Replicas of grain elevators help preserve prairie history

Einar Franson plans to give away more than two dozen of his 1:12 model grain elevators. | Mike Sturk photo

Each miniature prairie sentinel took 150 to 200 hours to build, some from photographs and others from blueprints

CAMROSE, Alta. — Twenty-five prairie grain elevators will be permanently remembered, thanks to Einar Franson.

Each of the scale model elevators Franson built over the past 15 years holds a memory for the 91-year-old, former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain buyer.

However, a move from his acreage north of High River into Calgary means the elevators will get new homes.

Originally, Franson planned to sell the remaining 17 elevators, lined up in a row on his acreage, but his family convinced him he should give away the elevators to someone or a community with a connection to the elevator. All the elevators have since found new homes.

“There’s a little bit of history in every one,” said Franson.

He has replicas of elevators of Burr, Foam Lake and Kandahar, each Saskatchewan communities where his three children were born.

One elevator is from Forslund, where he had his first full-time job as a grain buyer.

“I often think of the people in the communities I lived in.”

Franson grew up on a farm outside Colonsay, Sask., and his father helped build the elevator in 1912 in between driving the horse-drawn school bus each morning and evening. Franson worked on the crew that dismantled the elevator in 1952.

“I often wondered if I was pulling out the nail he put in 40 years earlier.”

He built a replica of the 1895 elevator in Fleming, Sask., the first elevator built in Saskatchewan. Three months before the restored elevator was to be opened as a tea shop, it was burned by arsonists. Now, his 1/12 model replica is all that remains of the elevator.

The disappearance of the wooden grain elevators from the Prairies is difficult for Franson and other farmers. With few remaining grain elevators, so too is the understanding of the importance of agriculture to the Canadian economy and its history.

“It’s sad. They’re all gone. The bad thing is people don’t appreciate the elevators and what they represent.”

Recently three people asked him what the “boxes” were lined up in his yard when they saw his grain elevators.

“They had no idea what they were. They were real landmarks as you drove down the highway. You could see an elevator and know where you were.”

Each of the replica elevators takes between 150 to 200 hours to build. Some were made from photographs and others from blueprints.

Franson said carpentry is in his blood. His Swedish relatives gravitated to some kind of carpentry or construction.

“I’ve always been a lumber hound. I can’t pick up a piece of board without wondering what I can do with it.”

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