Bill Kemp, an archivist with the McLean County Museum of History, wrote an interesting article in the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph about the history of grain elevators.
In particular, he focuses on the J.W. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum in the Route 66 town of Atlanta, Ill. The Hawes elevator was built in 1903 and is one of the few wooden elevators standing.
The Hawes elevator includes a restored 1920 Fairbanks-Morse gasoline engine located in an adjacent brick engine house. This working engine turns a power shaft running to the elevator, which gives motion to a system of belts and pulleys, which propels a vertical bucket conveyer. Area farmers would empty their grain wagons into a pit under the elevator’s central driveway, and the buckets would scoop and carry the grain some 60 feet up to the cupola-like “head” of the elevator. At the top, a spout could be swiveled to fill the separate bins. Boxcars (with coopered side doors to hold grain) reached the elevator from a Terre Haute & Peoria Railroad siding, and grain was gravity fed from elevator to railcar. […]
Regrettably, the old wood-framed elevators are disappearing from the landscape, going the way of corn cribs and other farm-related structures that outlived their economic utility. In January 2006, for instance, it took less than an hour to raze the 80-feet-tall Ballard elevator, a Route 66 icon situated halfway between Lexington and Chenoa.
The Hawes elevator ceased operation in the mid-1970s, and the abandoned structure weathered neglect and vandalism for more than a decade. In 1988, the city purchased the structure with the intention of demolishing what was deemed a public safety hazard. Yet historic-minded residents won the day, and after an arduous restoration the elevator was reopened as a museum in 1999.
For more about the Hawes elevator, go to this cool Web site. The elevator is open for tours, by appointment.