Model grain handling system big hit among young and old

Working model | Grain moves from combine to granary to elevator to train

With more than a dozen kids in line, it was about a 20-minute wait to play with remote controlled trucks and trains at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.

Twenty minutes is an eternity for a four-year-old boy and probably two eternities for his mother.

However, most moms endured the queue because the trucks and trains were definitely worth the wait.

Brian and Shirley Harvey, retired farmers from Manitoba’s Swan River Valley, brought and assembled a working model of Canada’s grain harvest and transport system to the Winter Fair, a Manitoba tradition held during spring break.

The miniature system included a one-quarter scale threshing ma-chine, an operational 1.5 metre grain elevator, mini-augers and grain storage bins, a model train and three remote controlled trucks: a dump truck and two semi-trailers. Electrical motors powered all the components in the system.

Children could choose between operating the trucks or the train.

If they chose the truck, they used a remote control to drive the dump truck to the threshing machine and collected a load of grain.

With the help of an adult volunteer, they piloted the truck to a miniature auger, dumped the grain and watched as the auger propelled the wheat into a clear plastic grain bin, about the size of an ice cream pail.

From there, another auger moved the grain into a semi-trailer. Another child then used a remote control to steer the semi to the model grain elevator, where the wheat was unloaded.

Visitors could then watch the grain flow through the elevator, thanks to an exposed wall on the side of the model.

The grain was then loaded onto the model train, to be transported to destinations unknown.

Just like the kids who got to play with the system, volunteer Bob Hunter was amazed by the intricacy of the model.

“You (can) take the grain out of there,” he said, pointing at the plastic grain bins.

“And put it in the trucks and then put it in the elevator. That’s quite amazing…. They (kids) just love it. I don’t know much about it, but I enjoy it (too).”

Brian Harvey built the model from scratch with help from his brother, daughter and a neighbour.

“It’s all parts you have to build yourself. There’s nothing you can buy that fits models like this,” said Harvey, who retired from farming eight years ago.

He created the complex model for the Swan River Valley Agricultural Society a decade ago. The society had several animal displays but lacked an exhibit to illustrate grain farming.

Harvey decided a static model was too boring, so he fabricated a model with functioning parts.

“I feel it’s a lot more interesting for kids if it’s interactive,” he said as five kids and adult volunteers played with the model behind him.

“They can actually do all the things. They can drive the trucks and drive the train.”

Harvey, who used to build snow making machines and lifts for the ski industry, said building the mechanical model was challenging, particularly the threshing machine.

“When you scale something down that actually has to do a task, it probably would’ve been easier to do a full-scale one,” he said.

“You have to scale everything down, but the wheat you’re putting through isn’t scaled down.”

Harvey has seen a number of miniature threshing machines but a working model elevator is rare.

“Very few (people) have built elevators,” he said.

Construction required 2,100 hours of labour.

Harvey’s model may be a big hit with kids and adults, but it is displayed only a few days a year.

He sets it up each summer for the Northwest Roundup and Exhibition, a rodeo in Swan River, Man., but it hasn’t appeared at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair since 2007.

The rest of the year, the model is stored in Harvey’s machine shop.

“We’ve had calls from all over the place, as far away as Halifax,” he said.

“But we don’t take it to very many places because it’s a lot of work.”

With files from Dillion Arnason.