Saturday, April 11, 2009

Typos corrected!

To get the book ready for distribution via Amazon, etc, Lulu has asked me to make a couple of minor changes. I have taken this temporary set-back as an opportunity to correct all the typos that are listed here. From now on, copies of the book will be virtually typo-free.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Port Prescott, Ontario

On page 177, once again in the context of developments that led to Buffalo's decrease in importance as a grain port, I mention the construction of a colossal lake-to-ocean transshipping elevator near Port Prescott, just across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York. Built in the 1930s, this massive terminal bested its predecessors by having a larger storage capacity and a total of four loose legs. The elevator still stands, and has been photographed by amateur photographers who have posted their shots on-line.

Port Colborne, Ontario

On pages 174-175, in the course of a discussion of the many developments that led to Buffalo's decrease in importance as a grain port, I mention that a small but nevertheless significant event took place in 1911, when the huge Canadian flour company Maple Leaf opened a flour mill in Port Colborne. Located on the Lake Erie side of the Welland Canal, which connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, Port Colborne had long competed with Buffalo for grain that was headed to Rochester and Oswego, both of which were entrances to the New York State Barge Canal and flour-milling centers in their own right. The opening of a flourmill at this rival transshipment point both increased the pressure on Buffalo and extended it to Rochester and Oswego.

Above: the Maple Leaf grain elevator in 1920. Note the marine tower, apparently in operation.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book review by Richard Palmer, Canal Times

Written in the form of emails sent to my publisher, Colossal Books, between 22 March and 9 April 2009, this review of American Colossus is the book's first!

If you wish to send us a review copy we will write it up. I went on a tour of the abandoned grain elevators in Buffalo last fall - one or two are back in use but the others are just rotting hulks. In some places around the country and in Canada they have been reused as condos, but there's no market for them in Buffalo. I received the book okay but I didn't expect such a "collossal" book. It would take me a year to wade through it. Do you have more of a lengthy news release and a photo I could use? I toured Buffalo waterfront last fall and you have to see it to believe it - rows of abandoned and derelict/useless grain elevators no one knows what do to with except implode them. If you'd like something about the book on the Canal Times website you will have to send me a writeup. I certainly do not have the time or interest to review a 450-page book about grain elevators. Not exactly bedside reading even on a cold winter night.

Richard Palmer, Editor, Canal Times.

Grain elevators in Montreal, continued

In a prior posting concerning page 123 of American Colossus, I mentioned that the first grain elevator in Montreal, Quebec, was built in 1859. On pages 173-174 , I discuss the elevators built in Montreal between 1905 and 1930. In the course of this discussion, I offer excerpts from my translation of an article entitled "Les Mysteres d'un Elevateur a Grains," originally published in the Album Universel on 21 October 1905, and put online by Controleman in 2007. It concerns Elevator #1, which was designed and built by the Steel Storage & Elevator Construction Company between 1902 and 1905. Should my readers desire it, I will translate the entire article into English. In the meantime, I provide translations of the captions to the many pictures that accompany it.

Page 784, upper left: "The elevator unloads a steamer come from the Great Lakes." Note: the unloading is being done by the extended leg of a mobile marine tower.

Page 784, lower left: "The elevator and its three mobile towers." Note: two of these "mobile towers" (the boxes atop riggings) are for loading grain, not unloading.

Page 784, upper right: "The electrician at his post, as if by magic, puts its motion the machines of the immense edifice." Note: he's not an electrician, of course, but a superintendent.

Page 784, middle right: "Grain tanks above the automatic scales." Note: these tanks only "store" the grain they contain for a few minutes before being emptied and then re-filled.

Page 784, lower right: "In a high part of the elevator, enormous tubes distribute the grain at will into the tanks." This would be a place grain dust accumulated.

Page 785, upper left: "Northern part of the basement of the elevator." Note the railroads tracks.

Page 785, middle left: "The enormous scales that can weigh 1,500 bushels of grain at a time." Note: the tank in view is made out of steel, not reinforced concrete.

Page 785, lower left: "The grain, once weighed, runs along large horizontal belts, and falls into the immense cylinder-tanks." We should not take the cylindrical shape of these grain tanks for granted: elevators built out of steel sometimes utilized rectangularly shaped grain bins.

Page 785, upper right: "To unload the ships, a metallic and mobile chute is used." As noted before, we are in fact seeing three "metallic and mobile" devices, but one of them is used to unload the ships (the mobile marine tower, in the center of the picture), while the other two are used to load smaller craft (the mobile loaders on both sides of the marine tower).

Page 785, lower right: "The elevator chute descends as far as the depths of the hold." Yes, provided we understand the "chute" to be the elevating leg, contained in the mobile marine tower.

Page 786, upper right: "Diagram showing a horizontal section of the cylinders of the elevator." Note well that the language used to indicate how much of what grain is stored in which particular bin is English, not French. The text of the article itself mentions that the superintendent of the elevator is an American named M.J. Nehin. From this diagram, we learn that this elevator had 36 main bins, 22 outer bins and 20 interstitials, and used four internal "lofting" legs.

Page 786, middle left: "Grain elevator of the 'Harbor Depot.'" This is clearly a different grain elevator from Elevator #1 and it is not Elevator B, also known as Elevator #5, which was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad between 1904 and 1906. It must be from another Canadian port in which the Dominion government built grain elevators (Port Arthur or Fort William, later known as "Thunder Bay").

Page 786, lower right: "An elevator of wood, such as they are built in the west." A classic wood-cribbed grain elevator of the Canadian West and the American Midwest, circa 1880.

Below is a picture of this same grain elevator, taken from a different source.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Floating grain elevators, continued

On page 146, I mention that it appears that the first "American-style" grain elevators built in England were floaters. An engraving published in the 1880 issue of The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper shows "The American grain elevator on Thames off North Woolwich." An engraving from an 1883 issue of the same newspaper shows what appears to be the reverse side of the very same grain elevator. The caption reads, "The new grain elevator, 'International', being towed across the North Sea to Antwerp."

It is possible that, after being designed by an American engineer - perhaps Robert Dunbar, who was still active in the early 1880s - this "American" elevator was put to work on a trial basis in London, which was beginning to receive ever-larger quantities of American wheat from ports such as Boston. Shipped in bulk, not in sacks (which would remain the custom on the European continent as late as the 1920s), this wheat could only be unloaded by a mechanized house, not by teams of stevedores. After it proved to be a success, this same floating elevator was loaned or sold to grain merchants in Belgium, thus making its work-history and influence truly "international."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Floating grain elevators

On pages 145-146, I mention floating grain elevators -- grain-elevating towers built upon small boats -- which, according to Scientific American (Vol. 2, No. 25, March 13, 1847), were "invented and patented by Mr. A.S. Bemia of Buffalo for dicharging and weighing grain from [lake] vessels into canal boats and warehouses. It is constructed after the style and model of dredging machine and floats in the harbor. One is to be built and launched ready for Spring service." To accomplish such transshipments of grain, floaters required at least one elevating leg, a system by which to garner and weigh grain, and spouts to send that grain down into a canal boat or back to a warehouse. Floaters never intended to store more than 40,000 bushels at a time, and so were "pure" elevators.

According to Thomas Flagg, author of "Floating Grain Elevators," published in Transfer No. 40, January-May 2004 and reproduced in part on-line, the first floater was built upon an old sailing-hull in Brooklyn in 1848 and followed "Pagan's patent" (p. 4). Reproduced above is the cover of Transfer No. 40, which shows the Ceres in operation in 1914 and, below that, a battery of floaters in Jersey City, New Jersey (date unknown).

Other illustrations to Flagg's article (not reproduced here) include diagrams of how elevating legs work, illustrations of grain elevators in the 19th century, and photographs of floaters in Jersey City and Weehauken, another port city in New Jersey. According to Flagg, a Brooklynite named Phillip Gill developed the world's first two-legged floater - a floater with two elevating legs, not just one - sometime in the mid-19th century (Flagg doesn't specify). "Gill's invention," Flagg says, "gave the craft an even more powerful visual effect: now they seemed to stand in the harbor with legs spread, like some colossus."

Allow me to add that:

1. grain elevators were in operation in Brooklyn as early as 1846 or 1847, when "Col. [Daniel] Richards erected upon the North Pier [of Brooklyn] the first steam grain elevator in the port of New York, and at this day nearly all of the grain business of the metropolis is done at Brooklyn, there being no stationary steam elevators on the New York side" (Henry R. Stiles, A History of the City of Brooklyn, Vol III, 1870, p. 580); and

2. the first grain elevators used in New York's harbor (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) were floaters. Indeed, it wasn't until 1870 that a "stationary" grain elevator was built in Manhattan. Same thing for New Orleans: floaters were all they used for a very long time.