Ever Wonder How a Grain Elevator Worked?

We’ve published articles on Alberta’s historic grain elevators in the past and they’ve struck a cord. We’re preparing a few more articles about Alberta elevator’s, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we though you may wish to know how a grain elevator worked.

A diagram illustrating how a standard grain elevator operated.
A diagram of a standard grain elevator.

The interior of a traditional elevator contained two open areas: an attached covered driveway and an open space under the suspended bins, known as the work floor, in the centre of the elevator. A fully-loaded vehicle was parked on the large receiving scale, which took up most of the driveway floor. The agent weighed a farmer’s fully-loaded truck, wagon or sleigh using a balance beam to the side of the scale. The farmer then dumped his load through a grate on the scale floor and the now empty vehicle was re-weighed. The agent took a sample of the grain, which he analysed for type and quality.

The grain flowed through the grate into the pit below. This pit was an open triangular shaped steel pan. The agent then used the leg to elevate the grain from the pan or pit. The leg stretched from the pit to the top of the elevator. The leg — originally powered by a 15 horsepower, one-cylinder gasoline engine mounted under the office, and later by an electric motor—was an endless belt with cups attached running inside a wooden chute up the elevator,. As the leg turned, it elevated grain to the head distribution spout or gerber. The gerber was moved from one bin spout to another to direct the grain to the desired bin. The gerber was controlled from the work floor with a wooden pedal and a large hand wheel attached to the front of the leg chute.

Most spouts in the cupola fed into a storage bins (there were at least 18 but often more). The load was stored in a bin holding the same type and grade of grain. One spout led directly outside the elevator on the track side; it could be positioned over the track for loading grain into grain cars. Another spout returned grain from within the elevator to the driveway where it could be dumped into a waiting wagon or truck.

When the agent wanted to ship a quantity of grain he drew grain from the selected bin into the shipping scale bellow the scale hopper. After it was weighed the grain was dropped into the pit, the leg re-elevated itand directed it through the gerber and into the rail car loading spout and down into a grain car waiting on the siding beside the elevator.

Written By: Judy Larmour.

4 thoughts on “Ever Wonder How a Grain Elevator Worked?

  • We have an elevator in Acadia Valley,Ab that we open each summer for tourists,it’s in perfect working shape,and we looking to put up posters and information in our museum about wooden grain elevators; If you have any extra posters or information, could you share them with us please.We are not a heritage site , as yet, we’re not old enough, to qualify, so any printed materials will help our cause. If you’re in Hanna, we could pick up anything there.

  • Wold it be possible to obtain permission to reproduce the item “Ever Wonder How a Grain Elevator Worked?”, including the diagram in a family history book I am working on. My father was employed by a major grain company for many years and this article would be very useful in explaining his work to his descendants? Thanks, E.

    • Thanks for your comment, Elaine. It is a really neat image.

      The Government of Alberta acquired permission to use the image for a manuscript commissioned several years ago. The image we used is from the booklet entitled Grains and Oilseeds: Handling, Marketing and Processing published by the Canadian International Grains Institute in 1973. (There were a few subsequent editions, which I believe all include the image.) I suggest contacting the CIGI for more information on the copyright.

      If you look closely, there is some wording in the lower right hand corner of the image suggesting it was originally commissioned by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

      I hope that’s helpful. Good luck with your book. Let us know how it turns out.

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