Herronton…this tiny little place, a blip on the map. A collection of homes, a small clustering, found along some dusty Alberta backroad. While not the middle of nowhere, in feel, it’s not far removed from that proverbial place. The population…it can be counted on one hand…maybe two (we saw no one in the hour we were there). Towering over it all, the biggest thing around and looking rather out of place, is a massive structure made of wood. This is the town’s one and only grain elevator. And it’s what we came to document.
The building is a relative youngster, as grain elevators go, and is from 1965. It replaced an earlier structure, dating from 1930, that burned down (fire was always a big danger with these buildings). While larger and more efficient than what it replaced, in function, layout and construction, it wasn’t all that different. The grain elevator design was little changed over the years. It was good and it worked, so why rock the boat?
The firm that built the elevator was the Alberta Wheat Pool, aka the Alberta Pool or simply the Pool. The company was formed in the 1920s and for much of it history was the largest grain firm in the province. By quite a margin in fact. They also owned the previous “up-in-flames” elevator since 1933, acquiring it from United Grain Growers.
The Pool Company merged with a rival in the late 1990s becoming Agricore. Around this time, the building was sold off to a local farmer, who uses it for grain storage. Many retired grain elevators have been repurposed this way. Frugality saved them from being torn down.
The building is pretty typical overall (this one is a “single composite” style). It’s made of two by sixes stacked flat (a LOT of wood) as was always the case with these structures. Inside are a series of bins, lots of them, for storing of grain. A “lifting leg” elevates the stuff and a series of pipes direct product to what every storage bin is selected, or to the rail car loading spout. Speaking of rail cars, these were lasted filled here in the 1990s. A winch system was used to move them about. Trucks dumped in the road-side driveway. A small office is attached.
The building still has the old Pool logo on one side. Odd, as these were usually painted over on being sold. It still wears the firm’s iconic blue/green paint. The town’s name was prominently displayed on its sides. This was tradition.
There used to be other elevators in Herronton. Alberta Pacific Grain, Federal Grain, Searle Grain, Pioneer Grain and Oglivie Flour Mills were some of the owners over the years. Some were lost to fires other closed long ago.
This elevator is one of a couple hundred and change left in the province. Most, like it, survive because farmers bought then up. At the peak, there were well over eighteen hundred of them in the province. Every town that had a rail line had one or usually more, belonging to any number of competing grain firms. Most were built in the period 1900-1930, although some date from as late as the 1980s. Most were torn down in the 1990s and early 2000s as a result of consolidations within the industry and the mass abandonment of railway branch lines (simple terms- it was actually far more complex).
Speaking of rail lines, one still passes by the building. This is the CPR’s former Lomond Branch that came through in 1930. Around 2000 most of it was abandoned. A small stub, the section up to Herronton is used for rail car storage – on our visit some out-of-work grain cars were languishing on the line – while another section is used by Aspen Crossing and hosts tourist trains (see Train Day at Aspen Crossing). The elevator siding was pulled out some time ago, but from a distance it looks at though rail cars have been spotted for loading. An interesting illusion.
This line was one of hundreds of grain branches that once criss-crossed the prairies, most laid down during the great railway building boom of 1900-1930. All but a small number are gone.
Most small communities across the plains sprang to life with the coming of the railway. With the trains came the towns and Herronton was really no different (in fact there was a post office here before, but no town to speak of). At one time the community was home to a few dozen people. It was always small. Looks to be four or five houses that are lived in now. There’s one main road, Railway Avenue (every small town in Southern Alberta had one), and a couple grassed over side streets. One leads to a disused ball diamond.
There’s not much going on in Herronton.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2016.
Location: Herronton, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Book – Fencelines and furrows (a history of Herronton).
You can view the elevator from public roads.