INGLIS, Man. — Stuart Breckon was suspended high above the prairie, painting an old elevator while his home in Houston, Texas, was being ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.
Breckon, whose face and arms were splattered with white paint, was just one of many senior-aged volunteers who spent close to a week in August at the national historic site in Inglis, Man.
Breckon felt a special bond with the elevator once owned by United Grain Growers, where his father once worked as a grain buyer in Homewood, Man.
That meant braving heights of more than 23 metres via a man lift and scaffolding while brush- and spray-painting the 1922 structure and restoring the original UGG crest.
Back in Texas, his family, friends and neighbours were moving his belongings to higher ground due to flooding and relentless rains that left a half metre of water on the main floor of his home.
He was adamant about preserving prairie heritage.
“This is what we knew, this is our life. All these guys grew up on the Prairies. This is what we knew, our life.
“We’re all 70 now, but this was us when we were kid. We all went to the grain elevator with our dads and hung about.”
The work cost around $10,000 thanks for a host of donations of money, discounted paint and scaffolding.
That compares with the $80,000 paid to a contractor to paint the nearby Reliance elevator on site.
Four of the five elevators, which include a Patterson, two Reliance, a Northern and the UGG, have stood on this site since the year the railway arrived in Inglis.
The last one was built in the 1940s.
“It’s now the only row like it in the world,” said Judy Bauereiss, chair of the Inglis Area Heritage Committee. Her group was formed to maintain, sustain and enhance the wooden elevators, which became a national historic site two decades ago and require repainting every 15 to 20 years.
They haven’t been used since 1995 when the last rail car loaded grain here.
This is the second year of a five-year plan that included work on the Patterson elevator last year. Bauereiss wrote an article soliciting funds and help for the project in the town of 250 residents.
Dale Holaday, who had spent three summers painting elevators as a student, was one who came forward to help.
The work included climbing up the inside to open a hatch used to attach ropes and cables to scaffolding. When one hatch wouldn’t open, he scrabbled across the roof to open it from the outside, he said.
Anchor ropes were attached to a beam inside to keep workers safe on the painting platform, but the work was still not without danger.
Breckon was visibly shaken when cables dropped to the ground between the elevator and its annex less than a metre from where he was standing.
Holaday spent the following week getting massage therapy and still finding bruises.
“I’m a little worn out,” he said.
Holaday said an elevator painting job used to take two weeks with brushes.
“By having platforms, man lifts, booms and sprayers, we sped it up a lot,” he said.