Three old grain elevators, very photogenic ones at that, can be found in small town Mossleigh Alberta. They’re located along a railway branch line that has been out of service for well over a decade, but as of spring 2015 (so just after our visit) hosts tourist trains coming in from nearby Aspen Crossing, just a little to the east. Some vintage rail cars stored here, associated with that same group, will be explored along with the elevators.
The town of Mossleigh was late on the scene, having been founded around 1930, concurrent with the arrival of the railway, which came in from the east. Located about an hour southeast of Calgary, today it’s a sleepy little burgh, home to a handful of people.
On to the elevators…
All three were built in 1930. At that time they belonged to the following grain firms: (in order from north to south), Searle Grain, Pioneer Grain and Parrish and Heimbecker (or simply P&H). All these companies were well known and established in the industry and each operated many grain elevators across the province.
It was common place for grain elevators to change hands over time. For example, the Searle facility was later acquired by United Grain Growers, a good-sized player in the biz. The exact date of this transaction is unknown, but it’s thought that happened in the 1960s. More on this shortly. Sometime after the late-1980s, again, exact date unknown, the building came under control of P&H. This elevator is now privately owned and has been clad in siding. Before that happened, Searle ghost lettering could be seen through P&H’s trademark yellow paint. The building is used by a farmer to store grain.
This elevator has an annex, a side structure added afterwards that helped increase capacity as business grew. This is an uncommon loxstave design, octagonal in shape, which differs from the typical rectangular form seen on the other elevators in Mossleigh.
The Pioneer elevator (the middle one) was acquired by P&H at some point. Again we don’t know the exact date, but we believe it was around the late 1980s. It was not uncommon for one firm, by the way, to have multiple facilities at any one loading point. It was easier to take over another elevator, say if business necessitated it, than building a new one, or expanding one already in place. If one looks hard, the old Pioneer lettering can be seen on the elevator’s side. It has an annex. This elevator is empty and has not been used for some time.
Between this and the clad one is an old coal shed. In the old days people and business often relied on coal to heat their buildings. Selling the black stuff was a sideline many elevator firms engaged in. Coal would arrive by rail, in boxcars, and would be hand shoveled into the shed for eventual sale. Hard and dirty work!
The last elevator is the smallest. This one was built for P&H and was always owned by them. It too has not been used commercially for well over a decade and is empty and closed up. A small annex flanks the building’s north side.
At one time there was a fourth elevator in Mossleigh. It was built for United Grain Growers (UGG), in 1930, and burned down in 1967. The UGG firm went on to purchase Searle’s elevator, recall, so we suspect that transaction took place after this aforementioned fire – also Searle was being folded into the operations of a rival around that same time (Federal Grain) and perhaps that new owner wanted out of this facility. Both are guesses.
Both Pioneer (now Richardson Pioneer, or sometimes just Richardson) and Parrish and Heimbecker are still active in the industry. Now they concentrate on large inland terminal elevators, giant masses of cement and steel, the norm in the industry now, and not the small town, small capacity wood elevators of old, like the ones in Mossleigh.
Mossleigh’s elevators are three of perhaps two hundred and fifty traditional style wood “prairie sentinels” left in the province. Down from a peak of approximately seventeen hundred! These were built in the years 1905-1988 (yes the design was that long lasting) with most being closed in the mid to late-1990s and early 2000s, victims of consolidations in the grain industry and the mass abandonment of grain gathering railway branch lines. That Mossleigh has three is very rare. Only a few places in Alberta can make that claim.
Most extant elevators were saved by farmers, who would purchase them as cheap grain storage facilities. Many, however, were simply abandoned. A very small number, mostly in outlying areas, are still used commercially.
The track seen here was the CPR’s Lomond Subdivision branch. It came through Mossleigh, recall, in 1930.
It’s not known when these elevators last loaded rail cars. We know the line here was closed in the early 2000s, so perhaps at time? Side note: this author passed these structures many times in the 1990s while driving truck, and never once did see any evidence of rail cars being loaded here. Odd.
After closing the line, the CPR did not pull up the rails and instead for a time used the tracks to store surplus cars. Just recently, Aspen Crossing, a business that operates a nearby campground and restaurant (made of an old dining car), acquired the line – they sit right beside it just west of Mossleigh – and starting this year started operating tourist trains from their facility to a point just west of Arrowwood (where the track ends). The trains pass these grain elevators twice each run. At least one of the two, it’s hoped, will be made part of an interpretive display stop for train passengers.
This author got to record Aspen Crossing’s new (old) locomotive being delivered in May 2015. There is a link to that article a bit further below.
Seen on the elevator siding are some old rail cars belonging to Aspen Crossing. They include an ex-CPR snowplow built by the company in 1925 and retired in 2000. That’s 75 years in service! The railways ALWAYS gets their money’s worth. Looking at it from the side, it’s like some kind of crazy demon ready to chomp down on anything in its way.
Also seen are two ancient ex-CPR boxcars, #403629 and #226227, both built by Canadian Car and Foundry in Montreal in the 1930s. These old timers next to the ancient elevators make for a timeless scene. What year is this? Also seen is a work service flat car, #402216, which used to carry a small rail mounted crane on its deck. Many of these came from the company’s stock of historic rail cars, set aside for disbursement to museums and the like. The word “save” scrawled on their sides is all that kept them from the scrapper. Eventually these will be part of a display of some sort, as I understand.
A spring snow storm rolled in as we explored and as time past grew and grew, eventually signalling it was time to go. Another few hours under the belt, and so much learned. Prepare for a slippery drive home.
Aspen Crossing gets a new addition…
Aspen Crossing’s new locomotive gets delivered (the elevators are a backdrop).
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2015.
Location: Mossleigh, AB.
Article references: Book: Furrows of time – a history of Arrowwood, Shouldice, Mossleigh and Farrow, 1883-1982, Canadian Trackside Guides, Aspen Crossing.
The elevators are private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.