Where once were racoons, a museum shall rise

Jason Sailer is president of the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society. Its goal is to move this elevator from Wrentham, Alta., to the Galt Historic Railway Park at Stirling, Alta., about 30 kilometres away.  |  Barb Glen photo

Fundraising is underway to move the Wrentham elevator, still in working order after 90 years

WRENTHAM, Alta. — Ogilvie elevator No. 156 has a kind of settled dignity as it squats along this hamlet’s once proud elevator row.

The 90-year-old dowager is showing its age, but if efforts by the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society are successful, it may find new life and refurbishment at the Galt Historic Railway Park near Stirling, Alta., about 30 kilometres away.

The paperwork is pending, but the society took ownership of the elevator in December from local farmer Harold Kuehn, who was using it until the early 2000s.

Ogilvie 156 is still in working order, though birds and raccoons have been its most recent visitors of late, judging by the calling cards they’ve left behind.

It has a capacity of 32,000 bushels and stands about 80 feet tall.

“This is the last one that still has the lettering on it … and still has the vintage shape as it would have looked in the ’20s and ’30s, so that’s why it’s very significant to us,” said elevator society president Jason Sailer.

Ogilvie Flour Mills, based in Manitoba, built 43 elevators in Alberta and operated them from 1909 to about 1960, said Sailer.

Much of the grain that flowed through the Wrentham elevator went to the company’s flour mill in Medicine Hat, Alta.

The elevator was sold to Alberta Wheat Pool in 1958, and in 1968 it was sold to Wesley Kuehn, Harold’s father.

The latest owner is now raising money to move and preserve it for historical purposes and tourism.

Sailer and society vice-president Cody Kapcsos are the main drivers behind the project, supported by a board of directors.

“We’re all like-minded people about grain elevators and preservation and stuff,” said Sailer, as his steps stirred the dust that has settled inside the elevator.

Grain rattles into an unseen overhead hopper as he moves the levers that hang like stalactites at the track side of the building. He points out the grain cups, the vintage weight scale, the Gerber wheel and the working man lift.

The walls bear remains of posters, now tattered. A dusty trouble light hangs among cobwebs.

“Everything’s pretty much the same as it was,” said Sailer.

“Everything works. The scale works, the leg works and the man lift works. There’s little bits and pieces scattered around. It’s kind of like a time capsule. It’s kind of neat.”

Across a wooden walkway pocked with holes, Sailer unlocks the agent’s office, revealing pressed tin walls and a belt-driven engine. A nest of mysterious ownership and old cigar packs lying on the floor are evidence of various visitors over the years.

“As soon as we got the bill of sale from Harold, the next day we put locks on the doors and covered over the windows,” said Sailer.

Back on the track side of the building, a bullet hole shows the wisdom of taking protective measures against future vandalism.

The office, the driveway and the annex are all part of the moving plan, which is estimated to cost about $100,000.

That is going to require some fundraising, which Sailer said the society is prepared to undertake.

“We’re going to have to be a little creative on the grants and such,” he said. “It helps, now that we have the charitable status, that we can actually access a lot of these grants.”

Open houses and benefit concerts are other ideas under consideration.

Sailer is also looking for more photographs of the elevator.

“It’s so hard to find photographs,” he said. “The only ones I’ve found are just in the history book and they’re not the greatest quality.”

If the move comes to fruition, Ogilvie 156 will take up residence near the Coutts Sweetgrass train station that is a showpiece of the Galt Historic Railway Park.

Sailer remembers a time when wooden grain elevators were the sentinels marking towns across the Prairies.

“Now you drive through, you’re lucky to see two or three wooden ones and the rest are all concrete.”

More information on the elevator project can be found on the society’s Facebook page.

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