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admin 01.02.2015

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To maintain a hobbyist’s interest, a model railroad layout must be about more than watching a toy train chasing its tail around an oval of track. And when it comes to grain elevators, Armour’s Warehouse in Seneca, Illinois, the largest and oldest of the remaining grain elevators on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, provides an unmistakable silhouette.
We don’t have elevation plans for this gem, but with the photos, floor plans, and the information from the Historic American Buildings Survey, an accurate scale model can be created.
The architectural character of the grain elevator is heavy timber post and beam construction. The limestone foundation has perimeter walls 2′ thick with intermittent openings allowing for access to machinery. A stair tower is in the east pavilion and runs from the operating floor to the headhouse loft. An added plus to all the interior detail provided by the floor plans and survey of Armour’s Warehouse, is that a scale model placed near the front of a model railroad layout could be built with a removeable wall to show all that detail.
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Prototype railroads exist for a purpose: to move freight and passengers from one point to another.
Do you want to model a railroad crossing the East Coast piedmont, the rolling Midwest, or maybe a railroad struggling to climb the Rocky Mountains? The operation of a grain elevator has changed little since Armour’s Warehouse was built.


The columns and bin walls were reinforced by tie rods, necessary to contain the weight of the grain against the walls. The roof slopes 33 degrees and is covered with wooden shingles which have been covered with sheet metal.
The east facade has two windows at the headhouse loft level as well as two windows between the operating floor and the bin level. A model railroad designed to simulate the same purpose will be much more interesting, and more likely to remain an active part of a hobbyist’s leisure time activities. And every region of the country is in need of a constant source of grain to feed its citizens.
County elevators were located on a transportation route capable of handling bulk products, such as a railroad, river port, or in this case, the I & M Canal. The pit is 4′ below the bottom of the joists and provides enough space for maintenance of the base pulley in the boot. A fish cannery would be right at home in a Boston Harbor scene, but out of place in a Rocky Mountain pass.
The grain elevator is adjacent to the Illinois and Michigan Canal and was built specifically to serve it, with spouts loading grain directly onto the canal boats.
The original siding, still present under the sheet metal, was clapboard, except where the siding follows the roofline, where it is flush tongue and groove (see the historic photograph).
One center bin farthest east was partitioned into bins 10, 11, 13, and 17 by crib construction, that is, stacked 2 x 4s. Directly above the pit is the operating floor, which has a ceiling height of 10′ to the bottom of the beams supporting the bins.


The chutes are rectangular boxes with butt joints using 1″ thick boards of various widths.
Each floor serves a functional purpose as follows: the first is the operating floor, the second level is the bin level, the headhouse is at the third level, and the headhouse loft is the fourth level. Another small shed is attached to the railroad shed and houses the Fairbanks scale beam where the weight of the railroad cars was read. Another center bin, the second from the west, was partitioned into bins 8 and 14 by plank wall construction. The rope chases begin at this level and protect the drive ropes as they pass trirough the bin level.
Each has a 10″ cast iron turn-head spout by which the grain is directed into numbered chutes which dump it into the corresponding bins. The operating floor also was the point at which power from the steam engine came in to run the pulleys for the legs.
Generally, each original bin also has a ladder which allowed access to the bottom of the bin. There are also two sets of stairs at the east and west ends of the elevator which lead from the operating floor to the drive floor. There are two large sliding doors on steel runners providing access to the canal on the south facade.



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