I took a tour of the nearly-constructed rail shuttle being built by Western Grain Marketing near Macomb this week, and as I listened to Terry Rouse and Gordy Miller describe the feet of rail (7,760), yards of concrete (10,000 and counting) and bushels of storage (4.6 million), I had a flashback to an elevator tour from my early career.
Eleven years ago, I peered inside the historic J.H. Hawes grain elevator in Atlanta. Built in 1903, the wooden structure was the height of technology in its day. Horse-drawn wagons weighed in at the scale house, then pulled into the elevator and dumped grain into a receiving pit. The crown jewel of the elevator was a vertical bucket conveyor powered by a gas engine, that moved grain up 55 feet into storage bins or out into rail cars. Back then, Atlanta was the largest grain shipping center on the line between Chicago and St. Louis.
Fast-forward 106 years. Western Grain Marketing has built a state-of-the-art grain elevator. Semi trucks will be equipped with RFID tags and drivers will check in and out at kiosks where they can select from a list of their usual customers’ names. Grain moves throughout the shuttle through underground conveyors, housed in a thousand feet of tunnels. Receiving legs measure 230 feet tall. Dump pits can handle 40,000 bushels an hour. Two 200 hp motors power a 50,000-bushel-an-hour leg that’s capable of loading 110 rail cars in 10 hours. Electronic scanners read each car and load it within 20 bushels of its legal gross weight. And this facility is one of seven in the state.
Today, the J.H. Hawes elevator is a museum, where folks with an interest in the agriculture of days gone by can marvel at the way it used to be done. Shoot, it’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and it only made it there thanks to the efforts of a few local enthusiasts who wanted to halt demolition of the “wooden fire hazard.”
A hundred years is a long time, in our short perspective. Even six months is a long time for “state of the art.”
Will a hundred years have the same effect on the Macomb rail shuttle?
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