Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

A Bit More Nostalgia

Will Edwinson PhotoThis post sort of ties in with the last one in that it describes more of my duties at City Transfer and Storage in Soda Springs, Idaho during the 1950s. As I was traveling down the highway a few days ago, I came upon a railroad unit train of grain cars.  This brought to mind how things have changed from when we used to ship farm commodities out of Soda Springs.  Dad was one of the owners of City Transfer and Storage, Inc., a grain exchange and farm store in Soda; and when he couldn’t find anything for me to do on the dry farm on any given day, he would call up the manager of the Transfer and tell him he was sending me over, and would he find something for me to do.

It seems there was always something around there that needed doing so it was no problem finding a chore for me.  One of those chores was preparing railroad cars for grain shipment.  The term used was to cooper the cars.  In those days, grain was shipped in boxcars.  The hopper bottom railcars we see today hadn’t come on the scene yet.  The boxcars had a door opening about eight feet wide on each side located in the middle leaving equal distance to each end.  This coopering process consisted of placing grain panels across these door openings. The panels were approximately ten feet long by two feet wide, and about three inches thick.

We placed them across the opening up to about four feet high.  Paper was tacked on the inside of these panels to cover any cracks between, and around the ends to prevent any leakage.   Having completed that process, the cars were ready to receive grain.  Hanging outside the grain elevator, was a long flexible metal spout.  It was placed on top of the grain panels and aimed toward the end of the car.  It was extremely important to have the spout tightly secured because the grain flowed down out of that pipe with the same force as water gushing from a fire hose. If it ever got loose it would flop around like a mad snake spewing grain everywhere but where it was supposed to go.

The grain was piled in each end of the car and sloped down toward the middle with very little grain placed against the grain panels, or the pressure would be too great, causing difficulty in removing them when it came time to unload the car.  They were primarily there to prevent leakage of grain around, and out, the door openings.  Loading these boxcars was almost an art in itself, because one had to be pretty good at judging how big to build the piles in each end. The railroad was pretty fussy about not wanting their weight limits exceeded.

How those cars were unloaded at their destination, I never really knew.  I think the larger terminals actually had facilities for tipping the cars on end and rolling them to one side to empty their contents.    In the smaller facilities, I suppose it was done the old fashioned way by hand shoveling or pulling the grain out with a Mormon Board.  For those readers unfamiliar with the term Mormon Board, it was a wood panel about three feet high and four feet wide with two handles for holding it upright(don’t ask me how it got its name; I just always heard it referred to as such).

In the center was a ring to which one end of a rope was tied; the other end was attached to a tractor or a trained horse.  A man would pull the board back into the grain; give the signal that he was ready, and the tractor or horse would pull the board forward, dragging grain out to the opening of the car similar to a bulldozer pushing material.  Now days a slide door in the bottom of the hopper of the grain cars is cranked open and gravity does the unloading. The cars are also loaded from the top instead of the opening in the side of the car.

Another thing I remember about the days spent at City Transfer & Storage were the wool shipping days.  The “City Transfer” as it was often referred to, was the holding point for wool waiting to be shipped to the mills.  Four hundred pounds of wool was stuffed into burlap bags at the shearing pens, loaded on trucks, and hauled to City Transfer.  The bags were large and bulky, and cumbersome to handle (about seven or eight feet long and approximately three and a half feet in diameter..

City Transfer

The building on the right with the arch roof in the City Transfer & Storage

The City Transfer’s warehouse is about 100 ft. x 200 ft., with walls approaching 12ft. high.  During shearing season, this building would literally be stuffed to the rafters with these wool bags.  There was only a narrow corridor down the center that was not filled with wool.  The bags were manhandled onto conveyers that would carry them to the railcar where they were again rolled into place by hand.  A hot backbreaking job, and my constant complaint to Dad was, “how is it I always get roped into helping ship this wool?”  He would reply with a grin, “somebody has to do it.”

The City Transfer & Storage Co. is still in business in Soda Springs, but as far as I know, they are no longer in the grain brokerage business, and it has been many years since any wool was shipped from there. The sheep industry that once consisted of nearly a dozen outfits operating in the Soda Springs area is now down to one or two—or maybe less.

There was once a General Mercantile known and the Stockmen’s Supply Co., that was a co-op owned by many of these stockmen.  It was open to the general public, but it was through this store that these sheep outfits stocked their sheep camps and herdsmen with groceries and other supplies.  It too, is no longer in operation.  The building now serves as the Soda Springs Senior Citizen Center.

If you scroll to upper right of this page to the free download button, you can receive a free copy of my book Buddy…His Trialsand Treasures.  It’s a book of adventures in the life of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.  Buddy is a bit reminiscent of Tom Sawyer in that he quite often finds himself in hot water for which he must pay the consequences.



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Copyright 2013 Will Edwinson