Wheat Temple

HELEN GAY September 1 1935

Wheat Temple

HELEN GAY September 1 1935

Wheat Temple



HUGE, challenging and proud they stand, the fabric of dreams made real. White glistening clusters of columns, they are like Greek temples to Ceres; battleship-grey with lofty turrets, heading outward on Thunder Bay, they are symbols not of death but of life and power. Here, at Canada’s farthest western reach of Lake Superior, is the greatest aggregate of grain terminal elevator capacity in the world; here is the façade behind which the drama of wheat is enacted, a drama fierce with age-old passions and never keener than today.

On the shores of the Bay, opposite mighty Thunder Cape and its “sleeping giant” rock, 1.200 feet high, the tiny Twin Cities, Port Arthur and Fort William, form the two halves of “the Head of the Lakes.” Within their confines 93,000,000 bushels of grain find storage room, thousands of freight cars move from main line to spur to elevator-door, and over 300 miles of track—twenty or more pairs of rails side by side—fling a scarf of shining steel about the shoulders of the waterfront.

It is not the green and rocky mass of Mount McKay behind the city that dominates the landscape, nor the Sleeping Giant facing it some sixteen miles across the Bay but the thirty-one great elevators—those lions rampant on a field vert. Largest is the Northland D in Fort William, with 7.500,000 bushels capacity; next in size and on Port Arthur’s waterfront is Saskatchewan Pool Terminal No. 6 with 7,400.000 bushels; third, but the largest single-unit grain terminal elevator in the world, is Saskatchewan Pool Terminal No. 7 with 7,000,000 bushels.

This elevator, Pool No. 7, is the world’s most efficient, swiftest in action, therefore best worth seeing from the visitor’s point of view. A white rectangle a quarter of a mile long, it holds the centre in a group of half a dozen, each on its own dock, on a stretch of green between the two cities.

Its centre section, called the work house because the main activity takes place there, is flanked by the two sections for storing the grain—the track-end annex and the water-end annex. These two end sections are composed of giant cylinders twenty-five feet in diameter, rising sheer from ground to roof 120 feet; two incredible blocks of honeycomb filled with honey-colored wheat. The cylinders are storage bins. The interstices between the cylinders also are storage bins; in all, 681 bins holding from 1,200 to 40,000 bushels each.

Arriving at the building by car or by trolley, you walk along the narrow dockside until you reach the work house section, whose grain spouts, hanging in a fringe over the water, feed wheat into Lake freight boats tied up under them. Go around on the other side of the work house and you see the flying buttresses of airshafts and fans, and watch the amusing and amazing business of up-ending freight cars

forty-five degrees and pitching them back and forth until, by means of “deflectors” slanted in their side doorways, the last handful of wheat flees sighing into the hopper below. Each car holds from 1.500 to 2.000 bushels of wheat, and an average one can be emptied in ten minutes, whereas the old shovelling method took half an hour to a car. Some 300 cars can be unloaded now in an ordinary working day, for there are five dumpers at their several track-ends.

Cleaning 300,000 Bushels

UNTER THE work house and immediately you gaze upward as in a cathedral from whose high windows dim light slants across a dusty interior set with massive square pillars of concrete and steel. There are even vault like formations in the ceiling, made by overhead bins with coneshaped bottoms; from these bins, chutes or spouts strike across at all angles from ceiling to floor.

Up on the roof of the work house, 218 feet above the pier, you look down on one side into the water of the harbor slip. The ships look like toys. On the other side, you look upon toy automobiles in the yard and toy freight cars on the siding, with the towering wall of the neighbor elevator as background. But come down from the roof. When they show you this elevator, they first button you into a smock or coverall, then lend you a well-informed guide and start you at the bottom. After that they shoot you up to the top story and work you down along with the grain, floor by floor.

From the freight cars the wheat pours, as has been said, into a huge hopper below track level. Beneath the hopper is a wide moving belt. The grain falls on the belt, while tiny cupfuls are continually picked out of it by “automatic sampler” until a total sample of about fifteen pounds of wheat per freight car has been taken and sent up to the inspector’s office. The stream of grain collects in sheet-iron cradles fixed to a vertical belt, and so is whisked straight to the top story of the work house, 25,000 bushels to the hour. This belt-and-cradles equipment, enclosed in a shaft from basement to top story, is called an “elevator leg,” and there are five of them on this, the receiving, side of the work house, six on the shipping side. They and every other piece of machinery in this terminal elevator are run by electricity, using 185 motors.

After the grain has been elevated to the top story—the motor floor—by means of the elevator leg, it is weighed. The contents of a freight car of 2.000 bushels capacity can be weighed in one draft, so huge are the scale hoppers. The scales look like big meat scales, but they will handle seventyfive tons. There are eleven of them. Their shiny steel discweights are marked up to 8.000 pounds apiece.

The grain is now in an overhead garner bin on the scale

floor. (The work house has working bins or garner bins, distinct from the storage bins of the two annexes.) The weighman throws a lever, releasing the wheat from the garner bin to fall into the scale-hopper below it, under which a beam takes its weight to the scale. An inspector stands by, punches the ticket with weight and date, and takes it away with him. After weighing, the wheat drops two floors into “cleaner” bins on the bin floor.

The story below the weigh scales is called the distribution floor. It: seems nearly empty. You notice, though, that the floor is dotted with round manhole covers, that these arc padlocked, that here and there a padlock has been opened and a cover removed, and that cast-iron pipes two feet square have been slanted over to the holes from somewhere in the ceiling. Each hole is the access to a "cleaner” bin on the floor below.

You watch a man pulling the end of one of the big pipes around by a rope. The end has little wheels on it, and he wheels the nozzle over to one of the holes in the floor. The pipe slants at forty-five degrees up to a circle in the ceiling, around which it, and others like it, can rotate as required. This circle is directly beneath the scale hopper we were just looking at. Soon a sound of rushing grain against cast-iron pipe mingles with the dull clatter of machinery; the wheat is going down to a “cleaner” bin. We follow it down by stairway.

There are twenty-three cleaning legs in the plant, for hauling the wheat up from one cleaning machine in order to pour it down, via a gamer bin, into another. Twenty great separators segregate seeds and wheat; twenty cleaners work cylindrically to divorce wild oats and seeds from wheat; twelve “Carter Disc” machines divert pin oats and wild oats from wheat. Up again old wheat, to shake through another machine ! In a ten-hour day, this elevator can clean 300,000 bushels. It handles wheat only; no other grains, except for the screenings taken from the various cleaning machines. The screenings are given a leg up into a screening separator that segregates these outcasts—wild seeds and chaff—to one bin; broken wheat and buckwheat to another; reclaimed wheat (very exclusive) to a third; nails, tacks, buttons and other oddments, into outer darkness.

After cleaning, the wheat again goes to the gamers on the top. From there it falls on to enormous lengths of wide rubber belting on the bin floor convexed slightly so as to hold it in a shallow trough, and on these paths it travels to its long-term storage in one of the two wings of the plant— those honeycomb annex sections whose exterior curves give the beautiful columnar appearance to the outside of the building.

I climbed the stairs, crossed to the honeycomb section Continued on page 1+5 at the water end, looked down into one of the cylinders or bins for the long-term storage of wheat. My guide swung a lighted bulb down to show me the dimensions, but the light fairly lost itself. I decided to go to the bottom myself by the passenger elevator, and descended to the basement to see how grain is drawn from the cylinders when it is about to be shipped out.

Wheat Temple

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Here again were miles of broad rubber belting, concaved slightly, conveying the grain from the bottom of the bins to the shipping legs, which give it its last “up” before it is weighed again and chutes into the steamer’s hold. Through the grain spouts that fringe the exterior on the slip, 150,000 bushels an hour can be cascaded into the grain boats.

In spite of the beige powder over everything, the plant is remarkably clean. It is not a factory, a mill; it is a way-station, a strict inspection centre and storage vault. It is a cathedral, a temple of wheat. Grain, unlike more perishable foods, will keep without deterioration for four or five years in proper storage. But it must be healthy grain, clean and dry.

On the bin floor again, I watched the wheat being taken from the track-end to the water-end on the great rubber belts two yards wide running horizontally through acres of space. Some of these belts were wheatless; some conveyed a river of wheat in the shallow concave surface. A gong sounds, and the man in charge has the signal that belt number three is about to bring along its charge of wheat. Another gong sounds—watch belt number seven. And here, after I had gone up and down for hours by passenger elevator and by stairs, I saw a man come riding up through a hole in the floor, pass through another hole in the ceiling and keep on going.

“That’s the Humphrey Ladder,” said my blue-eyed cicerone. “Want to ride on it?”

Of course ! A Humphrey Ladder is a continuous vertical rubber belt about two feet wide with little shelves, the size of a man’s two feet, hinged on it at intervals several yards apart. The belt goes up to the top through round holes cut through the concrete floors the width of a husky pair of shoulders. Each little hinged shelf stands out at right angles on the way up, flops over the horizontal beam at the top floor, and travels down again at right angles on the other side. I stepped on a shelf as the belt came up, grasped the grab-bar at shoulder height, travelled gently up and up, got off, went around to the other side of the beam, waited for a shelf to flop over, stepped on and made a serene descent. But this was a diversion. The building is vast and the ladder obviates the need for additional passenger elevators for the men working who wish to go from floor to floor. There is also a

steel column at each end of the building for those with a taste for sliding “the greased pole.”

A Record Cargo

ON JULY 26, 1929, the S.S. Lemoyne, largest of Lake freighters, carried away from Lakehead a cargo of wheat that still stands as the record—571,796 bushels. In less than 5 >2 hours, grain that would fill a freight train three miles long was poured into the steamer’s hold.

Suppose a mistake should be made in the grading of the wheat loaded into such a ship, how could the cargo be taken out of her again, once in? To meet such a contingency, Pool Terminal No. 7 has an extra leg. This “marine leg” is solely for removing grain from ships’ holds, and as no grain is imported at Lakehead but all exported, the marine leg is very seldom used. When needed, however, it scoops up a cargo at the rate of 14,000 bushels an hour.

The only equipment in the plant where steam is called for is the drier. This great structure, a house within a house, receives the wheat from a gamer bin, dries it by hot air from steam pipes at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and works a fan that draws fresh air into a cooling chamber. It dries 1,000 bushels an hour. A drier is used only when wheat contains moisture that might prevent it from keeping or which would place it a grade lower than it would rate if dried a bit. If there is only a small degree of moisture content, it is called “tough,” if more it is termed “damp.”

My guide led me then back to the basement to inspect the furnace, which keeps up the right temperature for the whole plant, and to admire the power plant whence comes the energy that makes the wheels go round. Then I had seen the whole works.

“The cat’s in there,” said the man, turning a shy thumb toward a closed door near by. “It’s got some kittens.”

A cat and kittens cherished under this maelstrom of wheat! Wheat dammed, wheat flooding, wheat in caissons, wheat in Niagaras pouring out into impatient ships, wheat swirling in, swirling out, rushing away over the world—and under it all a cat with three tiny weak kittens !

“Nearly all elevators have cats,” said the man. “Have to keep the mice away, you see.” So he gave her a saucer of milk and took me off to see the sample room.

It was lined with tier upon tier of small tin boxes, coverless, each bearing a card in the slotted front end telling the grade and the date. These are the samples taken, as described above, by the automatic sampler —a device that originated with the Saskatchewan Pool organization. All incoming grain is tested, graded and checked here by a Dominion Government inspector, and also by the Pool’s checking department.

The Most Important Men

AND WIIAT, asks the man in the street, does grading really mean? How can anyone recognize the world’s highest grade of wheat (No. 1 Hard) when he sees it? Or No. 1 Northern, the commercial pace-setter? Or No. 2 Northern, or No. 3 or No. 4?

The answer is that anyone cannot. It is a matter of judgment purely, and to be able to judge calls for a life lived with wheat and the grading of wheat. There is no difference between the grades of any one variety except a difference of degree—the degree of fullness of the grain, of weight, of color, form, texture. A man does not sow a field with No. 1 Northern grade to harvest a crop of No. 1 Northern from that field ; he may get wheat that rates only No. 3 or No. 4. Only if conditions bring him the best of luck will he get the vitreous rosy-beige kernels of No. 1 Hard. Except for the United States, Canada is the only country in the world selling wheat on a graded basis. All others sell “f.a.q.,” which means fair average quality. Also, theirs is subject to arbitration if the purchaser questions it, whereas Canadian wheat

is accepted on the statement of its certificate; if that says it is No. 1 Northern, it is No. 1 Northern.

Behind the Lakehead cities and their elevators lies the set-up of rail transportation lines, of country elevators—called also line elevators—to which farmers bring their wheat straight from the field, of inland storage elevators, and that centre of the Canadian grain universe, the City of Winnipeg. At Winnipeg is the Grain Exchange; from Winnipeg come the prices at which country elevators buy wheat; to Winnipeg go orders from millers, speculators government agents, international grain traders, to buy or to sell. And back of Winnipeg? The really important men, the farmers.

As I write these words, the new crop is flowing like honey from the fields of the Prairie Provinces to the country elevators. Hundreds of freight trains will soon speed east and west to the terminal elevators. I said there was drama in the wheat business. There is. It takes place far behind the façade at Lakehead. The scene of it is not at Winnipeg either, but on the wheat farms. The “leading man” is any individual wheat farmer, and the “conflict” is an international one.