We don’t always head into the mountains and this date had us doing some history exploring in the Drumheller area. Here, a few kilometres east of Carbon along an old CPR rail line is the ghost town of Sharples Alberta. I doubt the place ever amounted to much but all that remains today outside of the elevator are a few dilapidated sheds, some old cellars and house foundations. And maybe ghosts.
The Elevator is marked P&H. This company, Parrish & Heimbecker, was one of the smaller players in the Canadian grain industry with a fewer number of elevators seen when compared to the big boys like UGG (United Grain Growers), Pioneer and the Alberta Wheat Pool (“The Pool”). Interestingly, each elevator company used specific colours on their structures making identifying them a fairly easy task. P&H mostly used either silver like what’s seen here, or a light yellow-ish colour – most other companies stuck to one colour.
The elevator here was built just after the rail line was opened (early 1920s) and the large annex attached was added some twenty years later. An annex like this was a quick and easy way to increase capacity and a large elevator allowed for more efficient loading of rail cars. While solid looking the building is succumbing to the elements. The siding in particular is starting to peeling away.
There used to be a second elevator here, an AWP, Alberta Wheat Pool built late 1920s, that was torn down in the 1980s.
Just west of “town” are the remains of a bridge. The decking has been removed but the concrete piers still stand tall and strong. It’s likely that the spans were removed when the line was abandoned, either to be used elsewhere on the railway, or to be sold for scrap. Another small concrete bridge nearby (more of a drain actually) is marked 1947, proudly proclaiming the date it was built.
Sharples was on the CPR’s Langdon Subdivision, which extended from its namesake town into Drumheller and beyond. Along with grain, this line transported considerable amounts of coal from the many mines that dotted the Red Deer River valley. What’s odd about this line is that after it was pulled up, some of the grain elevators were left behind and not demolished. There is Sharples as seen here, but also there are also examples in Kirkpatrick and Dorothy Alberta further east down the line.
The branch here originally came through in the early 1920s and according to my research appears to have be abandoned in the late 1970s or early 1980s (I have seen conflicting information). It’s assumed that this elevator was shut down at that same time. Abandonment seems to be concurrent with the end of coal mining in the region and perhaps this was a catalyst for the line being pulled up. Without the coal traffic there was only small amount of grain to be moved on this section and this was likely not enough to sustain the line.
It’s not clear at this point if Sharples was ever anything more than a siding on the rail line. No evidence can be found of any business having been here and only a few houses or evidence of houses have been found close to the elevator.
I used to drive oil field truck in the 1990s and often visited the gas plant that is located just east of the site. While on one trip I examined on old burnt out pile of junk just up from the elevator and in it found an intact Northern Telecom Western Electric designed model WE500 rotary telephone. In the 1950s to the 1970s these were probably the most common phone in Canada (especially in black, every household seemed to have one). I grabbed it since it was clearly considered junk and it sat in my house forgotten for many years. I found it recently while cleaning up some boxes and have since rebuilt it to working order and use it often. The ringer can wake the dead!
Near the elevator is a shed that contained a number of old motorcycles. Actually just the frames and other miscellaneous parts. I guess someone liked to tinker?
Nailed to the wall of another shed were a number of old newspaper stereotype masters. These are used to make a printing plate and how they got here is anyone’s guess but they appear to be some form of basic insulation. The newspaper is the Calgary Albertan (now the Calgary Sun) and the dates are from the 1930s. On a visit in the 1990s I found a loose one blowing in the wind alongside the road and grabbed it. It’s from the comics section from June 11, 1933. Subjects include “The World Of Mosquito’s” and “Freckles and his Friends”, a long running and popular comic of the time. Interesting reading that’s for sure!
Down the road near Carbon we found a neat old farm house. We hoped to explore it but it was too dangerous. It was near falling over and all the wood was rotten. I doubt it will last another season or two.
I really enjoyed visiting Sharples and finding a standing elevator in 2012 is a real treat. Where there were thousands of them dotting the prairies, now are only a few remain. This structure is starting to look pretty rough so I wonder how long this one has?
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July 2012
Location: Sharples Alberta.