The two prairie sentinels seen here are located in Beiseker Alberta and sit alongside the CNR’s north/south Calgary to Edmonton secondary line. As far as these structures go, both are fairly new and modern in design, a relative term, when compared to traditional style elevators. Each of them are still in use too, but neither ships their product out by rail.
The first one we’ll explore is a massive complex. The wooden elevator at its centre was built in the late 1960s and later, twice in fact, in the 1990s, they added several sets of steel bins to increase capacity. Two sets of tracks in front allow them to be more efficient when loading rail cars. A winch system would pull them one at a time under the loading station to be filled. An employee in the shack above the tracks would oversee and control the whole operation.
This elevator was built for and still wears the colours of the Alberta Wheat Pool or simply the “Pool”, the largest grain handling company in the province at the time (every town had an AWP “vator”). In 1998 they merged with the Manitoba Pool becoming Agricore. A few years later, in 2001, United Grain Growers was folded into the mix and the company became known as Agricore United. Later still, in 2007 they were bought by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. The resultant company was known as Viterra, which as of 2013 is defunct (go figure), its assets split up and re-distributed amongst other companies.
This elevator was listed as being in operation as late as 2007, making it one of the last old style elevators in use by the company that time. At some unknown point after, it was sold, I believe, to a private firm or individual and appears they used it for grain storage. They were a bunch of guys working there on our visit.
It’s not known when trains were lasted loaded here. In fact very little about this elevator can be found, although research continues and updates may be forthcoming. Our readers are asked to chime in too if they know anything.
At one time there used to be a second Alberta Wheat Pool elevator nearby, a much older building constructed in the 1920s. Also close by was one belonging to the United Grain Growers (UGG). It was built in the 1910s, for a predecessor firm, and was twinned with a second newly built elevator in the 1950s. What happened to these two structures and at what date is anyone’s guess – so little can be found about them. A fellow working at the old Pool elevator I spoke with seems to think the original AWP may have been incorporated into the “new” one. Hmmm, interesting, but this has not been verified. Anyway, these two are a bit of a mystery. For now.
Seen in front of the elevator and siting on one the former loading tracks is an odd rail car, a turbine powered snow blower. Using a powerful jet it’s used to clear out packed ice and snow that accumulates between the rails at switches and at grade crossings. These are a potential hazard (they can derail a train) and it simply blows the offending material away using a strong blast of air. It must be amazing to see it in action. We’re not sure why it’s here since typically these machines are found in yards and the like where there are a lot of switches. Given it’s spring, it’ll be out of work for a few months anyway. We did a study of this fascinating “Rube Goldberg-esque” contraption and there is a link to it near the end of this text.
Also seen on the elevator tracks are some old beat up gondola cars loaded with old ties and the like.
The second elevator, located north of the first, was built in the late 1970s. It was built for Cargill Grain, a lesser known player in the Canadian grain industry. In the mid-2000s the elevator was purchased by Canada Malting who processes grains for use in beer and alcohol. This is a storage facility and the grain is worked or “malted” elsewhere. To do this they partially germinate the seeds and then stop the process by quickly drying them out. Since this site is connected to the beer industry, to those who enjoy their suds, it should be considered haloed ground.
It’s not known if the steel bins were as built or if these were added at some unknown date afterwards. It’s also not known when rail cars were last loaded here. I recall in the 1990s, a caboose used to sit on the siding. But why?
The loading track in front of the structure is quite short limiting the number of cars that could be filled at any one time (not efficient). Note the safety line above the tracks. Instead of using a loading platform like the other elevator, they simply had the workers walk atop the rail cars as they were filled and to keep them from falling they’d tie their harness into this line. Now tripping would now longer be potentially fatal. Like the other elevator, this one used a winch system to move the cars.
While these elevators are no longer used, grain trains still pass them by. Farmers today now have to travel to large inland terminals, some distance away. These facilities can load a whole train in one pass. For the railway it’s more efficient, but for the farmer, perhaps not so much.
Both of these elevators could be looked on as transitional in nature. They do retain some elements of the old style wooden elevator, who design they emulated, but they’ve been modified to be more efficient and modern in nature.
The rail line seen in front belongs to the CNR and it travels between Calgary and Edmonton. It’s a secondary line seeing maybe a half dozen trains per day, give or take. On our arrival in town, we just missed a passing freight. Bad timing. The line was built in 1912 by the Grand Trunk Pacific. That company, always financially strapped, along with some competing lines, which we also fiscally shaky, joined to form the present day Canadian National Railways. This happened in the early 1920s.
Interestingly, the CPR used to serve Beiseker as well making it one of a handful of small town served by two railways. Its line, the Langdon Subdivision, was located on the opposite side of town and was a branch coming in from Calgary. It arrived a couple years before the CNR, in 1910. It was a outlet for grain and also coal coming in from the Red Deer River valley nearby. It closed in the mid-1990s. There used to be a second grouping of grain elevators including some belonging to the AWP, UGG, Parish and Heimbecker and others, along this line. The two railways meant there was an odd duplication of grain handling facilities.
The town of Beiseker was founded just over a century ago and today is home to about 800 people. The municipal offices are housed in the old CPR train station (cool).
Thanks to BK-Hunters who sent us some information that allowed us to update this article (October 2014).
To see the town’s railway museum (which appears to be in trouble), follow this link…
Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum – what’s going on?
To see CPR train station used for the town offices, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway station, Beiseker Alberta.
To see some early 1990s pictures showing grain elevators on the parallel CPR line, check out this link…
Prairie Sentinels – Beiseker Alberta.
To read about that odd railway snow blower we saw, follow this link…
Jet powered snow removal.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: April, 2014.
Location: Beiseker, AB.