How Grain Elevators Work

Learn how grain elevators work and discover how the headhouse, receiving pit and other mechanisms work together to process and store grain.
By Linda Laird
April 2012
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This grain elevator diagram shows the inner workings of grain elevators.
Jim Heck

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The components of a grain elevator may be a mystery, but this excerpt from The American Grain Elevator (Grain Elevator Press, 2012) provides a simple explanation of the inner workings of these practical and historical buildings. The American Grain Elevator tells the story of how grain storage began and how elevators were invented. The following is an excerpt from the chapter “How Grain Elevators Work.” 

Grain elevator construction

Grain elevators are usually seventy to one hundred and twenty feet tall, consisting of a headhouse, vertical storage spaces with grain bins of various sizes, an open work floor and a receiving pit. A driveway gives access to the work floor. A dump scale and office are located outside the elevator.

How grain elevators work

A truck loaded with grain stops on the scale, is weighed, and continues to the work floor. Grain is dumped from the rear of the truck. The wheat falls into the pit where it is moved upward to the cupola along the leg by a continuous belt with flat backed buckets attached. The grain is directed to a bin by the spout, which may be moved among the bins.

The truck is again driven across the scale and weighed a second time to determine how much grain was unloaded. Samples of the grain show the test weight of the wheat, moisture, and content plus foreign material. The farmer is then given a receipt, called a weight or scale ticket, for the number of bushels brought to the elevator. The farmer may immediately sell the grain or pay a grain storage fee and hold the grain until he chooses to sell. All grain elevators function in this manner.

Read more: Learn about different grain elevators in Types of Grain Elevators.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The American Grain Elevator, published by Grain Elevator Press, 2012. 

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