There is no town here, nor do I believe there ever was, just a former rail siding with the name of Oberlin Alberta. Its claim to fame, at least at the time of our visit in the spring of 1997, were the two grain elevators that still stood along the long abandoned rail line. Like so many others, they are now gone, but we are so happy we had the chance to shoot them.
This date had us exploring the area southwest of Stettler Alberta and we managed to stumble across these wonderful buildings by pure luck, while following some random back road. On our trip we had discovered some old farms and many other interesting things, but the highlight was the structures seen here.
This town, or siding if you will, was located along a former CNR (Canadian National Railways) branch that extended from a junction at Warden Alberta (a point just east of Oberlin) all the way to the Brazeau coal fields of Nordegg. Constructed under the charter of the Canadian Northern Western Railway Company on completion the line was almost instantly amalgamated into that line’s parent company, the Canadian Northern Railway.
Later, around 1920, the CNoR as it was known, along with a number of other bankrupt or struggling lines, was folded into the giant CN system we know today.
Construction commenced in 1911 finishing up a couple years later. Initially the line was fairly busy with coal, grain, merchandise and perhaps even passenger trains travelling along it. At that time this subdivision was served out of nearby Big Valley Alberta, a CNoR divisional point along that railway’s north south main line.
Another company consolidated into the CN system was the Grand Trunk Pacific and with that marriage came a more westerly, more direct and better constructed north/south railway to connect with the Brazeau line. By the early 1920s the westerly portion of this former CNoR subdivision was then served out of the new divisional point of Mirror Alberta along the ex-GTP line.
This new cutoff took over as the conduit for all freight coming off the Brazeau line while overnight the portion through Oberlin became redundant, reverting to branch line status. From them on the only real traffic sources along the line was a few grain elevators, including the ones we see here.
It’s not clear when this section of the line was abandoned as I’ve been told variously 1977 or 1981. Nor do we know when the elevators themselves closed. Was it at that time or some time earlier? In either case by the end it’s likely traffic on the branch would have been a mere trickle, a real money losing proposition.
Oddly, but good for us, with the closing of the line the elevators were spared. Why, we can not say for sure, although it did appear that one or both were being used for grain storage by a local farmer. Freshly spilled kernels inside hinted at that.
With the closing of this line, nearby farmers would them have to truck their grain to Erskine, which is close by along a competitive CPR branch. That’s not as a big inconvenience as one would think since these two spots are only five or so kilometres apart. It made more sense anyway, since the CPR line saw more frequent service.
In the end the loss of he CN line was probably not that greatly missed. The mentioned CPR line is still in operation as far as Stettler, but most of the traffic seems to be oil and gas related now.
Of the two elevators, one is painted for the company P&H (Parrish and Heimbecker). This organization was one of the lesser players in the Canadian grain industry, a field dominated by, amongst others, United Grain Growers, Pioneer Grain and the Alberta Wheat Pool. The second elevator is labelled for latter and is painted in the traditional mineral brown colour instead of the more recent AWP light blue. The lettering on its side is faded and some parts very hard to read.
At some unknown point between the time of our visit and today these two structures were torn down.
This author has seen a photo, date uncertain but likely around the time the line was abandoned, taken from the top of the P&H elevator looking towards the other. At that time the rail siding was still in place. Weedy, but still there. Oddly, the through track is sans rails or maybe it’s just too overgrown to be seen. This westerly portion of this line, by the way, is still in use by the CNR. Only the short section through here was abandoned.
It’s not clear if anything outside these elevators existed in Oberlin. In walking around the area nothing in the way of evidence could be found. There are no foundations or obvious signs of any kind near the elevators or in the wooded area surrounding them. It makes sense that there is nothing in the way of a town here as nearby Erskine would have everything a farmer would need anyway.
The woods, by the way, makes the area feel more remote than it actually is.
It’s a pretty reasonable assumption that passenger trains used the line in the early days, although I can find no real evidence of same. With the traffic pattern changes that came about as a result of that aforementioned consolidation, later it’s likely that service through here was downgraded or even stopped altogether. There was really no population to speak of on this part of the line anyway. If Oberlin had a train station it would have been a minor structure, a flag stop shed or something like that. If it had one at all.
I love how the line has reverted back to nature with grass growing on the old roadbed. In spite of that, the line is still obvious if you know where to look and I was able to follow it using Google Earth for all of its distance. It’s interesting that something abandoned so long ago is so easily followed today.
It saddens me that these elevators no longer stand. I am however so thankful that we came across them by accident so many years ago. These have easily become some of my favourite elevators shots that we’ve taken.
These images, which we only only recently rediscovered, were scanned from 35mm slides. They were packed away for over a decade.
Update: May 2013. Some data has crossed my desk regarding dates when the elevators were built and torn down. The P&H dates from 1918 and was closed and presumably abandoned in 1971. The AWP was formerly belonged to the Brooks Elevator Company and was built in 1928, the latter selling out to the former a couple years later. There was, apparently one additional elevator here, dating from 1916-1918. The two still standing when we visited were gone by 2000. Thanks to Bill from Erskine for this update.
To see some other elevators we found, follow these links…
Prairie sentinels – Consort Alberta.
Dorothy Alberta, the little grain elevator in the valley.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 1997.
Location: Oberlin, AB.