Known as a “Buffalo 2000” the elevator seen here in Lyalta Alberta was an innovative and advanced design for its time and was to help usher in a new and exciting era in the Canadian grain handling industry. It was the future!
However, in spite of such lofty aspirations, in the end only a three of these were ever built and they quickly become a mere footnote in history, an answer to a question no one asked. For the always cash strapped industry mass replacements ended up being just too costly a project and while the wooden elevator was an anachronism, they worked “okay”. So perhaps with blinders on, the industry moved forward with little obvious concern for the future, ignoring the Buffalo 2000. The status-quo won, for a while, but some dozen years after the Lyalta elevator was built, change would hit like an avalanche.
By the late 1970s, the Canadian grain industry was in turmoil. The prairie branchline networks was falling apart due to deferred maintenance and what was needed was a new way to process grain – make the trains larger and this would mean more profits so lines could be rebuild and the overall efficiency increased. Get rid of he old fashioned and replace them with the new and state of the art., Load more and do so more efficiently – a win-win situation for everyone it seemed.
However after experimenting with a number of configurations, one being the similar Buffalo Slope design first and then later the Buffalo 2000, it was found that after all the costs were added up, it was just too expensive to replace the current system, as bad as it was.
The ideas was right – concrete elevators instead of wooden, large trains replacing the small ones, instead the changes were even more dramatic. Just build super sized inland terminals, truck the grain there from outlying areas, and abandon all but the busiest rail lines, then load one hundred cars or more at a time instead of dozens. That’s what ended up happening and in the wake of this most wooden elevators were demolished and the branch lines closed. Now finding any traditional elevator standing is something.
What makes this structure so interesting is that it was to be the future, but all that aside the experiment ultimately failed.
The elevator seen here, in Lyalta Alberta, was built in 1982. Around that same time, two very similar structures were also built in Foremost and Boyle Alberta respectively. The former still stands but Boyle’s was torn down recently. I understand it took many months to dismantle!
Not just unique on the outside, this design was also innovative on the inside with advanced grain and dust handling systems. So it would store more, load more and do it all quicker and safer.
In addition to this elevator, this author has seen pictures showing a traditional wooden example standing right next to it. It appears it was torn down in the 1990s. I have no solid data but have seen mention that that grain cars may have been loaded at the Buffalo 2000 elevator into the year 2000.
The elevator, originally owned by the Alberta Wheat Pool, was later sold to the Canada Malting company, which still owns it to this day. AWP’s colour was the light blue (or green) seen gracing its sides. You always knew which town you were in by looking at a grain elevator and Lyalta was no different and the town’s name is emblazoned across the side of the structure.
Remarkably, a few old style traditional wooden cribbed elevators were built AFTER the Buffalo 2000 was constructed!
Lyalta is a small town not terribly far from Calgary, just east of town in fact. Outside of an out-of-place looking gated golf community just north of town, amidst grain fields, the place itself is home to a few buildings and homes and the elevator. That’s it.
Never more than a flag stop on the rail line, a small town in other words, the track here is currently being used to store excess railcars and at the time of my visit, they stretch off into the horizon. These cars are what’s known as centre-beams and they carry lumber, an industry which is often in the doldrums and cyclical, Some of the cars are only a few years old, but I am sure will be called to service at some point.
The line here used to be Canadian National Railways secondary main between Calgary and Saskatoon, and is abandoned just east of here. Formerly, it was a fairly busy place, but changes in traffic patterns sealed its fate and most of it was closed to traffic in 2009. A small stub of the line in from Calgary is used to serve a new grain terminal just west of Lyalta and some the Saskatoon end is in use too, as far as Oyen, but the section in the middle, through Drummheller and Hanna is closed although the rails have not been taken up yet.
It was opened to traffic in 1914 and there has been talk of selling the line to a short line operator, although so far it’s just talk.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: January 2013.
Location: Lyalta, AB.