Category Archives: Galt Blog

Victorian Prairie Christmas – November 16th (Thursday) & November 17th (Friday)

Our annual Victorian Prairie Christmas event is coming up!  Thursday & Friday (November 16th & 17th).

Each event starts at 1pm each day.  Includes cowboy poetry, authentic period music, and Christmas carols!  Will also have food & non-alcoholic drinks provided.  Tickets can be purchased at the door ($20 per person, or $18 per person for groups of 5 or more).  Please contact us for more information!

 

 

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127th Birthday Party for the Coutts-Sweetgrass International Train Station! – Saturday, October 7th

The Board of Directors would like to invite the public to a special event this week Saturday… to celebrate the birthday of the Coutts-Sweetgrass International Train Station, which commenced operations in October 1890 for the Alberta Railway & Coal Company and Great Falls & Canada Railway.

From 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Saturday, October 7th – enjoy a tour of the 1890 Train Station & complimentary desert and drinks.  If the weather is nice, speeder rides will be held on our built railway track! Donations are accepted.  Thanks!

P.S.  Our Victorian Prairie Christmas event is coming up mid-November!

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Speeder Saturday & End of the Season BBQ – Saturday, August 26th

As we start to wind down tourist operations at the Galt Historic Railway Park for 2017, the Board of Directors would like to invite the public to two separate events this week Saturday.

From 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm on Saturday, August 19th – enjoy a tour of the 1890 Train Station & a speeder ride on our built railway track! Tour & ride is $10 per person (children under 10 are free to ride).

From 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm that evening enjoy a complimentary BBQ, tours of the 1890 Train Station, and some additional speeder rides! Donations are accepted at this time.

Speeder rides are weather dependent.  If attending the BBQ, please let us know (by email or phone) so we can ensure we have enough food available.  Thanks!

 

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Speeder & Station Tours! On select dates…

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Upcoming Father’s Day BBQ @ the Galt Historic Railway Park

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Magrath Buffalo Sloped Bin 1000 series

Introduction

The concrete elevator seen here stands out as a unique example of Alberta ingenuity. For a time in the 1980s it was the ‘Cadillac’ of the grain industry and future of what was to come, meant to replace the iconic wooden grain elevators of old (and hopefully spread across Western Canada). The Buffalo-Sloped-Bin (BSB) 1000 series was the name of this futuristic design, created in collaboration between Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP) and Buffalo Engineering Ltd. Out of three examples built of this version, only two remain; one in Fort Saskatchewan, and one in Magrath.  The other elevator in Vegreville was demolished in 2009.

Background

From the early 1900s to the early 1980s, the wood grain elevator ruled the roost across western Canada. The late 1970s were good times for Alberta’s farmers and for one of the major western Canadian grain companies – AWP.  A few years of bumper crops and high grain prices kept the wooden elevator network humming and added well to the profits of the Pool. With some of the surplus profit, AWP decided to do some design work with an engineer from Edmonton, by the name of Klaus “Nick” Drieger.  Drieger and his company, Buffalo Engineering Ltd., drew up the initial concepts of the new concrete grain elevator – to be built with large modular precast concrete pieces and clad with pre-finished metal panels. Using pre-cast structural components would help the problem of maintaining a large work force and help reduce costs in building these grain elevators in remote locations. The modular design would allow for easy increases in capacity (from 206,000 bushels) by adding additional modules of about 55,000 bushels each – allowing the BSB to be built to virtually any size. Concrete would also help in reducing over-pressure on the elevator walls during filling and emptying – these pressures are often difficult to determine and costly to design for (and to fix if a hole blows out the side of an elevator). The dual vertical elevating ‘legs’ would include a double row of cups on each belt and the other pieces of equipment was designed to have a capacity of 5,000 bushels per hour (bph)! Five unloading spouts on the trackside were also added to speed up the loading of grain cars. The latest and best automation and dust control systems would be implemented as well; including positive air pressure in the office area to maintain a dust-free environment while negative air pressure in the grain handling equipment area would keep the dust in these zones. With the previous elevator designs, the elevator agents had previously pre-weighed the grain into separate bins to be loaded into the railcars via the vertical elevating leg (to save time). The BSB elevators utilized an over-the-track bin system that filled with the grain (in layers) prior to being prepared for shipping.  Once the appropriate bins were filled, it was directly unloaded into the railway cars below.

With these factors in mind, the AWP was convinced that this was the design of the future, and formed a partnership with Buffalo Engineering – the result was Agritec Engineering Systems, which was owned 50% by both companies. Agritec would design, market, and build the BSB systems. On a side note, the in-house AWP engineers weren’t included in the initial design of the BSB, but were included in the actual construction of the elevators.

Alberta Wheat Pool analyzed its existing grain elevator network and decided that Magrath would be the location for the first Buffalo terminal. Agritec commenced construction in late January 1979, while AWP authorized additional BSB 1000 series elevators at Fort Saskatchewan and Vegreville. On June 4th, 1980, the Magrath Buffalo officially opened to the general public. Over 2000 attendees toured the elevator on the first day. On the second day, grain industry officials from Kansas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Regina, and Edmonton were given a detailed tour and review of the complex. Things were looking up! In 1980 Alberta Beton Limited and Buffalo Beton Limited was formed to assist with the process – Alberta Beton would build the elevators, and Buffalo Beton would market the elevators to other grain companies in western Canada. In 1982 the Vegreville BSB elevator was opened for business.

However, not all was rosy. Issues with the construction processes on the 1000 series elevators caused delays on site; the 30 degree sloped bins worked well, except for certain grains (barley and oats) which would stick to the rough surface of the concrete, causing plug ups and forcing employees to go inside the bins to get the grain moving. Using all precast components did speed up construction, but it allowed for pockets or oddly shaped corners in the bins which affected the grain storage. The precast panels sometimes didn’t fit flush so gaps would form and then the grain would leak out (and was plugged up with tubes and tubes of caulking).

Another setback was the configuration of the new advanced equipment (being the jump from conventional elevators to the new style) which utilized horizontal conveyors to move grain between the bins. Typically, in conventional wooden elevators loading of railcars was done by gravity, while the vertical elevating ‘legs’ were able to move grain between the bins. With the new BSB elevators, both the elevating legs and the horizontal conveyors (two trackside conveyors and a central third conveyor that took the grain to the front of the elevator) had to be in operation at the same time. Also, the complicated gate system at the upper and lower ends of the concrete bins was confusing to operate and had issues with the gates not closing properly and allowing grain to leak out.  All the parties involved knew that it was a new concept and there would be bugs in the system, but if AWP was going to take this concept to more locations, then improvements would be needed to fine tune the design. With Canada entering an economic recession, orders for new BSB elevators slowed and after the Vegreville location was built, the future looked grim.

ABL Engineering Ltd. (reorganized Agritec Engineering) went back to the drawing board and the 2000 series was born. Out of these series three were built; Foremost (visited by your author – see article here), Lyalta (visited by the BIGDoer.com crew (see article here), and in Boyle, Alberta.

The Magrath BSB 1000

Agritec commenced on the first design of the Buffalo Sloped Bins, the 1000 series. It would be comprised of 42 square pre-cast concrete modules (stacked like cord wood) at a thirty degree angle from the ground, and could hold approx 206,000 bushels. The bin capacity ranged from 3,700 to 5,400 bushels – from the end the bins resembled a honeycomb appearance! As the grain flowed into the bins in layers of 6 to 8 inches, and as the bin fills up the same depth is maintained over the full length of the bin.  From ground level, the elevator is approximately 120 feet high or the height of a ten-storey building. The roof slopes to a height of six stories at the trackside. At that point, the BSB elevator would include five spouts to load up to potentially five rail cars at a time (depending on what car was at trackside), unlike the traditional elevator which can only load one rail car at a time.  The spouts were semi-enclosed in a metal awning to protect the loading process and was able to divert moisture from the roof.

As mentioned previously, the issues with building these grain elevators and the growing pains of the new, advanced conveyor and dust equipment caused considerable headaches to Agritec and to the elevator agents of the AWP.

The Magrath example served Alberta Wheat Pool well, and later on under the Agricore banner.  In the mid 1990s, the AWP construction crew performed a major upgrade of the Magrath Buffalo elevator, and the middle portion of the roof was ‘bumped-out’ to accommodate new enclosed distributors, new dust-handling equipment, and upgraded horizontal conveyors.  Apparently lot of the original equipment at this time was already worn out. Included with the upgrade was additional piping over the roof to load the railway cars directly from the vertical leg (with increases in capacity to 8,000 bph), and a new automated scale.  These upgrades not only kept AWP competitive but reduced capital costs in lean years, and kept the valuable construction staff employed.  However, it was one of the several hundred elevators that would be sold off when Agricore merged with United Grain Growers in 2001. It was then sold to Parrish & Heimbecker, a smaller player in the Canadian grain industry and who had already owned a couple of wooden grain elevators in Magrath.  P&H owned it for a few years before selling it off (with a couple of the original wooden elevators) to a local farming company; Ben & Donna Walters who operate them currently.

Fast forward to January 2017… after visiting the Foremost Buffalo 2000 example last fall, my appetite was whetted and I look forward to going after another local Buffalo example, the Magrath elevator, which I had driven by many times before on the way to and from Waterton Lakes National Park (and often wondered what the heck was that elevator about)?  After some initial research and ‘old-fashioned elbow grease’ I was able to contact the current owners of the elevator who still uses the facility (and who graciously allowed us access). Naturally, the BIGDoer.com crew was at the top of the list of people to be invited to come along on the tour. On a cool weekday afternoon, we arrived at Magrath and with the company’s elevator agent (Richard) unlocking the door, we begun our tour!

From the outside, it looks very similar to when it first opened in 1979, minus the absence of the railway tracks, a bump-out on the roof, and with a faded Parrish & Heimbecker shield logo on the north front facade and the town’s name sign below that. It is interesting to see a grain elevator that is painted in the blue/green colours of the AWP with a P&H logo painted on it!

Walking inside the office the first thing we noticed (beside the green painted walls) was the modular layout of the concrete beams & columns, which was the basis of the Buffalo design. With Richard explaining the operation of the instrument panel, we suddenly pause to hear trickling grain behind us! We all turn around and watch in amazement a steady trickle of grain seeping out of a small crack in the ceiling above until it slowed down and then stopped. Richard walked over and quickly swept the loose grain up, and smirked at our surprised looks on my and Chris’ faces. A normal occurrence he says and then takes us through a side door to go downstairs. I pause at top of the stairs and look down to see a 50-pound man-lift weight used as a door stop! Interestingly enough it is stamped with ‘Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator A’. Walking through the door I had to take a step back as I was looking into the belly of the Buffalo, where a maze of galvanized metal pipes, conveyor belts, massive concrete columns, hydraulic rams, and green painted gates (that controlled the flow of grain) was located. As Richard was explaining the process to Chris, I walked slowly around taking it all in. We were adjacent to where the trackside operations would have occurred originally. Richard mentioned they use the trackside loading spouts to load semi trucks when the demand warrants. He pointed out to the gap-filling techniques that AWP, P&H, and themselves undertook to reduce grain loss that had resulted from the original design flaws the precast panels presented. He gestured to the pipes overhead and explained how grain was released from the rear of the bins down a chute to two horizontal conveyors that would transfer the grain to a central conveyor belt that directed the grain to a scale at the front of the elevator and then to the rear loading spouts just to the outside of our location. The conveyor system worked well, but required lots of maintenance (something AWP would soon learn in the early years of running the Buffalos).

We then went back up the stairs to the main level, and then went up a separate set of stairs to the upstairs levels. Through the first door we entered a rectangular room where the scale was located. Along the one wall there were several green painted metal bin access doors, and the one corner was some boxes, and a red man-lift standing there!  Richard mentioned it came from one of the wooden grain elevators that had stood nearby the concrete Buffalo. Leaving the room and going up another set of stairs we enter another room that was directly above the driveway space, and through an opening in the slab we could see the driveway below. Directly to our right is the double vertical lifting legs that would take grain from the driveway level upwards to the top of the Buffalo (where it would get distributed to the proper bins). The floor level is lighted with clear Plexiglas panels which rattle slightly with the wind outside and with the sloped concrete grain bins above our heads it was a bit intimidating! At the door, we could of went up another long flight of stairs to the top level of the Buffalo, where the dust collection equipment and the distributors were located, but Richard had to go to one of the neighbouring grain elevators to get the driveway ready for an incoming semi truck load, so we decided to head back downstairs. Myself and Chris looked through the office a bit more (noting the former Buffalo Engineering bin diagrams pinned to the bulletin board) and then proceeded down a dusty hallway past empty offices to another reception area that was currently being used as storage. From what he told us it was used by the neighbouring Richardson grain company for a bit while they were renovating their offices at their facility. Through the side door we enter the driveway that was framed out with precast panels (with their embedded lifting rings) and the massive concrete columns.  After a few minutes of exploring (and seeing the three vertical legs, and a man-lift) we went outside while Richard headed over to the former P&H grain elevator to meet the semi truck.

Rounding the corner of the Buffalo we can see the five loading spouts where the metal grain hopper cars (or boxcars) would have been loaded. Potentially up to five cars could have been loaded at a time, averaging 30 minutes per car to load. Not bad for an 1980s design, but slow considering the present-day high-output grain elevators average a loading time of 6 to 7 minutes per car! Additionally, the rail car siding capacity at these elevators came into play as well. Several of the BSB terminals were located on branch lines that had smaller siding capacity (usually 25 cars or less – most times 12 cars), unlike the newer high-output elevators that have 50 or more car capacity on their sidings. Some of the newer elevators include a ‘loop track’ which enables the railways to bring the cars onto the property and unhook the engine and then go again, and the elevator would load the cars and then call the railway back to pick them up when they were done. These types of tracks could easily hold an entire train (up to 135 cars) without the need to break them up into smaller units! With the smaller siding capacity came the issue of moving the loaded cars as well to keep the process going at a good rate.  The older methods of a winch system did work but wasn’t as fast as a car mover or a dedicated locomotive moving the cars along.  Overhead we can see the more recent upgrade of a gantry where employees would tie safety lines to it as they walked along the grain hopper cars walkways during the loading process. Looking towards the southeast we see the P&H grain elevator (a former Ellison Mills) where Richard’s truck is parked outside.

The oldest elevator in Magrath still standing dates back to 1917. It’s painted in Parrish and Heimbecker colours, the firm’s logo still displayed on its sides. Originally built for the Ellison Milling Company, it was acquired by the P&H company when that firm took over all of Ellison’s operations in 1975. In approximately 1972 Ellison added the round metal “annex” bins, as way to increase capacity and upgraded the elevator legs. The wood one on the opposite side, are much older, dating to the late 1930s. Looking towards the southwest we see a vertical concrete grain elevator, owned by the local Church of Latter-Day Saints (that was built in the 1970s), and directly west of the Buffalo was a former Alberta Pacific/Federal/Alberta Wheat Pool elevator that dates back to 1937.

By 1903, Magrath was a significant grain delivery point for the area with a single elevator and flour mill in operation.  By 1911, it had increased to four grain elevators with a combined capacity of 116,000 bushels.  By 1920 there were six elevators; though a single elevator would be lost sometime afterwards the remaining elevators would remain as status quo well in the late 1980s. In its day two long elevator tracks on either side of the main line was needed to service these elevators, plus the associated industries including fertilizer sales, twine, chemical, coal, etc. The Ellison/P&H, the concrete Buffalo, and the Alberta Pacific/Federal/AWP elevators are all owned by B&D Walters Farms, so Richard is busy doing work at any one of them at any given time!

The Cardston Subdivision

In 1900, as irrigation was developing in southwestern Alberta, the Galt family of Lethbridge commenced another railway project under the name of the ‘St. Mary’s River Railway company’ (SMRRC).  The railway was narrow gauge and extend from Stirling west to the intake of the St. Mary’s canal at Spring Coulee. Recently emigrated Mormon settlers from Utah were employed by the Galts to build both the railway and irrigation canals. The railway used the equipment of the parent Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC) and later Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company (AR&IC). Between Raymond and Magrath, the railway line crossed the Pothole creek on a low level wooden bridge, and two other railway trestles had to be built between Magrath and Cardston. By 1902, the railway had reached Cardston and narrow gauge trains were in operation. In addition, a branch line was built from Raley (the station before crossing the St. Mary’s River by Cardston) southwest towards the settlement of Kimball. It split halfway between the two points and turned slightly east and stopped at Woolford. In 1907, work began on upgrading the narrow-gauge line to standard gauge and work was completed by the end of the year.

In early 1912, the Galts began negotiations with CPR to takeover the remaining railway network, including the line to Cardston. By June, a deal was in place and the CPR took over ownership and the former Galt network was placed under the CPR Medicine Hat division. The former SMRCC track was renamed the CPR Cardston subdivision, and the track from Raley south was renamed the CPR Woolford subdivision.

In 1927, CPR extended the railway line west from Cardston through the Blood Indian reserve to Hillspring and Glenwood in order to serve the needs of the newly created United Irrigation District. In 1929 the former railway line from Raley to Woolford was re-instated and later extended southeast towards the International Border, ending at a point called Fareham, later Whiskey Gap.

Passenger train service varied in the early years of the CPR takeover; starting with daily (except Sunday) service between Lethbridge and Cardston, and cutting back to three days a week in the early 1930s and later transitioned to mixed train service by 1933. In 1948, gas-electric car service using ‘doodlebugs’ were put into place running daily (except Sunday) from Lethbridge to Glenwood.  However, not enough passengers meant the route to Glenwood was cancelled in 1950, and the mixed train option ended in 1955.

By the mid 1970s, CPR began re-analyzing its rail network and began selecting the lower mileage / non-productive branch lines to be abandoned. As per the Federal government regulations at the time, the appointed Hall Commission reviewed all the applications including portions of the Cardston subdivision. At the time, trains operated on a mixture of 80 and 85-pound steel rails, and the main grain delivery points included Welling, Spring Coulee, Magrath, Cardston, Hillspring, and Glenwood. AWP operated at all those points, United Grain Growers at Cardston and Hillspring, and P&H at Cardston only.  From a period of ten years (1964 – 1974) approx. 3,000,000 bushels of grain was hauled from the region by CPR trains. Nevertheless, the Hall Commission recommended the Prairie Rail Authority. The track from Cardston to Glenwood was recommended to be abandoned by 1980.

As the years pass the line suffered from deferred maintenance and service became unreliable at best. CPR became disenchanted with the money losing branch lines and did everything in their powers to rid themselves of them – only government regulations kept this from happening faster. In the spring of 2000 service ended between Cardston and Magrath, and the track between the two centres was removed. In 2001, service to Magrath was severed when a flash flood washed out several culverts supporting the track across Pothole Creek, just east of the town. CPR had installed the culverts just a few years prior, when it retired its wooden trestle. At the time, CPR didn’t operate many trains down to Magrath. By 2002, train traffic on the former Cardston subdivision was reduced from Stirling to Raymond only. CPR removed the track between Magrath and Raymond, and a large portion of it was donated to the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society, for the development of the Galt Historic Railway Park at the junction of the CPR Cardston & Coutts (later Montana) subdivisions just outside of Stirling. The portion from Raymond to Stirling was placed on the abandonment list in August 2005 and continues to be on the list, with no real future left.

Always Look Back

The grain companies (Alberta Wheat Pool included) suffered with the economic recession and as well as the few years of bad harvests, due to poor weather – drought one year and damp another. This hurt the company coffers and bottom line as the elevator agents would have to spend more time drying the damp grain and not shipping it out. Rising inflation hurt the construction of newer high-output elevators (like the BSB elevators), as the older wooden elevators were having trouble keeping up with the new changes in the transportation. It was harder to load grain hopper cars on sidings that were made for grain boxcars, and several elevators couldn’t manage that well. With a fluctuating economy and dwindling profit due to the drought and damp harvest years, it was decided that the pricier BSB elevators would have to be put on hold for the meantime until things improved. It was decided to upgrade and renovate some of the older, larger elevators and to build a few wood cribbed double composite ‘high-output’ grain elevators. Some of the upgrades included new semi-truck capable driveways and scales, increased mechanization and drying equipment inside the elevators, additional steel grain bins added on the exterior, and where if possible the addition of increased railcar capacity up to 12 cars per track, with some places up to 25 car capacity. With the renovated grain elevators and the few new wood cribbed elevators built, the Alberta Wheat Pool was able to get by through this period.

While this was going on, in the background the AWP began analyzing their current elevator network and picked some of the older, smaller capacity elevators to be closed. To keep the costs down, it was the best thing to do – especially with the added talk from the Federal Government on keeping the railway branch lines operating until the year 2000. There was lots of uncertainty by the grain companies on this announcement – what would happen to the elevators after that date and it the railway ceases operation on these branch lines? The grain companies would be stuck with elevators and no way of getting grain to and from them. Lots to think about unfortunately!

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net. Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.

 

Acknowledgements

 Hope & Richard at B&D Walter’s Farms – THANK YOU!

 Alberta Historic Resources Foundation (Judy Larmour)

https://albertashistoricplaces.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/a-futuristic-elevator-that-lives-on-in-brazil/

 Chris & Connie aka BIGDoer.com

http://www.bigdoer.com/6084/exploring-history/buffalo-2000-grain-elevator-lyalta-alberta/

http://www.bigdoer.com/25048/exploring-history/buffalo-2000/

 Steve Boyko

http://blog.traingeek.ca/2015/03/buffalo-grain-elevators.html

http://blog.traingeek.ca/2016/03/the-branchline-rehabilitation-program.html

 Eric Gagnon

http://tracksidetreasure.blogspot.ca/2009/01/cp-grain-boxcars.html

http://tracksidetreasure.blogspot.ca/2010/04/canadas-cylindrical-grain-cars.html

 Alberta Wheat Pool collection, Glenbow Museum

 Jim A. Pearson (Vanishing Sentinels)

 Jim F. Pearson (retired AWP engineer)


 

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A Short History of the CPR’S Suffield Subdivision

This week’s blog post is courtesy of guest contributor Jonathan Koch, editor of the southern Alberta history website, ForgottenAlberta.com.   We had the opportunity to host Jonathan and Greg Farries last July at both the Galt Historic Railway Park and the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator sites.  They were both excited to check these unique places out and had a blast doing so!  We hope to do future collaborations in the future.

 

Jonathan originally published this essay in two parts on ForgottenAlberta.com, and has since combined them into one easy to read article. Jonathan is grateful to Jason Paul Sailer for has assistance editing this article, and for adding the recent history of the both Suffield / Lomond and Kipp /Turin CPR Subdivisions.


Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, barely a week passed by without somebody floating a proposal for a railroad running from one far-flung corner of Alberta to another. While the vast majority remained dreams and schemes, by 1930 about a dozen rail lines crisscrossed Alberta’s south-eastern corner. Branch lines, such as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)’s Suffield subdivision, served as lifelines to vast spreads of barren grassland that proved largely unfit for anything on two legs.

 

In November 1910, the Lethbridge Herald reported that a survey for a long-rumoured rail line, running from Kipp west of Lethbridge to Suffield, was underway. It proposed line would run through the soon-to-be-irrigated lands of an Anglo-Canadian consortium called the Southern Alberta Land Company (SALC). The Southern Alberta Company proposed to irrigate 500,000 acres of prime Alberta grassland, including about 250,000 acres east of the Bow River.

 

Seeing the possibilities for increased trade and access to services, several parties agitated for a Lethbridge connection to the Suffield branch. These included the Lethbridge Board of Trade, and the long-suffering farmers of the Sundial, Barney and Alby districts, which were located north and east of Lethbridge, who at the time faced a 40-mile haul to the nearest grain handling facility.

 

Subsequent media reports seemed to confirm that an agreement was in place between SALC and the CPR to construct two new branch lines; one running from Shepard, just east of Calgary to Medicine Hat; and another running from Kipp to Brooks. In May 1912, the CPR dispatched two crews to begin construction on the Suffield subdivision – one working eastward from the Barney district (later Retlaw), and the other westward from Suffield, with both to meet at a point along the Bow River before year’s end.

 

In the fall of 1912, the Lethbridge Herald confidently predicted that the Suffield line’s western terminus would be Kipp and it would hook up with the CPR spur line to the Chinook Collieries at the former village of Commerce, just to the northwest of Lethbridge.

 

Many in the public, still none-the-wiser about the CPR’s actual plans, began engaging in land speculation along the proposed route of the Suffield-Kipp line. The Southern Alberta Land Company, lending credence to the Kipp rumours, began promoting, “150,000 acres of dry lands in an irrigated belt” for sale along with eight town sites along the “new Suffield-Kipp Branch of the CPR” Some hypothesized that the Suffield-Kipp line would become the southern branch of the proposed Hudson’s Bay Railway, which was projected to run north through Bow City and Brooks, on its way to Saskatoon.

 

Everyone involved seemed certain that a branch line from Suffield to Kipp was a given: All except the CPR…

 

While rumours continued to surface about possible links to Lethbridge, the final destination of the Suffield subdivision remained a mystery well into 1913.

 

In April 1913, any hopes of a link up with Kipp were dashed when the Lethbridge Herald reported that the Suffield line would be veering northwest from the new community of Retlaw, towards an eventual link with Blackie on the Aldersyde subdivision. Retlaw, the community formerly known as Barney, was renamed to honour Walter R. Baker, the Secretary of the CPR (“Retlaw” is “Walter” spelled backwards).

 

However, the CPR assured the farmers of the Alby and Sundial districts, and the vested interests in Lethbridge, that the Kipp-Suffield line would be built, once the Suffield-Blackie line was complete.

 

In 1925, a 27-mile branch line from Kipp to Turin was constructed, to serve the area which had recently been brought under irrigation by the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District.  The line, the first 7 miles of which was built on the railbed of a former railway spur line that served the Diamond Coal Mine at Diamond City, AB., was originally intended to cross the Little Bow River near Turin and to continue to Retlaw to join the Kipp-Suffield line. However, the proposed link-up never happened, as construction on the line stopped at Turin, a good 20 miles short of Retlaw.

 

Crews continued to work through the spring and summer of 1913, with the first trains running from Suffield to the Bow River at Terrace siding (now Cecil) in September. Two months later, construction on a bridge across the Bow was completed, just north of the Southern Alberta Land Company’s proposed headquarters at Ronalane (so-named for Major-General Sir Ronald B. Lane, chairman of the SALC), and the first locomotives steamed into Retlaw by mid-December 1913.

 

Maintaining the buoyant moods of shareholders was essential in keeping schemes like these afloat. Companies like the SALC and CPR appealed to investor immortality, offering to name town sites along newly surveyed branch lines after shareholders and company officials. According to Place Names of Alberta: Southern Alberta (Vol. II), the sidings along the Suffield branch line was no exception:

  • Agatha – The first siding west of Suffield, was named after Lady Hindlip, a major shareholder in the CPR
  • Illingworth – The next siding after Agatha, was named for Illingworth, a shareholder in the SALC, and director of the CPR
  • Cecil – Where the Suffield line crossed the Bow, was originally named Terrace, but was renamed to honour Mrs. J.M. Cameron, the wife of the General Superintendent of the CPR
  • Armelgra – Located four miles west of the Bow river crossing, was an amalgamation of the words “Arthur Melville Grace”, who was an engineer with the CPR, and
  • Vauxhall – Was named for a suburb of London, England in which one of the company shareholders resided

 

With Retlaw growing by leaps and bounds, and on the verge of incorporation by early 1914, the CPR began laying track on another stretch north and east of the community, adjacent to the SALC main canal. By the late spring, crews had already constructed 27 more miles of track. Needing names for the four newly-surveyed town sites, officials concocted one of their most creative naming conventions yet. Each of the sidings west of “Retlaw” derived its name from that community, starting with “R” at Retlaw, and moving on to:

  • E” for Enchant, the first siding west of Retlaw. Originally the Lost Lake Place Names of Alberta ascribes the name to a possible feeling that settlers may have been “enchanted” with their new life
  • “T” for Travers, originally the Sweet Valley: The History of Lomond and district speculates the name may have come from a railway surveyor who was present in 1914
  • “L” for Lomond, originally the Brunetta It is believed Lomond is derived from one of two sources, Loch Lomond, or the name of an early settler, Lomond Dugal McCarthy

 

The outbreak of global hostilities in 1914 put the brakes on any construction with work stopping at Lomond in early August 1914. This left the fate of the two remaining sidings in limbo; “Armada”, and the “W” siding, possibly named “Waldeck” (as indicated on Cummins maps from 1914), now known as Pageant.

 

Around the same time, the CPR began advertising the sale of lots in the new town sites of Enchant, Travers, and Lomond. Armada townsite was also surveyed in 1913, and a small commercial centre developed, persevering until the arrival of rail over a decade later. In 1925, the line was extended 40 miles from Lomond to Arrowwood, and was finally completed in 1930 when the final 23 miles was completed from Arrowwood to Eltham (which is located northwest of Vulcan on the CPR Aldersyde subdivision).

 

The Kipp-Turin line used a mixed train (combined passenger & freight rail cars) service up till 1955, and the Kipp-Lomond-Suffield line retained a mixed train service until October 1957.  In 1948, the passenger fare between Suffield & Arrowwood was $3.75 per person.  By 1955, diesel locomotives began replacing steam locomotives on the mixed train operations.  After the last mixed train run in October 1957, freight trains operated every Thursday and Friday to and from Lomond to Suffield.

 

By the early 1970s traffic on the branch lines was slowing down considerably.  Some of the older, smaller wooden grain elevators closed, which caused CPR to rethink some of its operations in the area.  The Suffield subdivision was merged into the Lomond subdivision, and by 1977 the ‘end of the line’ was at Hays, where a single Alberta Wheat Pool elevator remained. The track running east from Hays, crossing the Bow River at Cecil, and terminating at Suffield, was abandoned and removed in 1978.  The remaining grain elevators, and other agriculturally-based industries located in Vauxhall and the other smaller towns to the west kept the CPR in business for the meantime.  A portion of the line (from Eltham to Milo) was upgraded in 1979 utilizing the branchlines rehabilitation funds from the Federal Government, to allow grain hoppers to use the track.

 

In 1999, CPR gave its notice of discontinuation for the remaining track.  By 2002, abandonment took effect, with the Kipp-Turin line (the CPR Turin subdivision) being reduced to railcar storage, and the Eltham-Arrowwood portion of the Lomond / Suffield line being reduced as well to railcar storage.  The remainder of the track was abandoned and removed.

 

On a side note… Mossleigh resident, Jason Thornhill, purchased 14 miles of the former Lomond subdivision from CPR in December 2013.  Thornhill and his Aspen Crossing Tourist Railway operate themed trains from Mossleigh travelling either west towards Herronton (just past the former townsite of Farrow), or east to the outskirts of Arrowwood.  Being at the end of a branchline has its drawbacks. When Aspen Crossing gets railway equipment, they either have to time it when CPR has no stored cars on the line, or hope that CPR will move them temporarily until Aspen Crossing can move their items in.  Aspen Crossing had to truck one of their locomotives into Mossleigh from Lethbridge, which can be pretty $$!  The first Aspen Crossing train made its inaugural run on May 15, 2015.


If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us at gcprs@telus.net. Be sure to have the Blog title in the subject line.  Do not use the article or photos without permission.

 

Special thanks as well to Chris Doering & Connie Biggart (aka the BIGDoer.com crew) for doing some of the original articles about the area as well.  Additional thank you to Ken McCutcheon for donating valuable CPR timetables to help fill in the gaps in the research on this article.   Co-author Jason Paul Sailer

 

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Foremost Buffalo Sloped Bin 2000 Grain Elevator

Introduction

The grain elevator seen here really stands out as unique and was in the early 1980s a highly innovative design, the future of the Alberta grain industry. The Buffalo Sloped Bins (BSB) was the dawn of a bold new era, modern and efficient – it was the design that would eventually replace hundreds of outdated wooden grain elevators all over the province on the sleepy branchlines and busy mainlines.

Ultimately however, for a number of reasons, it entered into the era when the grain industry was in a state of flux with to many old grain elevators, on-going transportation issues with the railways, some construction problems with a new design, and an economic recession all played a part so that in the end only a few were built. The example we will be talking about today, an 2000 series model, resides in Foremost, Alberta and is in use with Alberta’s second short line railway.

Background on the Buffalos

From the early 1900s to the late early 1980s, the wood grain elevator ruled the roost in Alberta and in fact all over western Canada. The late 1970s were good times for Alberta’s farmers and for one of the major western Canadian grain companies – Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP).  A few years of bumper crops and high grain prices kept the wooden elevators busy and added well to the profits of the Pool. With some of the additional profit, AWP decided to do some design work with an engineer from Edmonton, by the name of Klaus U. Drieger.  Drieger and his company, Buffalo Engineering Ltd., drew up the initial concepts of the new concrete grain elevator – to be built with large precast concrete pieces that would be angled inside to move the grain more efficiently. Using pre-cast structural components would help the problem of maintaining a large work force and help reduce costs in building grain elevators in remote locations. Concrete would also help in reducing overpressure on the elevator walls during filling and emptying – these pressures are often difficult to determine and costly to design for (and to fix if a hole blows out the side of an elevator). Additional unloading spouts on the trackside were also added to speed up the loading of grain cars. The latest and best automation and dust control systems would be implemented as well.  With these factors in mind, the AWP was convinced that this was the design of the future, and formed a partnership with Buffalo Engineering – the result was Agritec Engineering Systems, which was owned 50% by both companies.  Agritec would design, market, and build the BSB systems.

Agritec commenced on the first design of the Buffalo Sloped Bins, the 1000 series. It would be comprised of 42 square pre-cast concrete modules, stacked like cord wood at a thirty degrees angle from the ground, and could hold approx 206,000 bushels. The elevator would include five spouts to load five rail cars at once, unlike the traditional elevator which can only load one rail car at a time. Alberta Wheat Pool analyzed its existing grain elevator network and decided that Magrath, AB would be the location for the first revolutionary grain elevator system. Agritec commenced construction in the spring of 1979, while AWP authorized additional BSB elevators at Fort Saskatchewan and Vegreville. On June 4th, 1980, it opened officially to the public. Over 2000 attendees toured the elevator on the first day.  On the second day, grain industry officials from Kansas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Regina, and Edmonton were given a detailed tour and review of the complex. Things were looking up!

In 1980 Alberta Beton Limited and Buffalo Beton Limited was formed to assist with the process – Alberta Beton would build the elevators, and Buffalo Beton would market the elevators to other grain companies in western Canada. Amid these developments, Buffalo Beton made several detailed presentations on their Buffalo grain terminal concept (the BSB 3000 series) to the Prince Rupert Grain Consortium (which was owned by 34% AWP, 30% Saskatchewan Pool, 15% United Grain Growers, 9% Pioneer Grain, 9% Cargill Grain, and 3% Manitoba Pool). On a side note, the terminal was 50% funded by the Alberta Government and 50% by the stakeholders in the consortium. The push behind the construction of a new grain terminal in Rupert, however, was more than a consequence of this change in market conditions. The most interesting alteration in the constellation of interests in the 1970s was the emergence of the provincial government of neighboring Alberta. The Alberta economy in the 1970s had been fuelled by rising oil revenues and commodity prices. Flush with cash and with a Heritage Trust Fund started in 1976, Alberta sought to invest in projects of relevance to the provincial economy. Since grain exports were hindered by the lack of developed infrastructure, it was the provincial government of Alberta that pushed for, and helped finance, the construction of a new grain terminal in Prince Rupert. Ostensibly under the framework of a consortium of six Western grain dealers, the project gained financial credibility when it was backed by the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The provincial government of Alberta assumed the dominant leadership role in 1979 and threatened to pursue other options if the grain companies did not back the Rupert port. Backed by Alberta money – up to 80% of the costs of the eventual $277 million investment were guaranteed by the province – the grain terminal went ahead (with a conventional design instead of the BSB 3000) and was completed in 1984.

In 1982 the Vegreville BSB elevator was opened for business.  However, not all was rosy.  Issues with the construction processes on the 1000 series elevators caused delays on site; the 30 degree sloped bins worked well, except for certain grains (barley and oats) which would stick to the rough surface of the concrete, causing plug ups and having the employees to go inside the bins to get the grain moving as well. Using all precast components did speed up construction, but it allowed for pockets or oddly shaped corners in the bins which affected the grain storage. The precast panels sometimes didn’t fit flush so gaps would form and then the grain would leak out (and was plugged up with tubes and tubes of caulking). Additionally, the complicated conveyor leg drive system was causing headaches as well. All the parties involved knew that it was a new concept and there would be bugs in the system, but if AWP was going to take this concept to more locations, then improvements would be needed to fine tune the design. With Canada entering an economic recession, orders for new BSB elevators slowed and after the Vegreville location was built, the future looked grim.

ABL Engineering Ltd. (reorganized Agritec Engineering) went back to the drawing board and the 2000 series was born.

The Foremost BSB 2000

Enter the 2000 series – this version of the BSB was also constructed with precast panels in conjunction with poured-in-place concrete (eliminating many of the grain leaking gaps from the 1000 series), although it had a more conventional shape. More care was taken on the concrete preparation, making the surfaces smoother inside. As well, the bin slopes were increased to 45 degrees and that seemed to help with the wide variety of grains these types of elevators were expected to hold. This generation of BSB’s held 190,000 bushels in thirty bins – cautiously in 1981 the first model of this series was approved and construction began in Lyalta, AB and was opened for business a year later. Soon afterwards, Alberta Wheat Pool was satisfied with the new changes and BSB elevators were approved for Foremost (the one seen in this article) opening in 1983, and an example at Boyle, AB in 1986.

The Foremost example served Alberta Wheat Pool and later Agricore well, but it was one of the several hundred elevators that would be sold off when Agricore merged with United Grain Growers in 2001. It went through a few farmers’ hands until being purchased by a group of farmers calling themselves ‘Southern Alberta Grain Exchange’. It was used mostly for grain storage at this point, as the railway line (the Stirling subdivision) was mothballed by CPR since 2006. The Southern Alberta Grain Exchange would be the ones that would push for a short line railway operation to take over the track, which would occur five or so years later in the fall of 2016 when the Forty Mile Railway (FMR) piloted their bright blue GP-9 locomotive with 20 grain hoppers down the track to Foremost.

The gem of the Forty Mile operations is the BSB 2000 grain elevator. Grain producers can bring their grain to the elevator, and access the national / international grain buyers to sell their grain. After selling the grain, it would be loaded into the grain hoppers and taken west to the transfer track just outside of Stirling, AB where the CPR would pick up the hoppers and take them off to their destination.  Just having the 20 grain hoppers moving grain from Foremost to Stirling has already seen 40 semi truck loads (one hopper car per two semi trucks) taken off the local Highway 61 (which is a sigh of relief to the local county’s road departments)!

On October 18th, 2016 FMR had their ribbon cutting on the railway line and the open house at the BSB 2000 grain elevator (in which your author was invited to partake in). I along with several hundred others witnessed the GP-9 JLCX #4004 locomotive ‘cut’ the banner over the tracks, held up by the FMR Board of Directors. After some speeches, the railway was in ‘operation’ and the elevator was opened for tours.

Outside of some modifications here and there, nothing major overall, the machinery inside the Buffalo is pretty much as built as per the AWP specifications. The exterior is still painted in the former AWP colours, with the old Agricore sign blanked out on the east & west sides. The town’s name is still emblazoned across the front of the structure. It was tradition to do this, going back to the early days.

Walking inside the cool (and nicely cleaned driveway) there was some visible differences that were noticeable – particularly to the leg area of the elevator. At Lyalta, the dual elevating legs were almost right beside the driveway but here at Foremost they were set back away from the driveway. I am not sure the reason for it. Looking up it was clear to see the angled concrete bins overhead, and the network of faded green metal pipes that would direct the grain to and from the bins. Walking behind the legs is a man lift that would take a person to the second level of the elevator, and farther back is the access to the railway tracks. Walking to the back I almost missed the trackside scale tucked down below the trackside bin (a Fairbanks model) and had to duck to miss the overhead bin levers (also out of the wooden grain elevator handbook)! Walking up a short flight of metal steps and I could peek out the window in the back door and see the two sets of spur tracks this elevator had. Using this set up, two sets of grain hoppers could be loaded at a time (25 hoppers per track) with a separate control room suspended between the two tracks in a metal structure. This layout helped AB Wheat Pool load the CPR grain trains fast in the old days, and will help FMR with loading grain hoppers for the short line operations!

Additionally, parked outside on the elevator track is the bright blue GP-9. Originally a Southern Pacific model #3877, it would be later acquired by RaiLink and renumbered RLK #4004 and transferred to the Maritimes to work on the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway. It also spent some time at the nearby Windsor and Hantsport railway. It was renumbered again as JLCX #4004 in 2013 and did some work in the Montreal area before going into storage.  It began to get prepared for service in late July 2016, before making the trip west in mid September.  It went via CPR through Sudbury, ON then to Winnipeg, MB, then to Moose Jaw, SK, Swift Current, SK, and finally the Kipp yard just outside Lethbridge, AB by mid September.

Heading back to the driveway I walk past the bin access doors (green octagon shaped metal doors) and turned around the corner and headed inside the office area. As soon as I walked in to my left was the typical grain elevator chalk board that showed all 34 bins outlined, and beside it was the ‘heart’ of the BSB 2000 – the control panel. A large board with blinking lights, digital screens, dials, and buttons it looked complicated but a person could trace out the route the grain would take from the driveway to the bins and from the bins to the trackside. A quick walk through the office and then it was back outside.  On the east side of the elevator is a large grain dryer (which is used often out here) and some smaller metal bins used to store chemicals and treated seeds.

Looking east is the neighboring ‘Frankish Farms‘ (a 1925 Lake of the Woods) grain elevator, a former Imperial Oil bulk / fertilize dealer, and then the 1954 Alberta Wheat Pool / Agricore #2 wooden grain elevator (now privately owned). Further down the track is the local seed cleaning elevator and beside it on the west side was the former location of the wooden United Grain Growers elevator which was demolished in 2001 (around the same time of the Agricore & UGG merger).

The Stirling Subdivision

The railway line seen out back dates from the late 1910s – built by the CPR it ran from the ‘mainline’ at Stirling (to the west) connecting to the CPR Montana subdivision, and went east towards Saskatchewan.  It was part of an overall scheme by CPR to have ‘two’ main-lines spanning the Canadian prairies. It would originate in Souris, MB and stretch westward. CPR would start at Stirling in 1915 and slowly crawled eastward. Construction was delayed by steel & labor shortages due to the First World War.  Meanwhile to the east, CPR would continue towards the Saskatchewan – Alberta border and reach it in 1914. Progress was then delayed again until after the First World War. In 1922, CPR would begin to close the gap from the previous construction and would finish in Manyberries – naming this portion of track ‘Altawan’.

Traffic slowed down considerably in the late 1980s / 1990s.  By this time several of the smaller wooden grain elevators along the route were already closed and some had already fallen to the wrecker’s ball.  Ever so slowly, CPR began abandoning and closing off portions of the track – first from Consul, SK to Manyberries, AB in 1989, followed by from Manyberries to Orion in 1990, then Orion to Etzikom in the early 2000s, then the Etzikom to Foremost portion in 2005. After 2002, any grain that was moved on the line was done by Brandt rail truck – it was too costly for CPR to use locomotives on the track, or to use taxis to take crews to/from to the locomotives. In June 2002, a surprise visit by the Royal Canadian Pacific train working an ‘rare miles’ cruise consisting of maroon and grey FP-7 #1400 locomotive, F9B #1900, GP38-2 #3130, and seven heavyweight coaches. At the time it went as far as Etzikom (to the end of the track). Not long afterwards, several of the sidings were pulled out, except for Skiff and Foremost, and the line sat dormant. The remaining portion of track was then put on the three-year abandonment list by CPR.

CPR seemed to change their mind constantly on the line – for a while it was listed to be abandoned, then it would be taken off the list, and then rumors of running oil cars to access the Bakken oil field would start up for a while, and then it would be put on the to be abandoned list. It wasn’t until the Southern Alberta Grain Exchange got serious in 2012 to get the courage to ask CPR on purchasing the remaining 73 km of track that things slowly turned around. Back and forth negotiations occurred and any visible change didn’t occur until the summer of 2016 when twenty grain hoppers were pushed onto the track at the east end near Stirling. Then the grade crossings were fixed up (including replacing the signs that were broken off over the years), a culvert replaced by Foremost, and another over the hill from the Richardson Pioneer high output elevator by Stirling (another former Agricore elevator), and finally a transfer track was installed a bit further east of that elevator (to allow the short line to exchange cars from CPR). In early September, the bright blue J&L Consulting GP-9 locomotive was brought west from Coniston, Ontario and after picking up the 20 grain hoppers from the transfer track it went to its new home at Foremost.  It has been steadily moving cars since then, and it is a welcome sight in this local area!

BSB Legacy

As soon as the BSB 2000 systems were starting to take off the environment it was going into was plagued by an economic recession, a few continuous years of bad harvests, ongoing issues with the railway transportation industry, and the fear of railway branchline abandonment slowed the momentum for these new types of elevators.

In the early 1980s, Canada entered a new economic era defined by globalization and a revolution in information technology. The dark clouds of high unemployment and inflation rates (up to 21%) were forming on the horizon. Jobs were lost to mechanization in industry, and many workers were not trained for the emerging job markets. The Canadian dollar became less valuable than US, and another cause of inflation was the massive increase of oil prices due to the export quotas set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which hurt economic progress as well. The effects of the recession on resource exportation (including grain) to international markets were severe and the grain companies felt it.  Rising construction costs would impact plans to have BSB terminals in every location as it was originally thought.

Added to the mix was the reluctance by the railways to invest in upgrading the aging prairie branchline network (where several of the country grain elevators were located), ongoing shortages of both locomotives and grain-carrying cars, and reduced revenues due to the Crowsnest Pass Act Agreement (aka the ‘Crow Rate’) was playing against the grain companies. The Crow Rate would be replaced by the Western Grain Transportation Act in 1984 (with the Federal Government paying most of the costs). A normal occurrence was the pointing of the fingers to see who was to blame for this situation – the grain companies? The railways? The farmers? Why would the railways invest in these money losing lines when the grain companies don’t invest in repairs or new grain facilities along these lines? If the railways don’t come to move the grain then the farmer’s grain can’t be moved and he can’t make any money, money that would go back into repairs and new grain terminals. The Federal Government asked the grain companies to keep their facilities operating until the year 2000, and then they could ‘guarantee’ that the branchlines would stay in operation. A novel idea, but with great responsibility and repercussions if the grain companies couldn’t pull through.

Given the extensive nature of the prairie branchlines (a result of intensive competition between CN and CPR and their predecessor companies to get the most $$ from the Federal Government at the turn of the century to build them), several branchlines became candidates for abandonment as there wasn’t enough business to keep them going. The light rail capacities in these lines would limit traffic to boxcars only. Subsidiaries from the Federal Government to the railways did help in the short term in operating these money-losing lines, though any money from that rarely or never did go to maintenance of the track – this would lead to more drastic measures later on.  In 1974, the Federal Government announced a basic prairie branchline network of 12,414 miles (19,978 km) would be kept safe to the year 2000. An additional 6,322 miles (10,174 km) would be analyzed by the Hall Commission to either be saved or abandoned. The Hall Commission later determined that out of that number, 2,165 miles (3,483 km) would be abandoned and the remainder would be transferred to another Government agency, the Prairie Rail Authority (PRA).  The PRA would have the authority to gradually dispose of these lines over a 25-year period.  However, the Federal Government disagreed with the Hall Commissions report, and decided that an additional 1,498 miles (2,411 km) originally slotted to the PRA would be abandoned instead.

With the older grain boxcars wearing out, a new method of transportation was needed to improve efficiency and profitability for all people involved. The boxcars were labor intensive and time consuming to load & unload, so hopper cars were eyed up as their replacements. The Federal Government assisted in the funding of approx 12,400 steel and 2,000 aluminum grain hopper cars to be divided equally between CN and CP, with railways looking after the maintenance. Nicknamed ‘Trudeau Hoppers’ (after the Liberal government at the time) these new cars were a welcome sight for both the railways and the grain companies.  The remaining grain boxcars weren’t ignored, as they received funding from the Federal Government for repairs as well. As mentioned previously, the Federal money that the railways received often didn’t go to track maintenance and now with the oncoming influx of new hopper cars, the tracks weren’t able to accommodate these new cars! Again, the Federal Government was pressed to help update the tracks to allow the railways to get the grain moving, and referring to the branchlines picked by the Hall Commission, a plan was put into place. Where the track was upgraded, those lines would get hopper cars and the ones who didn’t get updated would use the rehabilitated grain boxcars.  However, by the late 1990s / early 2000s some of these rehabilitated branchlines would be abandoned by the railways (for either cost or dwindling business) and some would get re-sold to local area farmers to start short line railway operations, and some cases the tracks and material was removed and sent to another branchline to be reused again.

The grain companies (Alberta Wheat Pool included) suffered with the economic recession and as well as the few years of bad harvests, due to poor weather (drought one year and damp another) which hurt the company coffers and bottom line as the elevator agents would have to spend more time drying the damp grain and not be able to bring in new grain to get shipped out. Rising inflation hurt the construction of newer high-output elevators (like the BSB elevators), as the older wooden elevators were having trouble keeping up with the new changes in the transportation. It was harder to load grain hopper cars on sidings that were made for grain boxcars, and several elevators couldn’t manage that well. With a fluctuating economy and dwindling profit due to the drought and damp harvest years, it was decided that the pricier BSB elevators would have to be put on hold for the meantime until things improved. It was decided to upgrade and renovate some of the older, larger elevators and to build a few wood cribbed double composite ‘high-output’ grain elevators. Some of the upgrades included new semi-truck capable driveways and scales, increased mechanization and drying equipment inside the elevators, additional steel grain bins added on the exterior, and where if possible the addition of increased railcar capacity up to 12 cars per track, with some places up to 25 car capacity. With the renovated grain elevators and the few new wood cribbed elevators built, the Alberta Wheat Pool was able to get by through this period.

While this was going on, in the background the AWP began analyzing their current elevator network and picked some of the older, smaller capacity elevators to be closed. To keep the costs down, it was the best thing to do – especially with the added talk from the Federal Government on keeping the railway branchlines operating until the year 2000. There was lots of uncertainty by the grain companies on this announcement – what would happen to the elevators after that date and it the railway ceases operation on these branchlines? The grain companies would be stuck with elevators and no way of getting grain to and from them. Lots to think about!

After the Foremost BSB elevator was built, no new orders came in from Western Canada. The economic recession and the ups and downs of the railway issues were effecting all the grain companies.  Buffalo Beton decided to increase the marketing and awareness of the BSB systems on the international scene to see if it would help sales. They struck gold in late 1982 when they were able to negotiate its first sale to the Brazilian grain company Cibrazem, for up to 17 BSB terminals, including the design & engineering services. The BSB 4000 series would be the model that would go to Brazil – building on the points of the BSB 2000. In the end, 5 BSB elevators would be built in Brazil; four at a capacity of 600,000 bushels and the final one at a whooping 3,750,000 bushels – although the Alberta Wheat Pool was not involved in the financing or construction arrangements, they received royalty payments for the transfer of the technology (which assisted the financial aspects considering the economic recession at the time). The Cibrazem BSB terminals would be fully operational by mid 1985. Buffalo Beton continued to drum the BSB system internationally and at one point had up to 20 countries (including the USSR, Egypt, and China) signed up but for reasons unknown their respective deals didn’t go any farther than paper contracts.

Back home, Alberta Wheat Pool approved a BSB 2000 terminal for Boyle, AB in 1984 that would become operational in 1986. Around this time, a different type of concrete elevator construction was experimented for a country grain elevator, slip-form construction.  Slip-forming is a construction method in which quick-setting concrete is poured continuously in a moving form allowing for cast-in-place (no joints or seams). Inside and outside forms create the cavity of the wall, and inside this cavity, reinforcing steel is tied together vertically and horizontally to reinforce the concrete wall. The form is then connected to jack rods with hydraulic jacks, which automatically move the form vertically in minute increments as the concrete is being poured. The rate of “jacking” is in direct relation to the rate at which the concrete cures sufficiently to advance the forms. Typically, the forms are raised 20 to 24 feet per 24 hours. Once pouring begins, it continues around the clock until the top of the structure is reached, allowing for a monolithic poured concrete structure. Actually, the method has been in place at the turn-of-the-century, with many grain terminals at the ports were built in the same concept.  It fell out of favor for awhile, but gained resurgence in the mid to late 1980s. Alberta Wheat Pool’s first slip-form elevator would be located at Grande Prairie, AB in 1989.

Another new wave of grain elevator design and construction was on the horizon, although this wave would virtually end the wooden grain elevator reign as we know it! And these new styles of concrete elevators would replace the BSB elevators as well – the construction cost was a huge part of the decision, but as well the loading of grain hopper cars was substantially different. For example on a typical BSB elevator a grain hopper car could be loaded around 30 minutes, while as a high-output elevator could load the hopper car in 6-7 minutes. Additionally, the rail car siding capacity at these elevators came into play as well. Several of the BSB terminals were located on branchlines that had smaller siding capacity (usually 25 cars or less), unlike the newer high-output elevators that have 50 or more car capacity on their sidings. Some of the newer elevators include a ‘loop track’ which enables the railways to bring the cars onto the property and unhook the engine and then go again, and the elevator would load the cars and then call the railway back to pick them up when they were done. These types of tracks could easily hold an entire train (up to 135 cars) without the need to break them up into smaller units!

None of the BSB terminals survived into Viterra ownership.  Agricore sold the Magrath 1000 series to rival Parrish & Heimbecker in 2000 who then sold it off to a local farming operation (B&D Walters Farms Ltd.). On a side note your author and a few others will be touring this example within the next few months! The Fort Saskatchewan 1000 series was sold off by Agricore United in 2001 to Sime Farms Ltd, who continues to own it to this day. The Vegreville example was sold off at some point and was later demolished over several months in 2009. The Lyalta 2000 series was sold in 2001 to Canadian Malting Company, who continues to still use it for gathering barley for their malting operations in Calgary.  BIGDoer.com (aka Chris & Connie) were able to tour that BSB elevator in January of this year.  Sadly, the Boyle example was demolished in 2010.


Acknowledgments

Alberta Historic Resources Foundation (Judy Larmour)

https://albertashistoricplaces.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/a-futuristic-elevator-that-lives-on-in-brazil/

Chris & Connie aka BIGDoer.com

http://www.bigdoer.com/6084/exploring-history/buffalo-2000-grain-elevator-lyalta-alberta/

http://www.bigdoer.com/25048/exploring-history/buffalo-2000/

Steve Boyko

http://blog.traingeek.ca/2015/03/buffalo-grain-elevators.html

http://blog.traingeek.ca/2016/03/the-branchline-rehabilitation-program.html

Eric Gagnon

http://tracksidetreasure.blogspot.ca/2009/01/cp-grain-boxcars.html

http://tracksidetreasure.blogspot.ca/2010/04/canadas-cylindrical-grain-cars.html

Alberta Wheat Pool collection, Glenbow Museum

Jim Pearson (Vanishing Sentinels)


 

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The North Western Coal & Navigation Company’s first president – William Lethbridge

Who is William Lethbridge, and why is our city named after him?  It all starts in southwest England around the turn of the nineteenth century…

 

The Lethbridge family lived on a farm called ‘Wood’ near a small village named South Taunton, in the county of Devon (Devonshire).  William was born in 1825 into poverty and had a tough upbringing, and several unfortunate circumstances (including the death of Mr. Lethbridge, and one of William’s brothers) forced them to leave the farm and relocate to nearby Tavistock.  There, Mrs. Lethbridge earned a living for the family by teaching at a dames school (a private elementary school).  But the children, or at least the eldest son, William, showed promise far beyond his prospects.  From the school where his mother worked he obtained a scholarship to attend St. John’s College in Cambridge.  From there he went to the University, where he passed a ninth wrangler (a wrangler is a term at the University of Cambridge to describe a student who gains first-class honours in the third year of the University’s undergraduate degree in Mathematics) to the Bar association.

 

One of his classmates at the University, W.H. Smith, the son of a bookseller.  Smith conceived the idea of the colossal railway bookselling business (newsstands at railway stations selling books and newspapers) which has expanded over the years and still bears his name to this day (https://www.whsmith.co.uk/).  When Smith took over the family business, he invited Lethbridge to go into the book selling business with him – at first as his manager, and then as partner.  Lethbridge did well in the business world (including a nice large house in London’s Strand Portman Square), and made many friends including the Canadian High Commissioner Sir Alexander Galt.

 

As the most powerful Canadian in Britain, Galt’s prestige connected with the elite of British capitalism.  Canvassing the posh Victorian parlours and drawing rooms, proposals were built to entice the financing necessary to establish the first large scale mining venture on Canada’s prairies.  As recalled by a couple of executives, “there were few who had faith in this country and during a period when in was necessary to go about London on one’s knees in order to get money for development work in our Northwest Territories.”

 

On April 25th, 1882, the North Western Coal and Navigation Company (NWC&NC) was incorporated in England under the “Companies’ Acts, 1862 to 1880,” to undertake mining at the coal properties in the Northwest Territories.  As Lethbridge had the most shares into the company he had the honour of being named company president and having the community of Coalbanks renamed in his honor.  Galt recognized that tone way to keep investors connected to their investment as well as to thank them by naming towns, roads, etc after them.

 

At the time of his retirement, he decided to purchase his former childhood home.  Wood was bought back from the bank and re-built as a country house for Lethbridge.  In his retirement years he also served as a Justice of the Peace, and as High Sheriff of Devon.  He passed away at the age of 78 years on March 31st, 1901 and was buried at the parish of South Taunton.  A lifelong bachelor, William left an estate of £ 400,000 (approx. $646,000 Cdn) and the property to the children of his sister.  Today, you can rent a room at his former residence and think about this man who went from poverty to wealth and had a hand in developing southern Alberta.  And ironically, William Lethbridge never came to Lethbridge.  In fact, he never came to Canada, but since he was busy running several companies it would make sense that he just didn’t have time.  It has been recorded though, that his nephew (who was named after his uncle) did visit Lethbridge with governor general Lord & Lady Aberdeen in 1894.


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All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission. Special thanks to Chris Doering for reviewing & editing!

Portrait of William Lethbridge – by Anthony F.A. Sandys (Frederick Sandys) – 1882

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Victorian Prairie Christmas 2016 Event this week!

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