Dec 022016
 
Grain Elevator Bentley AB

As old-school wood grain elevators go, this one, found in the town of Bentley Alberta is a relative youngster. Still, it follows a very traditional design and in construction, layout, function, so pretty much everything, albeit in a somewhat more massive form, it’s not all that dissimilar from ones much, much older than it. Dare I say one of the most iconic symbols of the prairies every town where grain was grown was home to one or more of these buildings. Something shy of two thousand of them once dotted the Alberta landscape. They were everywhere!

Now there’s but a small percentage left. Wholesale changes within the industry, starting in the 1980s and coming to a head quickly about a decade later, saw most of them demolished. In one stroke of the pen they were deemed too small and inefficient. Replacing them were huge steel or concrete terminals, so large as to make the grain elevator seen here, which was good sized for the era, seem like a toy. In spite of most being being lost, a few of these venerable structures managed to hang on, for this reason or that. A frugal farmer, bless his heart, has seen to the survival of this example.

Prairie Sentinels – Bentley Alberta: a massive wood elevator that’s bucked the odds and still stands today. Researched, written and photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart (BIGDoer/Synd)

This building dates from the latter half of 1970s. As is typical, it’s made entirety of wood – that’s a lot of timber! It’s made in a double composite design, meaning there are two large sets of integral bins flanking each side of the main structure. While still following a general design going back to the earliest days of the industry (1900 or so), this arrangement had a greater capacity than older examples and could accommodate larger grain trucks coming in use at the time.

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It was not the first grain elevator on this plot of land. Preceding it was a much smaller structure from around 1920, which burned down some decades later, and a second much larger replacement elevator, which also met its end the same way. The one seen today replaced it. Fire, by the way, was an elevator’s worst enemy, what with all that flammable dry wood and grain dust, and in spite of the precautions taken many went up in flames anyway.

The building still carries the logo of its original owner, the Alberta Wheat Pool. The firm also owned the previous elevator spoke of, and the one preceding it, at least for a time having bought it early on from a rival firm (elevators changing hands was quite common). The “Pool”, founded in the 1920s, was the largest grain handling company in the province for much if its history. It’s only recently they ceased to be, after merging with a series of rivals.

In the mid-1990s the long established firm United Grain Growers, founded in the 1910s, took over but only operated the facility for a few years before closing it down on the eve of this current century. The company never repainted the structure. Interesting tidbit – UGG owned the very first grain elevator on this chunk of land, way back in the early days, and in more recent times went on to be one of the firms that merged with the Alberta Pool, which we touched on earlier.

Not torn down, the fate of many of these structure upon closing, it was acquired by a local farmer who continues to use it as a grain storage facility. Many old grain elevators still with us today were picked up on the cheap to be “repurposed” this way. (While most extant wood elevators are farmer owned, a small number are still in commercial use, some belong to museums, and some are abandoned). This building appears well used, so for the time being we can probably say it’s got a reasonable future. Today it’s one of perhaps two hundred and fifty wood grain elevator still standing in the province, down from a high of some nineteen hundred at the peak. A majority were lost were in recent times, the great wood grain elevator purge of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Just down the disused rail siding is a second elevator. This was for fertilizer storage and while next to the tracks was not rail served. It’s believed it’s from the 1950s, but no one we spoke with was completely sure.

Most grain shipping points had several competing firms and Bentley was no exception. In times past there were other grain elevators here owned by such notable firms as Alberta Pacific Grain Federal Grain, United Grain Growers and the Pool (a second facility inherited when a rival was acquired). No matter the owner or builder nor even date constructed most wood grain elevators were similar in appearance. The last of these other elevators was gone by the late 1990s.

The track seen passing in front of the elevator is the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Hoadley Subdivision. Built in the early 1920s and acquired by the CPR later that decade, this is one of a few branch lines in service today, the only customers seemingly a couple petrochemical firms north of Bentley. Trains run infrequently – as luck would have it however, we’d catch one a just down the line. The elevator still has its siding but rail cars have not been loaded since the ’90s.

Bentley was founded in the mid-1910s. Today it’s home to perhaps a thousand people. The local economy it tied to agriculture and petroleum industries. Nearby Gull Lake is a popular local attraction.

The train! Unbeknownst to us, there was a one on the branch and heading our way. We caught it at Aspen Beach, a couple clicks east, on our way to our next assignment (what a shot it would have made with the elevator). Taking us by complete surprise, luckily it was moving at a relaxed pace affording us the few seconds we needed with which to set up a shot. It was a short freight, all tank cars, perhaps no more than a dozen of them. Up front were some of the CPR’s yeoman service locomotives, ones used for local work, switching and like what we see here, for branch lines runs (what few are left).

Be sure to comment on this post (below pictures).

Of the two locomotive one was an EMD model GP20C-ECO, #2321, out-shopped just a year or so ago (mostly a new unit with some old parts reused), and in the trailing position a GMDD model GP38-2, #3051, from the 1980s. Both are fairly common models on the CPR although their out of the way assignments means they’re not seen as often as their mainline counterparts. A chance meeting if there ever was one, in no time it rumbled out of sight. Had we not had other things to document this day, we’d probably have ended up chasing the train. Not like catching on on this line is an everyday occurrence. Oh well, glad we got a taste.

More like this…
Bashaw Processors.
Prairie Sentinels – Plenty Saskatchewan.
Coleville Saskatchewan Pool “A”.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: November, 2016.
Location: Bentley, AB.
Article references and thanks: Town of Bentley Alberta, Jason Sailer, Canadian Trackside Guides.
The elevator can be viewed from public roads and green spaces.

Bentley Grain Elevator

A stop in Bentley Alberta.

Bentley AB Elevator

The grain elevator in foreground is today’s subject.

Alberta Wheat Pool Bentley

The logo of a former owner.

Bentley AB Grain Elevator

The building is relatively new as wood grain elevators go.

Bentley Alberta Grain Elevator

The town’s name was always displayed.

Bentley Alberta Elevator

A tattered flag flaps in the wind.

Grain Elevator Bentley AB

The building today is owned by a farmer and is used to store his grain.

CPR Hoadley Subdivision

Just down the road, a train! This line is not that busy.

CPR GP20C-ECO

Number #2321, a year old CPR GP20C-ECO.

CPR Line Aspen Beach Alberta

The train was moving at a relaxed pace – motion blur is from slow shutter.

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22 Comments on "Prairie Sentinels – Bentley Alberta"

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Jenn
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Jenn

Nice! I’m in Bentley often and always look but have never stopped to take a photo!

Steve Boyko
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Very nice photos! I love the one with the flag, and your blur shot of the loco is great!

Lynne Colborne
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Lynne Colborne

(via Facebook)
And the engine is relatively CLEAN….sometimes they are so black and dirty.

Tony Whalen
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Tony Whalen

Love your Prairie Sentinel articles!

Jack E. LaRocque
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Jack E. LaRocque

…so cool to see the Agrium “Elephant” logo…. That harkens back to the days when Cominco sold “Elephant Brand Fertilizers” before the brand was spun off to an “independent company”…. Teck Trail (formerly Cominco) still produces huge amounts of Fertilizer in Trail’s Warfield Plants, and ships all over the West, as well as some to Overseas…

Gord Tolton
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Gord Tolton

(via Facebook)
I happened to pull into Bentley one afternoon during one of their town fair days. There was a sign in the middle of the street “Drive-In Movie at the Elevator Tonight”. I couldn’t stick around for the movie and had to get on the road, but I went down to the tracks. They had cleared the field, and painted that large white square that you see at the bottom right of the old UGG to project the movie upon. I don’t know what they did for sound – perhaps they even had an FM transmitter or something. This was in 2005 – it would be interesting to find out if this is a regular thing.

Lil_Tam
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Lil_Tam

Hey guys .. I live here and yeah we have an “elevator movie” every year for our Annual Rodeo.. and we use a radio transmitter and everyone tunes into the same radio channel!

Dan Smith
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Dan Smith

Top stuff, love the detective work and good photos to go along with it.

Tim Swaren
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Tim Swaren

(via Facebook)
I think in the last 5 years I’ve maybe seen a train on this line twice!

Jake Kuyten
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Jake Kuyten

(via Facebook)
That’s Alberta the way I remember it!

Jay
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Very nice pictures and good story
I’m one of the new owners. Share it with my 2 sisters. Took over from our father in 2010. It is used to store grain for other customers now!!
Thanks
Jay

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