have been a later (1920?, 1930s?) addition. Beside it is what the owner believes is the elevator annex. It’s doesn’t look right for reasons I can put a finger on. It seems too lightly built. It does have grain pipes and spouts attached to the roof though, which suggest there’s something to what he says.
An annex was a secondary addition usually put place later as a way to help increase storage capacity.
This elevator, as was typical, is made of 2×6” boards laid flat. It follows a design established in the early parts of the twentieth century and used well into the 1980s (yes elevators from that broad span of time were constructed similarly and looked and functioned much the same even if the size of them kept increasing). This one is about as small as they got however.
The inside of the elevator seems intact and fairly original. Pigeons have made themselves at home and you know what sort of mess they make. The exterior after the move was clad in metal siding, but some has come off revealing the old mineral red paint (until the 1960s, every elevator it seems was painted this colour) and recall, bits of the Searle name.
A second elevator, built in the 1920s used to stand in Gartly and interestingly it too still exists to this very day. A former Alberta Wheat Pool facility, it was closed in the early 1970s, so around the same time as the one we’ve been documenting, and moved to another farm in the general area. There is a link to and article on it further below.
There used to be upwards of seventeen hundred traditional wood grain elevators in the province. Now there are around two hundred and fifty in various states. Some are still used, some abandoned, some on display as museums. A good number are used by farmers or farm groups as grain storage, some where built and a few like this one, at some point moved directly to the farm.
The railways line though Gartly (Canadian Northern, later Canadian National) was established in the early 1910s, closed down about a half dozen years ago and very recently completely pulled up.
Found near the elevator is a usual assortment of old equipment, stuff set aside when no longer needed and simply forgotten, much of it due to be hauled off as scrap or taken by collectors soon after our visit (the farm yard was being cleaned up). An old Willy’s Jeep converted to a weed sprayer, ironically buried deep in the grass, speaks of the ingenuity and frugal nature of old time farmers. Nearby is what we thought an old shed, that we found out was the original house here. It’s small and boy they sure lived simply back then. The current owner of the farm is third generation.
This little locomotive once worked for the Searle Grain Company…
Class of ’63.
More grain elevators down on the farm…
Prairie Sentinels – Woodhouse Alberta – Vandervalk Farm.
Prairie Sentinels – Gartly Alberta – Wilson Farm (the other Gartly elevator).
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July 2015.
Location: Near Drumheller, AB.
Article references: Searle/Federal grain records, Alberta Wheat Pool records, Craig and Doug Stanger from the farm.
The elevator is on private property and there is no public access. BIGDoer visited with permission.