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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 at home.

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 impressed.

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 rivers.

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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