The area just southeast of Calgary has a remarkable number of grain elevators still standing and this makes it an natural attractant to us history explorers. We’ll visit a number of towns in the region, some abandoned and forgotten, some alive with small populations, all very interesting.
For this trip we’ll visit (in order): Mossleigh, Farrow, Herronton, Brant, Eltham and Blackie.
Starting with Mossleigh, there is a real treat here, an elevator row (I know technically it takes four to make a row). Once common, elevator groupings like this are rarely seen now – most of those elevators left standing do so alone. There are still tracks here but it’s been many years since a train came through. Mossleigh is on CPRs Lomond branch – this line was built around 1930 making it one of the last lines built during the great prairie railway boom. The elevators here (there was one time a forth) date from 1930 and while all are painted in P&H colours (Parrish and Heimbecker) only one was originally built for this company. The other two are an ex-Pioneer and ex-Searle/UGG respectively.
The next place down the branch is called Farrow. Saying it’s a town would be a stretch and even at it’s height, there was not much. Until recently a derelict grain elevator stood here (United Grain Growers built in 1930), but it burnt down and word was the landowner torched it. The only remains left of that structure include bricks and metal bits, concrete pads, the loading ramp, and parts from the engine that powered the elevator’s mechanicals.
Nothing remains of the town either, it having recently been bulldozed and the land converted into a field. Prior to that there was a couple structures standing, albeit just. Farrow sprung up when the rail line came though and only lasted a few years. It’s a sad lonely place.
The track near Farrow is in remarkably good condition, considering it’s been unused for some time.
From Farrow we can see the next stop down the line (thanks to its elevator), a place called Herronton. There is a large former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator here which stands guard over the small town. There are a few residences left, so the town is not totally dead. A cool purple house was found here, looking empty and abandoned and on the fence that surrounded it, there were countless bird houses. Quirky!
Surplus rail cars were stored nearby, but outside that purpose, the rail line here is not used. The last grain trains were loaded here a long, long time ago (late 1990s/early 2000s). This massive “single composite” elevator dates from 1965 having been rebuilt from an earlier structure (dating from 1930).
Our next destination is Brant. This track is along the CPRs Aldersyde subdivision mainline and sees many trains a day. The elevator here is owned by a local farmer and appears in good shape – it is a former Alberta Wheat Pool (ex-Federal, Searle and Home Grain respectively – date built currently unknown). Rail cars were parked out front, but were not being filled and instead they are for the local feedlot who unloads them just east of the elevator. That company by the way uses a novel device to help unload the trains – a modified excavator sits on a bridge type structure above the car and using the boom, shakes the car which helps the grain flow out faster.
Further east of that is the probable location of the Brant train station. Hints can be found of a foundation, which sits at the intersection of Main and Railway streets – nearly every town in the prairies had roads of these names (or something very similar), and nearly every train station was placed where the two met.
Further west now, from the highway we wander into Eltham. There are no roads leading to it so we hike in. This is where the Aldersyde mainline and Lomond branchline joins. There is a wye here which is a track layout that allows routing of a train from any direction to enter the line (it can also be used to turn equipment). The south leg has been pulled up, but the north leg remains and this allows access to the rail cars being stored further up the line near Herronton. Outside of storage, the line is not used and is in rough shape in places.
According to one record I found there was only a station and agent here (and no town), but I could find no physical evidence of same. It does show on old CPR maps, but they often gave names to junctions or sidings, even if no town existed. Google maps must be pulling from these old records, since you can call this place up online.
Not far west of the junction on the Aldersyde mainline is Blackie, the last town we’ll visit. This is the most populous of all the places we’ll see this day and it has a small business district and a good number of houses. And there is one traditional style elevator, along with a modern grain loading terminal. This elevator appears in perfect shape, and looks recently repainted and it reflects a more modern version of the traditional prairie sentinel. It was built in 1987 and was torn down just after my visit.
Seen in Blackie was an old White-Freightliner cabover truck, which has most certainly run its last kilometre.
Here is where our trip ends and that makes it six standing elevators seen in a single day, or almost five percent of the total left in Alberta! Time was you could see that many elevators in one town (nearby Vulcan had “nine in a line”), but in 2012 seeing just one is nice. Six is a amazing!
One town in the region which has an elevator, but was not visited due to time constraints, is Arrowwood. It’s the next town east of Mossleigh and will be visited by us sometime in the future.
Update: January 2013. The Pioneer elevator seen in Blackie was torn down in December of 2012. I never even knew it was on the chopping block. It was a fairly modern elevator, albeit small for today, and looked to be well kept. What a surprise, which I guess should remind us to never take anything for granted. I am glad I got to shoot it.
To read a more detailed report on the Mossleigh elevator row follow this link…
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Southeast of Calgary Alberta.