Along the Rail Siding

OLD TIME ELEVATOR


The old State Elevator Co. elevator was built in 1921 in anticipation of the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway at Demaine, Saskatchewan.

article by Barbara Krupp Selyem
photo by Bruce Selyem

Anticipating the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway at Demaine, Saskatchewan in the summer of 1921, grain companies began building elevators along the intended rail siding.

The State Elevator Co. was the first to build in 1921; the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Co. built in 1922, followed by the Spencer Elevator Co. in 1923, and finally by the Nerby Grain Co. in 1928.

Between 1921 and 1972, the genealogies of these four elevators include the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Western Grain Co., Canadian Consolidated Grain Company, United Grain Growers, and the Federal Grain Co. Through acquisitions and amalgamations, in 1972, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool owned all four.

The former Canadian National (CN) line (now Big Sky Rail, a western Canadian short-line railroad) from Delisle, Saskatchewan through Demaine to Beechy (the end of the line) is still active, but trains no longer stop at Demaine. All four elevators are gone – three were demolished, and one was moved. The first one built is the last one standing.

Changing Hands

In 1972, when the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool acquired the Federal Grain Co. facilities in Saskatchewan, it sold the 52-year-old State Elevator Co. grain elevator, that Federal had acquired in 1952, to Robert C. Jones, a local farmer. On Sept. 4, 1973, Jones moved the elevator from town 2 miles south and about 3 miles east to his farm. Since the elevator was originally powered by a gas engine, he converted it to run with a tractor power take-off drive.

In the fall of 1998, when Jones retired after 25 years of farming, he sold his farm to Steven Connor who lives on his father’s 1912 homestead 4 miles northwest of Demaine. His mother’s 1906 homestead is only 1 mile south of the elevator, which he drives by daily.

Connor used the elevator for grain storage for about 10 years after he bought the Jones farm, and he made repairs as necessary to keep it viable. The elevator had a continuous rope drive that passed over three pulleys in the head, around a knee pulley (also known as an “idler pulley”) to keep it straight as it traveled down and around the two pulleys in the boot.

When the rope in the old elevator broke, it was impossible to have it repaired. A hundred years ago, grain companies employed millwrights who could braid the ends of broken ropes back together. Eventually, when belting replaced ropes, the artistry of rope braiding was lost.

When no one in the grain industry could help, Connor found a maritime company in the fishing industry and was able to buy a rope that would work to keep the elevator operational, at least for a while. However, over time, the rope stretched. Since the bins were leaking and the truck shed was too small for his semis, Connor quit using the elevator for grain storage about 15 years ago. He says, “Being able to store grain in the elevator became more of a burden than an asset.”

As paint fades, the names of the elevator’s ancestors emerge – “Western” owned it from 1939 to 1952 and “Federal” from 1952 to 1972. It stands today where it was planted 51 years ago, approximately 4 miles southeast as the crow flies from Demaine.

The 103-year-old prairie giant serves as a landmark for the fisherman going to Diefenbaker Lake. Connor has no plans to use or demolish the elevator. He says, “The owls like it.”

Barb and Bruce Selyem are directors of the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society. Contact the society at 406-581-1076; email: bselyem@cgehs.org.