Grain Goes to Market
Behind every slice of bread, every biscuit and every muffin
that we eat is a fascinating story of transportation. The story
may start in the wheat fields of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Montana,
the Dakotas or any one of a score of states in the grain belt.
It may run through a dozen states, and it is certain to be replete
with travel adventures before it finally ends up at our table
This is true whether the bread is made of wheat, corn, rye
or barley. In every part of the United States, every day, freight
cars bearing grains or their products are rolling toward the American
homes. If we could see them all at once, we would be tremendously
In 1940, the railroads of the United States transported 875,000
carloads of wheat, corn and other grains, chiefly from country
elevators to terminal elevators, cleaning houses, mills and seaports,
and they carried an additional 744,000 carloads of flour, breakfast
cereals, meal, malt, and other grain products to distributing
and consuming centers throughout the country and to our seaports
for shipment to foreign countries. Put all these cars together
and you have a train 13,400 miles in length!
In pioneer days, before railroads and large grain elevators
were introduced, many farmers carried their grain to the nearest
grist mill. The miller received a part of the grain in payment
for grinding the rest into flour for the farmer's use. The cost
of hauling grain long distances by wagon was often prohibitive.
Some grain and flour moved from the Middle West to Eastern markets
by lakes and canal and to New Orleans by the Ohio and Mississippi
With the coming of railroads, many millions of acres of land
were settled and put under cultivation; country elevators sprang
up along the rail routes; large terminal elevators and flour mills
were established at transportation centers like Chicago, St. Louis,
Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Omaha, Kansas City, Duluth and Buffalo.
And in time the United States became not only the world's greatest
grain-producing country but also the world's greatest exporter
of grain and grain products.
The farmer's immediate market for his wheat is the country
grain elevator, as shown in the large picture at the top. Elevators
are located at numerous railway stations throughout the wheat
belt. Wheat is unloaded from the farmers' trucks and wagons and
lifted into the elevator bins by means of a conveyor belt or a
blower. Here it is held until the owner of the wheat decides it
is time to sell. He then calls up the local railroad agent and
orders the required number of empty box cars to be placed at the
elevator for loading. The cars are delivered and the loading begins.
This is done by means of grain spouts or chutes, as shown in the
small picture at the upper right. An average carload of wheat
is around 1,540 bushels, or 46.3 tons.
From the country elevator, the wheat may be shipped to one
of the big terminal elevators, like the one in the lower picture.
Sometimes a railroad picks up enough cars of wheat at the country
elevators to form a solid trainload destined to one of the big
wheat marketing centers. Terminal elevators are usually equipped
for cleaning, clipping, drying, grading and mixing the grain,
as well as storing and sacking it.
The long slender structures leading from the big elevator in
the lower picture are equipped with conveyor machinery by which
the grain is transferred to loading or unloading chutes.
At the terminal elevator the wheat finally goes into a large
bin containing wheat of a corresponding grade. From here it may
be reloaded into cars and shipped to a mill where it is ground
into flour. The flour is placed in barrels (or sacks) each bearing
the name of the brand and the name of the milling company.
There are more than 2,000 flour mills and other mills producing
grain products in the United States. Principal flour milling states
are Minnesota, New York, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Illinois.
Since every individual is a consumer of bread and other grain
products, the distribution of these commodities extends to every
city and town and farming community in the United States. This
country also ships large quantities of flour, meal and breakfast
cereals to foreign countries.
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