An article by Chris & Connie.
The tallest thing around in any direction, the structure we’ll be discussing here is a fairly late example of a traditional style wood cribbed grain elevator. Located along a busy rail line, it’s not really been used much for the last few years, having been replaced by newer facility a bit to the north. Come with us as we’re given keys to the gate and a few short minutes to explore this fascinating bit of agricultural history.
Found near Olds Alberta, the elevator was constructed in 1980. It was a modern plant for the day, yet at the same time in appearance and even constriction to a degree, was much like grain elevators built many, many decades earlier. It was much larger however.
Instead of being able to load a few rail cars at a time, it was designed to handle dozens (by the way, the newest/biggest elevators today handle a whole train’s worth). This need for additional rail capacity meant one other difference from the the grain elevators of old, it had to be built outside the town limits. In-town, often smack-dab in the middle of town, as had been the norm since the early days of the industry but it wouldn’t work here given the limited space typically available.
That it could hold more and load more made it a sort of transitional design between the old style low capacity elevators and the high throughput versions today. The example was clearly an early attempt at making these facilities more efficient. Even so, it’s was still very much an old design – witness the wood-cribbed construction of the main structure (a substantial concrete base was a modem touch), something it shared with elevators from as far back as the early 1900s! They had always built them this way. Their approach was cautious.
Soon, giant concrete and steel facilities would come on the scene and the industry has never looked back. Most wood cribbed grain elevators, by the way, were gone by the early 2000s, replaced by these new super-sized complexes. The era of the wood elevator, once so common across the west, was over. Not many remain.
This grain elevator was built for Pioneer Grain (today Richardson Pioneer, or simply Richardson). This firm has been around for a century or so and has facilities all over the prairie provinces. The building wears the distinctive orange company colours. Every firm had their own, you always knew who they belonged to by that alone. This firm’s was probably the most bold, some might say even loud or gaudy.
When Pioneer Grain purchased a larger (many times so) and newer (1990) concrete and steel facility just north of town in 2007 (former United Grain Growers, later Agricore United), they closed this elevator. It’s not really abandoned however, and we understand it’s sometimes used by another grain firm for temporary storage from time to time. It’s been a while since it was fully utilized though.
The rail car siding is still in good shape overall even if a good number of trees have sprouted up between the tracks. The loading point here was known as “Olds South”. A winch system was used to move cars under the loading spout. This type of car mover is still used at many grain loading facilities.
At one time there were many other grain elevators in Olds. Most were from the early years, 1910s and 1920s, and were gone by the early 2000s.
The CPR line passing the elevator runs between Edmonton and Calgary and is busy. It dates back to the 1890s. Olds was founded with the coming of that railway line.
This visit was a brief one. Another gig called, so we were quickly in and out. Not the best way to document a subject, but better than nothing. Maybe we can return.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2015.
Location: Olds AB.
Article references: Pioneer Grain archives, Book: A History of Olds and Area.
The elevator is private property. Photos were taken with permission.