Hard work, dusty quarters, and small truckloads of grain have given way to much quicker means of moving large volumes of product from the bin to the port in recent years. And for over four decades, Brian McMullan of Shoal Lake has been a part of it all.
But after 40-plus years, McMullan retired from the grain industry late last year, having served countless grain producers and other stakeholders in the area.
Closing the door to the Richardson Pioneer office building on the western edge of Shoal Lake prior to the end of 2018, McMullan bid farewell to his position of grain manager.
“Before becoming the United Grain Growers (UGG) facility manager at Shoal Lake in March 1981 at the age of 27, I was in Neepawa, Brookdale, and Oakville,” said McMullan, now 65. “Growing up on a farm in the St. Norbert area, I strived to find a source of employment close to farming, and at the time the elevator looked good.”
From his first day on the job to his last, McMullan has seen plenty of changes, with elevator and bin space and the size of trucks hauling grain being among the top three. His involvement in the grain industry has been with UGG, Agricore United, and Richardson Pioneer.
McMullan takes great pride in the fact that he is one of a very few managers who opened two new elevators in the same town.
Looking back, he remembers most of the work being extremely dusty — both in the elevator and in the office, with only two employees in the elevator, compared to today’s higher number.
“Computerization vastly changed the elevator system. In the 1980s we only loaded boxcars, that had to be cleaned out and coopered before loading, as grain was weighed and marked on a manifest,” McMullan said. “Computers today find bins and weigh to the right amount in filling specially designed hopper cars, which are top loaded.”
At one time nine cars were the norm to be spotted, taking a full day to load, compared to 2019 with 112 rail cars being loaded in 22 hours.
The dilemma of elevator space also brought forth huge problems back in the day — as soon as the cars were loaded and rolling, managers were calling additional customers to refill the bins. Also, due to a lack of space, a lot of producer-filled cars were the norm. The old elevator would hold 3,000 tonnes, while the massive unit as it stands today holds 39,000 tonnes, and one silo is the same size as the whole elevator in town, now privately farmer owned.
As the small farm gives way to large-scale operations, the need for grain markets will remain, despite challenges. Handing over the reins, McMullan knows retirement will bring new opportunities including extra time for family.
“With my wife Rheanne having retired in 2016, we plan to stay in Shoal Lake,” he said.
McMullan will truly miss the rush of new harvested kernels in the fall, and the merriment of much-appreciated customers waiting to off-load tonnes of grain.