Grain Elevator

Grain Elevator

                                Grain Elevator
| 15 min

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This documentary short is a visual portrait of “Prairie Sentinels,” the vertical grain elevators that once dotted the Canadian Prairies. Surveying an old diesel elevator’s day-to-day operations, this film is a simple, honest vignette on the distinctive wooden structures that would eventually become a symbol of the Prairie provinces.

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Grain Elevator, Charles Konowal, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • director
    Charles Konowal
  • cinematography
    Charles Konowal
  • producer
    Jerry Krepakevich
    Michael Scott
  • executive producer
    Michael Scott
  • sound
    Donald List
  • editing
    Norm Sawchyn
  • sound editing
    Ken Rodeck
    Donald List
  • re-recording
    Clive Perry

  • Prairiedog

    My father operated the Manitoba Pool Elevator in Kemnay, Manitoba from the 1920's until well into the 1950's. Our home was less than 150 yards from the main line of the CPR (double track) , the trains on which maintained a minimum time difference of 20 minutes. During the winter months, I had a "free" vibrating bed and the pictures on the wall were not stationary. When the Royal Family made a cross-country train trip in 1939, the Royal Train stopped for the night on the siding immediately West of the Kemnay crossing. The "advance" train (Prime Minister et al) spent the night on the "Souris" siding. In the morning, as the trains departed, my father took his Brownie Box Camera and - sighting over the top while it rested on the upper window ledge of the elevator - he took a photo of the two trains as the Prime Minister's train passed the Royal Train before departing for points West. My father said he had never seen so many Mounted Policemen in one spot in his life. Some added observations about the elevator, all of the exterior bins were flat bottomed. This required that someone had to crawl in through the bottom access door every time a bin was emptied, shovel the product into the exit hole and sweep it clean before the next grain could be placed there. This was a "natural" job for a young, skinny youth! On one occasion, my father discovered one of the bins had moist (and thus heating) grain. There was no such thing as dryers so the only thing he could do was keep elevating it and shifting it from one bin to another while the passing air slowly dried it. This he did continuosly for over three consecutive days. Then he had to scrape the walls of the initial bin. Had he not detected the problem in time, his elevator - like numerous others of that time - would have caught fire via internal combustion. One other thing he told me but, being young and relatively uninterested at the time I did not fully comprehend, was that the "leg" was free floating. That is to say the "leg" , being directly attached to the drive shaft, did not rise and fall with the main elevator structure. That occurred on a regular basis because the addition/deletion of thousands of pounds of grain caused the structure to "settle" or "lift" as the case may be. As I said, I'm not a structural engineer so I don't know how that was designed.

    Prairiedog, 27 Nov 2016
  • jmatlin

    @SheepIncident - What an incredible story. Thank you for sharing.

    jmatlin, 23 May 2013
  • sheepincident

    The farmer who drives up and dumps his grain is my father George Marcenko. Saw this for the first time late last night, I knew it was filmed but never got the chance to see it until I bumped into this documentary. What a great surprise. As a kid I remember riding in the truck to the elevator and before we had a hoist on the truck I used to sit in the cab and be elevated by the Pool elevator's hoist and then wait until all of the grain was out of the box before the truck was lowered. It was a lot of fun. John's son, Murray, and myself used to get our hair cut by John at the elevator in his little office building where he used to do his paperwork. He'd get the clippers out and we'd sit in a chair in the middle of his office where you see him doing his paperwork. Since it was dangerous we were never really allowed to go down to the motor room below the office. I stuck my head through the door once, but that was about it. This is 32 years old now, but seeing it now brings back all the memories I had of growing up in this little community. Bravo!! Dennis Marcenko

    sheepincident, 30 Apr 2013
  • canadianmonster

    they used box cars because the rail was to light for hoppercars. the fed government did upgrade the rail then cpr took out the new rail in a few years sold the rail and pocket the money

    canadianmonster, 30 Sep 2012
  • canadianmonster

    i knew those people great film.

    canadianmonster, 30 Sep 2012
  • dyphill

    My father, Henry Schielke, opened the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Acadia Valley, AB in 1928. I'm glad to say that it is still standing and is now a museum. Henry took, a now, very famous picture from the top of the elevator showing a line of farmers with their wagons drawn by horses (mostly) waiting for the 'relief' train to come in to help them in the 1930s. The picture has been used in many books and now is attributed to the Glenbow Foundation. Henry finished his grain buying career in Olds. AB after 25+ years.

    dyphill, 2 Mar 2012
  • cyelland

    Great Film! I built a model elevator for my ho scale layout just like that one, Ruston Hornsby diesel had air or crank start, Fairbanks and Crossley gas engines were commonly started with your hands and feet on the spokes.

    cyelland, 26 Feb 2012
  • crudeoil

    Many memories. My Dad bought grain 1930 t0 1944 s/w of Rosetown at a place that isn't there anymore. He started the big engine by putting his foot on one of the spokes on the wheel and turning it by hand to start it. Now I see it has a starter in 1981. That's progress I guess.

    crudeoil, 3 Jan 2012
  • Don

    I was a Sask Pool agent in the 1960's and ran an elevator and engine just like this one. It sure brings back memories my neck itched when he got the dust on top of his head.

    Don, 27 Mar 2011

    Nice documentary. I hauled many thousands of bushels to elevators like that one although by the 1980s they mostly used hopper cars, not boxcars.

    RGOFF, 1 Feb 2011
  • reid

    I'm surprised they're putting the grain in boxcars, although I suppose there's no reason why it wouldn't work -- makes me wonder how they unload them. I know by the 1980s the CPR had special cars for grain, several purchased by the Alberta government -- we used to see them in Calgary all the time.

    reid, 15 Jan 2011
  • saskboy

    It's filmed in Wood Mountain, SK. It's the last standing elevator for 50km in any direction. It's not still in operation. There are many great photos of this elevator online and in publication. The Sask Encyclopedia has the elevator on the back cover, and google images has many examples of it too.

    saskboy, 14 Oct 2010
  • debrob

    Any idea where in Saskatchewan this was filmed? Inglis, Manitoba has 5 elevators you can tour. They are beautiful.

    debrob, 19 Jul 2010
  • wfroese

    Well done - brings back lots of memories from days at the elevator.

    wfroese, 10 Jul 2010

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