Radway’s Once Thriving Flour Mill

Radway is home to the 1929 Krause Milling Company Grain Elevator. Beside the elevator are the foundations of a once thriving flour mill: together with the elevator it was part of a grist mill operation located on a spur line from the main C.N. line. The mill exemplified the independent local flour milling industry that accounted for nearly one third of Alberta-milled flour in 1937. It was first licensed to produce 125 barrels (11,136 kg) of No. 1 flour per day.

The Krause Milling Company Elevator and Flour Mill, at Radway. (Photo courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)
The Krause Milling Company Elevator and Flour Mill, at Radway. (Photo courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)

Withold Krause, a second generation Alberta grain buyer and miller, who owned several other elevators and a flour mill in Leduc, built the elevator to his own design, and then began construction of the mill, which opened in 1931.The mill was a sturdily-built rectangular three-storey frame building clad with tin sheeting painted white. A basement addition on the northeast corner housed the diesel engine that ran the machinery and the steam boiler that heated the mill. The main line shaft to drive the roller mills ran beneath the first floor.

Withold Krause designed the flow line (machinery layout) inside the mill to give a flow of about 25 bushels of wheat an hour. The first floor, with solid 3 by 10 plank Douglas fir flooring, housed the tempering bin, the roller mills, and also the bagging chutes where the refinedflour ultimately finished its journey. Bags of flour were stacked for sale or collection on the east side of the first floor. The entrance to the mill and the loading platform were on the south side facing the elevator. On the second floor were the scourer and the centrifugal cloth sifters. The third floor housed a holding bin for wheat, the cylinder where the wheat was washed, and the final sifter.

Roller mills of the type used in the Radway Mill. (Image courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)
Roller mills of the type used in the Radway Mill. (Image courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)

Milling involved a number of steps before flour was produced. Wheat cleaned in the elevator was hauled to the mill to be scoured, washed, tempered and sent to the roller mills. The wheat was run through five roller mills referred to as breaks: each ground the wheat more finely. Each roller mill was connected with a sifter for bolting (refining) the stock (the wheat after the first break). A system of numerous small elevators (cups attached to webbing fabric moving inside wooden chutes), moved the stock between machines and from floor to floor. The flour produced was given a final sifting and bagged. Krause ordered plan white bags without the company’s logo during the height of the depression as so many people wanted to reuse the fabric for clothing.

In the 1930s Krause operated mainly as a grist mill; he took in farmers’ grain at his elevator and they took home its value in flour and by-products such as shorts and bran, picked up at the mill door. Swapping wheat for flour appealed to farmers in a cash-strapped economy. At Radway the farmer did not actually get his own wheat ground. His load of wheat, weighed and graded at the elevator, was given a value in terms of Number 2 Northern Wheat (milling grade) and he was entitled to the flour products from this amount of wheat less a gristing charge of 25 cents per bushel. In his best years, 1932-1933, Krause cleaned about 50,000 bushels of wheat in his elevator and milled it into number one “Kernel” flour and “Creamo,” cream of wheat cereal.

Withold Krause promoted Kernel brand as just as good as the purest of white flours produced by the large milling companies. (Image courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)
Withold Krause promoted Kernel brand as just as good as the purest of white flours produced by the large milling companies. (Image courtesy of the Radway and Area Historical Archives Association Archives.)

Krause operated the mill during the day time, which was just as well for the village as the mill was powered by a thundering Fairbanks-Morse two-cylinder, two-cycle, 120 horsepower diesel engine. As the engine burst into life, Krause’s son, Vernon recalls  “the whole town would shake.”

During World War II, as flour mills in Europe shut down and flour was urgently needed for the war effort, Krause and other millers had limited access to wheat. The Canadian Wheat Board allowed small millers a subsidy on flour sold domestically to compensate, so Krause concentrated on milling for sale, selling in Edmonton and from the mill door.

After the war Krause sold the mill. From 1949 Fred Weder operated the elevator and flour mill business under the banner of the International Grain Company and Radway Flour Mills, respectively. There was a big change in how the mill was operated. Weder ran the mill 24 hours a day, six days a week, producing 140 pound (64 kg) jute bags of low quality unbleached flour for export to countries in the Far East starving due to the ravages of World War II.. Weder shifted the huge diesel engine aside and installed an electric motor. The mill started up at the flick of a switch, and ran quietly ensuring Radway residents got some sleep!

Three two-man teams—a miller and a helper/bagger—operated the mill in eight hour shifts around the clock. More workers were needed to haul clean wheat from the elevator to the mill and load the bags into railcars. The mill crew, mostly local young men, lived in a bunk house nearby. They pushed out at least three box cars of flour a week, over triple the production of the Krause years.

This new level of production took its toll on the flour mill. By 1953 the milling rollers had been pushed to their limit and all the equipment was in need of overall. Fred Weder closed the operation and put the mill up for sale. There were no buyers, and eventually it was dismantled for salvage. Today, the Krause elevator, the only remaining country elevator in Alberta that is associated with the flour milling industry, stands alone next to the foundations of the mill that it once supplied.

Written by: Judy Larmour.

When it was Cookin’ Hot

Cooking Lake with its cool breeze was the place to be in the halcyon summers to the end of World War I. The wealthiest Edmontonians spent summers in one of the rustic cabins, swimming, sailing and canoeing or lounging at the docks. Others had to make do with day trips and special picnic outings to the beaches on its south shore.

A group of prominent Edmontonians formed the Koney Island Sporting Co. Ltd. in 1894 to develop a small island located in a bay on the west side of the lake. It was an exclusive resort, complete with a log clubhouse nestled among the spruce trees. Members built cabins and erected docks. The serene lake waters were ideal for boating and one of the first club projects was a sailboat: the Mudhen. She was carvel-built using hand sawn lumber.

Koney Island Club member showing off their floatilla: The gaff-rigged sloop Mudhen, along with a row boat and two canoes, one with a small sail as was popular at the time. (Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, B.6542.)
Koney Island Club member showing off their floatilla: The gaff-rigged sloop Mudhen, along with a row boat and two canoes, one with a small sail as was popular at the time. (Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, B.6542.)

Koney Island was an isolated spot: Dr. Goodwin, one of the club members, may have been surprised to meet Dominion Land Surveyor Ernest Hubbel who arrived to survey its shores in 1895. Goodwin lent Hubbel a club rowing boat to do his work. The island offered a “splendid rendez-vous” for club members, Hubbbel noted, and was “a tranquil and exceedingly picturesque spot.” Nevertheless, club members may have tired of rowing out to the island when they arrived dusty and hot from Edmonton, as in 1898 they bought a 20 foot gasoline launch that could carry 12 passengers.

On the south side of the lake Sheriff Walter Robertson built a large lodge from logs and opened a resort in 1898.  Here no company membership was required and holidayers could stay, enjoy the beach area and social functions at the lodge. The commercial resort slowly developed into the hamlet of South Cooking Lake, complete with post office by 1906.

Cooking Lake really took off as a summer lake destination in 1909 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Line to Edmonton passed along its north shore. Day trippers came out from Edmonton on the morning train east, alighting at the small station of Cooking Lake. Part of the day’s fun was crossing the lake on the motor launch Daisy Girl that operated as a taxi to White Sand Beach on the south side at Ministik, where children built sandcastles before the evening’s return trip.

The gaff-rigged sloop Mudhen becalmed at Koney Island, along with two canoes, one with a small sail as was popular at the time. (Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, B. 6543.)
The gaff-rigged sloop Mudhen becalmed at Koney Island, along with two canoes, one with a small sail as was popular at the time. (Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, B. 6543.)

Company picnics for employees were popular. The Esdale Printing Company picked a warm day in 1914 for its annual outing. Couples sat by the shore watching children swim or splash about. Some women had umbrellas for shade while other relied on their straw hats. A tug-of war competition was organized among the women, while a group of men spent most of the afternoon roasting an entire calf on a spit built over a camp fire. Everyone sat down at long trestle tables to enjoy the meal in the shade of the trees.

Cooking Lake was a destination for outings on Empire Day (celebrated on the school day immediately preceding May 24). The day had beautiful fine weather in 1916, which must have sorely disappointed the young people in Edmonton’s First Presbyterian church group, who cancelled plans for a picnic and boat ride due to incessant rain the previous day. Church camps were held at the lake, and the Young Womens’ Christian Association had a bungalow at Military Point.

By 1916 many Edmontonians had cabins at Cooking Lake. A taxi service was available from the city and motorists increasingly ventured out for the day. More facilities and accommodations were built on the lake shore, which had a graded “lake promenade.” Lunch could be enjoyed at Mrs. McMenomy’s “high class restaurant,” and canoes and row boats hired by the hour. Further along the promenade at South Cooking Lake, visitors played pool at Chris Falks’ ice cream parlour.

Larger motor launches were evident on the lake in the 1920s and soon sea planes were landing on its waters, even before a seaplane base was built in 1935. The Cooking Lake Sea Plane Base was used recreationally as well as by bush pilots returning from the north. While other lakes around Edmonton enticed vacationers, Cooking Lake, the city’s first summer escape, remained popular into the 1960s. Water levels and water quality at Cooking Lake have always fluctuated: Koney Island became a peninsula in 1962. Sailors and swimmers became disenchanted during the 1970s. The summer of 2007 brought a record low-water level stranding the lake’s piers and cabins. Although waters have risen again recently, it seems unlikely that long summer days at the lake will ever be as cookin’ hot as they were a hundred years ago.

Written by: Judy Larmour, Historian.

A Futuristic Elevator that Lives on in Brazil

As this cartoon indicates some farmers were skeptical of the Buffalo design. (Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, M-800-344.)
As this cartoon indicates some farmers were skeptical of the Buffalo design. (Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, M-800-344.)

Not long ago, Alberta, had country grain elevators named for the indigenous bison that roamed the plains before grain was grown. The innovative Buffalo, as they were called, were designed in Alberta, and constructed in both Alberta and Brazil. In the late 1970s times were good for Alberta’s farmers and their grain Company—the Alberta Wheat Pool. Bumper crops and high grain prices kept the grain elevators humming. As fires destroyed many wood elevators, and the railways were pushing for ever more streamlined grain handling, the Pool decided to use some of its profits to experiment with concrete country elevator designs. It began working with Buffalo Engineering of Edmonton, headed by Klaus U. Drieger. This resulted in a partnership company ABL Engineering Ltd. to produce a design for an elevator that was radically different, and formed a second company, Buffalo Beton Ltd. of Calgary to construct them.

The first design was the trapezoidal Buffalo 1000, colloquially named the Buffalo Slope. In a complete departure from traditional wood-crib elevator design, this elevator was built up using 42 square pre-cast concrete modules, stacked like cord wood at a thirty degrees angle from the ground. The elevator could hold 206,000 bushels. The first was built at Magrath in 1979 and opened with huge fanfare—the festivities included a community band and farmer tours of the facility. Two more Buffalo Slopes were erected in 1981, at Vegreville and Fort Saskatchewan. The Buffalo Slope design worked well with some grains, but the 30 degrees slope was inadequate for barley and oats to slide out the bottom of the module and the complicated conveyor systems were high maintenance. Faced with less than stellar reviews, ABL Engineering went back to the drawing board.

Buffalo Elevator at Magrath in 1997. (Courtesy Alberta Heritage Survey, 97-R0293-17A.)
Buffalo Elevator at Magrath in 1997. (Courtesy Alberta Heritage Survey, 97-R0293-17A.)

The second design, the Buffalo 2000, was also constructed with precast panels in conjunction with poured-in-place concrete, although it had a more conventional shape. The elevator has vertical bins with hopped bottoms, fashioned with precast bin floors and cast-in-place concrete bin walls. The Buffalo 2000 holds about 190,000 bushels in thirty bins. The Alberta Wheat Pool built two of these, at Lyalta in 1982 and at Foremost in 1983. These fireproof elevators worked well, but were expensive. The Pool built nine cheaper wood-cribbed double-composite elevators next, the last one at Dapp in 1985. Then in 1986 a final Buffalo 2000 was built at Boyle, a year before the Buffalo consortium folded.

Ironically, the futuristic Buffalo designs were obsolete soon after they were built as the era of the country elevator was over. After 1995 all the grain companies built slip-form concrete silo elevators. These were high capacity high-throughput regional terminal elevators designed to collect grain from hundreds of kilometers around. They were located on spur lines able to handle 52 or 104 car trains. The buffalo, built on railway sidings without sufficient space to load many cars, were too slow for high throughput: a Buffalo could load a grain car in thirty minutes while the new terminal elevators could load one in six to seven minutes. The days of the country elevator were numbered, whether wood-crib or concrete Buffalos. As the wood-crib elevators, even new ones, were demolished, the concrete Buffalo, despite not being used by the grain companies, proved to be survivors as they passed to individual farmer groups. The Canada Malting Company buys and stores malt barley in the Buffalo 2000 at Lyalta. Two were recently demolished: the Buffalo slope at Vegreville and the Buffalo 2000 at Boyle.

Buffalo Elevator at Lyalta in 1997. (Courtesy Alberta Heritage Survey, 97-R0248-17.)
Buffalo Elevator at Lyalta in 1997. (Courtesy Alberta Heritage Survey, 97-R0248-17.)

The Buffalo design also survives in Brazil. The Buffalo engineering team designed the huge Buffalo 4000 that was constructed from precast concrete modules to build up bins in a double V pattern. Several of these inland terminals with a capacity ranging from 25,000 tonnes (957, 500 bushels) to 100,000 tonnes (3,750,000 bushels) were constructed in Brazil during the early 1980s. A 25,000 facility was located in Brasilia and another in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso del Sul in central-west Brazil. In the state of Minas Gervais in the west part of the country, where wheat and soy beans are among the main crops, a massive 100,000 tonne Buffalo 4000 was constructed at Uberlandia. The Buffalos of Brazil, where sixty-percent of grain is moved by truck, remain an international monument to Alberta engineering innovation.

Written by: Judy Larmour.

Nine in a line – a vanished skyline

Prairie Sentinels

The tall silhouette of a wooden grain elevator on the horizon once symbolized rural landscape across the prairies. “Against open space,” in the words of distinguished American photographer Frank Gohlke, “grain elevators were the presence against which that emptiness could be measured.”

A long row of eight elevators had been built at Vulcan by 1924 and provided a backdrop for this harvest scene at Vulcan. (Glenbow Archives, ND-8-218).
A long row of eight elevators had been built at Vulcan by 1924 and provided a backdrop for this harvest scene at Vulcan. (Glenbow Archives, ND-8-218).

Early Elevator Row

In 1891, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway built Siding 19, soon to be named Leduc, on the west side of its mainline. The length of the siding—long enough to build a row of six elevators—showed the railway’s faith in the district’s grain growing potential. By 1905 a row of three elevators lent a vertical silhouette across the tracks from the station. The first grain company to build at a new siding tried to choose the best position for attracting customers, and for loading cars with the greatest ease. Each elevator had sufficient space on the siding to load two grain cars. Elevator construction along the Calgary and Edmonton railway set a pattern followed across Alberta as main lines and branch lines slowly spread their reach.

As elevator rows developed they created a varied sky line: there was considerable difference in size and shape of elevators built from the 1890s to the 1920s. After 1920 many of the early variants were replaced and grain companies built traditional elevators with a gable roof and a gable roofed cupola on top. Wood clad elevators were almost always painted CPR red, and what differentiated each company’s elevator was its name (and its logo, if it had one) painted high up on the walls, emblazoned in white along with the name of the town. In contrast, metal clad elevators were galvanized or painted white.

Elevators Everywhere

Competition between the grain companies resulted in the rapid emergence of rows of elevators at the most significant grain delivery points. By 1911 there were 142 sidings with grain elevators, and 43 of them had three or more elevators. Carstairs, High River and Nanton, along with Edmonton and Calgary, had five elevators, while Westaskiwin had six. Eight years later, in 1919, the total number of elevator delivery points in the province totalled 334, of which 150 had three or more elevators. Barons had emerged as the point with the longest row of elevators, with eight, followed by Nanton with seven. A number of towns had six: Blackie, Bow Island, Carmangay, Chinook, Claresholm, Cluny, Gleichen, Granum, Magrath, Oyen, Provost, Vulcan, and Youngstown. Edmonton and Calgary also had six. The points with the largest elevator capacities were mainly in the wheat-growing area of the southern part of the province, but by the 1940s as farming thrived in the Peace River country, impressive rows evolved at Sexsmith and Grimshaw.  Vulcan in southern Alberta however, holds the record for the longest row—12 elevators in 1956.

The elevator row became a towering beacon for Alberta’s growing hamlets, villages, and towns with bustling commercial main streets and residential areas. Through the 1950s into the 1960s a long unbroken row symbolized prosperity. A town with five elevators rather than three had a more lucrative tax base and better services, all of which could be traced back to its life line—the railway.

Barons, 1913. (Glenbow Archives, NA-2059-27)
Barons, 1913. (Glenbow Archives, NA-2059-27)

Elevator Consolidation Begins

From the 1960s, as paved highways increasingly linked Alberta’s major towns with hamlets and rural districts, and one railway station after another closed in smaller centres and on branch lines that were being abandoned, farmers chose to take their business to larger centres. Farmers benefitted from the competition between elevators at larger centres, and grain companies closed more isolated grain buying points due to loss of business, the threat of further branch line closure and changes in car allocation rules. Grain companies consolidated their elevators making for longer rows at fewer points. Towns that had secured multiple elevators flourished; the more elevators in a town, the greater its prestige and the better its prospects for business and further development seemed to be.

All the Colours of the Rainbow

It was in the 1960s that elevator row began to take on the appearance that many of us remember. The grain companies repainted their elevators when the CPR red began to fade. First came white, adopted by the United Grain Growers. A splash of colour marked the beginning of modern company branding. First came white, adopted by the United Grain Growers. Pioneer Grain Company first painted the shingled roofs of their elevators yellow, and then in 1962 went for bright orange on the elevator walls, complemented by yellow roofs. The story goes that on the Victoria Day weekend in 1962 as a Pioneer engineer and his wife toured the countryside, she suggested orange (the colour of her pants that day) would cheer up the appearance of the elevators on the landscape. The company agreed to the experiment and the first dazzling orange elevators on prairie rows surprised everyone. Federal Grain adopted white by the time it took over Alberta Pacific Grain (1943) Ltd. in 1968. The Alberta Wheat Pool adopted a turquoise green colour, which slowly dominated the rows after 1972 as AWP took over Federal Grain in 1972, painting all the white Federal elevators turquoise-green as well. Parrish and Heimbecker adopted a mustard colour in 1976.

The Fall of the Sentinel

More change came to elevator row as the grain companies began to replace ageing elevators with larger single and double composite elevator designs in the 1970s. The sky line began to transform as holes began to appear in the great Alberta rows. By the 1980s elevator row was gap-toothed. Grain companies rapidly consolidated business on sidings where there was enough room to fill more grain cars at one time. Then in 1995 the federal government ended the Crow Rate that subsidized freight rates to the port terminals, and deregulated the railways in 1996. The economy of scale changed. In 1997 there were still major rows of elevator complexes that sometimes included an older elevator as an annex: six at Hussar, six at McGrath, six at Sexsmith, five at Standard, four at Arrowood, and four at Champion and finally seven at Warner. The same year, scores of unwanted elevators, many remnants of once proud rows began to fall. Finally, at the turn of the 21st century, operating grain elevator rows were completely replaced by large inland concrete terminal silo-style structures. Warner is an aberration: with six of its original traditional elevators (forming four elevator complex facilities) still standing and used to handle the local mustard crop, it is a significant legacy of a vanished skyline.

Written by: Judy Larmour.

Lonely Lookouts

Perched high above the tree tops, braced to mountain peaks or balanced on steel towers, fire lookouts have a magnificent view. And that is the idea—they provide a place to watch for the first wisps of smoke that may signal the beginning of a wild fire. Detection, identification and then communication of the whereabouts of fires has been the job of the seasonal fire lookout observer in Alberta for over a hundred years.

The abandoned Black Rock Lookout, near Banff, August 2009. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)
The abandoned Black Rock Lookout, near Banff, August 2009. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)

By the 1890s forest fires were increasingly a cause for concern, not only because of economic opportunity lost when marketable timber burned, but because of a long term threat to water conservation. (Forests increase precipitation, prevent erosion and slow the evaporation of ground water.) In response the Dominion Forestry Branch developed trails for their patrol routes, and then began building a system of fire lookouts in Alberta’s extensive area of Forest Reserves and Parks. When jurisdiction over crown lands was transferred to Alberta in 1930, the Albert Forest Service expanded the system further, particularly during the 1950s.

The first tower lookouts were temporary, improvised from building materials the forest rangers found while on patrol. They were often no more than “crawl” tree structures—trees with their branches removed serving as supports for bush ladders, steps between poles attached to two trees. A pre-requisite for a permanent staffed lookout was a phone line. Available after 1910, the phone allowed the man in the tower to talk to someone in the nearest ranger station. Seasonal employees were hired to man lookouts during fire season and their job included maintaining the trails and telephone lines, as well as making weather observations.

A photograph of a person atop a simple lookout in 1912.
Tree crawl lookout, Brazeau Forest, 1912. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)

After 1912 there were two types of lookouts: summit lookouts, built on the ground or on short stilts, which provided a vantage point from high alpine peaks, and towers, built on high hills in the boreal forest, which elevated the observer over any obstacles to vision.

On mountaintops the earliest summit lookouts were single, square wood frame 12 by 12 foot structures with a pyramidal roof. Later designs featured a 14 by 14 foot structure with a cabin at ground level and a second story for observation. At these locations everything was constructed from planed boards, the easiest and lightest material for horses to haul. The lookouts were held down by steel cable that ran from a post on the roof to wherever they could be secured in earth. Open windows with hinged wood shutters that pulled upwards gave a 360 degree view.

Burke Lookout (later renamed Cameron Lookout) built in 1929 on the summit of Mount Burke in the Livingstone Range is one example. At a staggering elevation of 8,330 feet (2,540 meters), it was the highest in Canada. It was hard work getting supplies up there each summer. The observer had to find his own wood supply for the stove to cook and keep warm; at Cameron this meant a long walk down the mountain to get below the tree line. Cameron was closed in 1953 and replaced by two lookouts positioned at lower altitudes that were easier to get to. Cameron is still visible with binoculars from Highway 2.

Packing in supplies to Cameron Lookout, 1929. Note the rain barrel for catching rain water. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)
Packing in supplies to Cameron Lookout, 1929. Note the rain barrel for catching rain water. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)

In the boreal forest area, a variety of tower types evolved. A smaller version of square lookouts, such as that built at House Mountain, near Whitecourt, was placed on broad-based wooden towers. Other towers were narrower, up to 60 feet high, with a small cupola lookout on top. They were constructed from either timber or steel. Introduced in the 1920s, steel increasingly replaced wood for tower construction. The later version of these steel towers replaced the wooden octagonal cupola with a fiberglass design in the 1960s.

Inside the lookout observers used binoculars to scan the forest then locate the fire with a rudimentary fire finder. Then in 1945, lookouts adopted the Osborne, an instrument used to help determine the precise location of a fire in relation to the tower. Mounted on a stand in the middle of the cupola, it measures the azimuth between true north and the location of a fire. Alberta is the only agency in the world that added a telescopic sight to the Osborne. Promoted by a couple of lookout observers in the 1960s, it was developed for use by the province to locate fires with precision over great distances.

The new steel tower at House Mountain, 1953. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)
The new steel tower at House Mountain, 1953. (Photo courtesy of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.)

In the early days, the real challenge was to communicate the location of a fire to the nearest ranger stations; the telephone system, a tree-line or tripod system in the mountains, employed cable strung between trees and held on with insulators. It was susceptible to lightning, sometimes with frightening results when a bolt hit the line and the charge travelled along it and up into the lookout. The telephone also went down when trees fell across the line in summer and snow load would take it down prior to the fire season. In 1938, the first two-way radios, run on a generator, were installed in lookouts for communications.

The importance of fire lookouts has not diminished. Many of Alberta’s 127 operational fire lookouts are rebuilt on the location of the first generation of lookouts. Although working conditions are more comfortable, the job requirements for lookout observers—strong physical and mental health to withstand the rigors of climbing the lookout tower, loneliness and often monotonous routines—have changed little. “You have to like yourself to take the job;” that’s what the old hands say about life on the lone lookout.

Written by: Judy Larmour.

Coming in Low

The story of the Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Leduc.

A photograph of the former Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator at Leduc, taken in 2007.
Leduc Grain Elevator in 2007. Photo by Judy Larmour, Courtesy of Alberta Legacy Development Society.

Have any elevator enthusiasts out there ever noticed that the former Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator at Leduc looks a little different? It is a unique low-profile version of the Pool’s single composite 130,000 bushel elevator built on a standard plan during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s also unique as the only grain elevator that lies directly under the flight path to the main runway of an international airport and therein lies a story.

In 1976 the Alberta Wheat Pool revealed its intent to build a new elevator at the siding in Leduc. It wanted an elevator that would have a large enough capacity to replace all their aging elevators on the row, allowing for easier and more efficient grain handling. A single composite elevator built to the standard design stood normally over 27 meters hight (approximately 90 feet). This was considered a navigational hazard for airplanes approaching the airport—too high to get clearance from Transport Canada. So the Alberta Wheat Pool engineers went back to the drawing board to adjust the design, reducing its height. Transport Canada was satisfied with the new design, gave the green light and Leduc issued a building permit. Work began under AWP construction foreman Jim Pearson in spring 1978.

All elevators were basically built the same way. First a hole was excavated, cement foundation pads were poured and the steel pan set flush in the pit. The crew began construction of the sturdy cribbed walls, built to withstand the weight of the grain. The cribbing timbers were laid flat and spiked together. The cribbing of the exterior walls continued in rounds, in step with the cribbing of the inside bins, so that the elevator rose at an even height. As the cribbing progressed the crew installed the leg to elevate the grain, the distribution spout or gerber, the hopper and scales on the work floor, and the loading spout to the track below. The cupola on top was put together with pre-cut wood studs and shiplap or plywood walls. Finally the driveway was added, and the whole structure was clad with wood siding.

At Leduc, as Pearson later explained, changes had to be made to the standard plan. Instead of the standard 67 foot walls, the walls and bins were cribbed up only 59 feet, and the cribbing strength was reduced proportionately to the overall height of the building. The standard rounds of 2 by 6 cribbing were reduced by 5 feet and the higher 2 by 4 cribbing by 3 feet. To partially compensate for the lost volume, the design incorporated an annex 10 feet longer than was standard, giving the structure a footprint of 38 feet by 100 feet.

Lowering the walls 8 feet was still not enough to meet the required height restrictions. Another factor came into play. Elevators compress when they are filled with grain. The term telescope is used to describe a number of ways to allow the building to move in response to changing loads without causing damage to the structure. Normally, the leg is in one piece, so the cupola must be high enough to clear it as the elevator compresses. The Pool, wishing to install two metal legs—one for receiving grain and one for shipping, as was common by the 1970s—had to devise special legs at Leduc. They were telescoped in the middle and moved with the elevator to allow a lower profile than the standard one piece leg. A floating pulley in the pit took up the slack in the belt inside the leg. This one-of-a-kind system designed by Pool engineers allowed them to construct the cupola thirty inches below the regular height. When the new elevator was complete it was about the same height as the three 1920s elevators that it replaced.

The flight path-friendly elevator, with a capacity of 121, 000 bushels, was more expensive than a standard elevator. It cost $592,752 to build and opened in December 1978—the official ribbon cutting deferred until April 1979. It proudly served the farmers of Leduc until July 2000. When its days were clearly numbered and it, too, was faced with demolition the newly formed Alberta Legacy Development Society sprang into action to ensure its survival. Designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2003 and with fresh coat of paint in September 2007, it flaunts the once familiar and omnipresent Alberta Wheat Pool crest and logo.

So the next time you fly over Leduc into Edmonton, just before landing, look down to spot Alberta’s special stubby, one of the last Alberta Wheat Pool single-composite elevators standing and still the tallest building in downtown Leduc.

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Written by: Judy Larmour.

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.