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A Small Town Marvel

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The grain elevator is the centerpiece of many small North Dakota towns and is often the tallest and most impressive structure. On this date in 1909, the Golden Valley Chronicle said of the newly completed grain elevator in Beach, “Few towns twice or thrice the size of Beach have anything to compare with it.” At seven stories tall, the elevator towered over every other structure in town. Each of the ten storage cylinders could hold 100,000 bushels of grain.

Grain elevators are usually found near railroad tracks for easy transportation. Farmers harvest their crops and transport them to the elevator where it is stored for sale. The elevator operator examines a sample to record the weight and moisture content and to look for foreign material like stalks, weeds, or trash. The moisture content needs to be kept low to prevent mold. The crop moves on a conveyer belt to the top of the silo where it is dumped into the storage bins, explaining why it’s called an elevator.

Once the grain is stored, the farmer has to decide how to sell it. A forward contract lets the farmer know the exact price the buyer will pay. It also sets a delivery date, when the farmer will get the money. This provides a sense of certainty. But if prices increase, the farmer is locked into the lower price.

Alternatively, the farmer might decide to store the grain for future sale, hoping for a price increase. But holding the grain must include consideration of storage fees and possible shrinkage.

When the grain leaves the elevator, a truck pulls under a spout. Gravity sends the grain pouring in. The truck is weighed before and after filling to know exactly how much grain is delivered. If the elevator is close enough to the railroad tracks, grain can be loaded directly into the railroad cars.

The grain elevator in Beach was quite a feather in a small town’s cap. Lit up at night, it was an impressive landmark. According to the newspaper, the elevator “presents an imposing appearance, but when illuminated by night it makes one think that Beach is breaking into the skyscraper class.”

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Golden Valley Chronicle. “Big Elevator Completed.” Beach ND. 11/12/1909. Page 1.

Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation. “How Does it Work: Grain Elevators.” https://iowaagliteracy.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/how-does-it-work-grain-elevators/ Accessed 11/12/2021.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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