Albertan gives away 17 hand-built exact replicas of Prairie grain elevators

·3 min read
Einar Franson, 91, has been hand-building the replicas for the past 13 years or so. (Gaylene Merkel - image credit)
Einar Franson, 91, has been hand-building the replicas for the past 13 years or so. (Gaylene Merkel - image credit)

Einar Franson, 91, has been hand-building exact replicas of Prairie grain elevators since about 2008.

Modelled after elevators that existed in Saskatchewan and Alberta, the replicas are crafted to scale — usually at an inch to the foot — and each took about 150 to 200 hours of labour.

But Franson is now moving to Calgary, and also largely moving on from the hobby that's kept him busy for years on his acreage eight kilometres north of High River, Alta.

Once thinking he would sell 17 of his replicas, Franson has decided to give them away instead, and to people with connections to their history.

Einar Franson, 91, has been hand-building the replicas for the past 13 years or so.
Einar Franson, 91, has been hand-building the replicas for the past 13 years or so.(Gaylene Merkel)

"I had a talk with my son last night … [and] he kind of straightened me out," Franson told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"He asked me why I was selling them, and convinced me that I should be giving them away to people that want them."

A lengthy history

Franson has a lengthy history with Prairie grain elevators.

For years, he worked as a grain buyer for some of the elevators he has replicated, and in 1952, Franson helped to dismantle one that his father had built in 1912.

Modelled after elevators that existed in Saskatchewan and Alberta, the replicas are crafted to scale — usually at an inch to the foot.
Modelled after elevators that existed in Saskatchewan and Alberta, the replicas are crafted to scale — usually at an inch to the foot.(Gaylene Merkel)

But with the passage of time, the grain elevators that were once so prominent on Prairie landscapes have disappeared, he said.

None of the original grain elevators that Franson models his replicas from are still standing.

"It's actually sad when you think about it," Franson said. "You know, the whole [of] Western Canada was built on grain elevators and the grain trade, and you just don't see it anymore."

All 17 already spoken for

When Franson retired, he had a desire to work with wood, and received his journeyman carpenter's papers at age 60.

He started thinking that he would like to revisit the grain elevators.

"I just by chance happened to meet the superintendent of construction for [the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool]," Franson said. "[And] he wrote me … handwritten instructions on the total construction of elevators."

Building the replicas evoked memories of the places on the Saskatchewan prairies where he has lived, including Colonsay, Burr, Kandahar and Foam Lake.

"I [thought] about the farmers in the communities that we worked in," Franson said. "I built one for each of the towns that our three children are born in."

But Franson and his wife will soon be living in Calgary, and he can't take them to the city.

He will likely move on to smaller projects, but the larger replicas are for other people to enjoy — and all 17 are already spoken for.

"I've already called three or four people, and told them that they could have the elevator of their choice," Franson said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.