It’s a showpiece of Prairie ingenuity – and proof that farmers’ interest in producer cars dates back more than a century.
While going through a circa 1906 edition of the Canadian Thresherman and Farmermagazine, Manitoba Agricultural Museum director Alex Campbell found an ad for a “portable elevator” built by the Carberry Wood and Iron Works company. It was pitched as a labour-saving device that was “well within reach” of any farmer’s budget and superior to all the “different kinds of portable elevators” that were apparently on the market at that time.
The Carberry Wood and Iron Works portable elevator had two key elements – a mechanism to tilt the grain wagon and a treadmill that allowed a team of horses to power the elevation mechanism.
RAMPS FRONT AND BACK
The elevator was mounted on a large wagon frame and had ramps at the front and back that could be raised and lowered much like a drawbridge. This allowed a farmer to drive his wagon and team onto the raised platform. The photo in the ad shows the front of the wagon was slightly elevated and its rear dropped, likely the work of a device similar to the wagon lift in the 1905 grain elevator housed at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum near Austin. This would greatly reduce the amount of shovelling needed to empty a wagon.
The grain dropped into a hopper that fed the leg at the rear, and was then elevated and dropped into a pipe running into the door of the rail car.
The two horses provided the power, almost certainly through a treadmill built into the platform immediately ahead of the wagon lift. Some sort of locking mechanism must have ensured the treadmill did not start revolving until the team and wagon were in place. The ad proudly proclaims that because the team could remain hitched to the wagon, the Carberry portable elevator “is ahead of all others.”
The ad also boasts the entire apparatus can be easily moved to a new location and can double as a sawmill in winter.
It’s not known how accurate those claims are or how well the elevator functioned, but it is testament to farmers’ interest in producer cars, which was enshrined as a right in the Manitoba Grain Act of 1900. Until then, railways often restricted the provision of cars to flat warehouses and loading platforms, and favoured grain elevators in the provision of boxcars. However, many farmers thought the cost of this form of elevation was too expensive. Many also objected to the weighing and grading of grain, and accused grain companies of a variety of shady practices. Loading your own producer car was seen by many farmers as a way to get around a system that made it easy for grain companies and elevators to cheat them.
Along with establishing farmers’ right to load producer cars, the Manitoba Grain Act established some basic rules on allowable dockage, weighing procedures, grading, and pricing.
However, accusations of abuse continued. A 1902 court case saw a railway fined for shorting farmers at Sintaluta, Saskatchewan of rail cars while giving local elevators all they asked for. With the right to load cars set out in legislation and enforced by the courts, producer car loadings steadily rose from 1903 onwards, hitting 51,000 cars in 1912 before dropping off – possibly because line elevator companies started treating farmers better.
The Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collection does not include a Carberry Wood and Iron Works portable elevator, but officials are eager to hear from anyone who has information on portable elevators and their use. Contact info is available on the museum’s website ( http://ag-museum.mb.ca).