Grain elevators

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When traveling through many small towns in America you will invariably encounter a scene of interconnected cylindrical towers with connecting buildings known as grain elevators. (Click images to enlarge)

“Dawn’s Early Light” – 10″x 10″ – Oil

“Southbound” – 9.38″ x 13.25″ – Oil


From the time I first decided to pursue fine art in 1982, my love of rural America has been expressed through my work…and grain silos and elevators have made their appearance many times. One of the longest elevators in the world, almost half a mile long with an 18.3 million bushel capacity, is located in Hutchison, KS. It has been the subject of several paintings…unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of them.

Hutchinson, Kansas elevator


Grain elevators continue to fascinate me. From a distance they stand as huge, proud, silent monuments dwarfing everything else in town. As one approaches, they become a noisy beehive of continuous activity.

“Boyhood Dreams” – 30″x 40″ – Oil

“Heartland Neighbors” – 24″x 32″ – Oil

“Meeting of the Lines” – 20″x 20″ – Oil


The first designs in the U.S. for grain elevators came from the imagination of Joseph Dart. It was 1840 in Buffalo, NY that elevators first made their appearance. Designed as a place to store all types of grain until sold and shipped, the design provides a stable environment with easy storage and retrieval of the desired product.

Elevate is key to any grain elevator operation. Grain is brought to the site by truck and dumped into a pit where it is scooped up using a bucket elevator system. The grain is elevated to the top of the silos to a distributor. From there it falls through spouts or is sent along conveyors where it is dropped into one of a number of silos.

The silos, containing wheat, maize, corn, milo and many other types of grain, are emptied by gravity, sweep augers and conveyors. As grain is removed from the silos, it is conveyed, blended and weighed into trucks, railroad cars or barges for shipment to grain wholesalers, exporters, flour mills, breweries, etc.

“Early Morning” – 9″x 12″ – Oil

“Last of the Rain” – 40″x 60″ – Oil


Many grain elevators are coop owned. They are almost always located along railroad lines and were conveniently constructed about 10 miles apart so local farmers could bring in their grain, unload it and hopefully sell it for a good price. Grain elevators became necessary because the transport system is not always able to handle the demands at harvest time due to weather conditions or bumper crops.

“Morning in Atchison” – 20″x 20″ – Oil

“Rush Hour” – 8″ x 13″ – Oil

“Back Yards” – 9″x 15″ – Oil


Elevators occasionally experience serious explosions. Fine powders from all the grain passing through the facility can accumulate and mix with oxygen in the air. A spark could spread from the floating grain creating a chain reaction that could possibly destroy the entire structure.

To prevent this catastrophe, elevators have rigorous rules against smoking or any other open flame. Many elevators have various devices installed to maximize ventilation in order to prevent mechanisms from overheating.

Grain elevators and how they work, VIDEO

History of grain elevators VIDEO

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