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It was asserted in the eighties that the competition of overconstructed railroads in the United States and ships in England had caused the hauling of wheat below cost. In 1901 the surplus-cereal states still had at least as many railroads as could be profitably operated." The transportation facilities proved inadequate for moving the wheat crop of 1906.
By making freight discriminations, transportation companies can exert a powerful influence upon the volume and direction of grain traffic. Discriminations are effected in various ways, and may be against certain forms of grain, against certain persons, and against certain places. It is claimed that the export flour trade is greatly injured by the fact that railroad and ocean carriers discriminate against flour in favor of wheat, thus giving the foreign miller an advantage in competing with the American miller.
The interstate commerce commission found that discriminations during the year 1898 were probably worse than at any previous time. “It is claimed by some that direct rebates and secret rates are still frequently granted; commissions are paid for securing freight; goods are billed at less than the actual weight; traffic within a state not subject to the interstatecommerce act is carried at lower rates; allowances and advantages are made in handling and storing, etc.”.” The large shippers generally receive the greatest favors. Laws have been enacted to remedy the evil, but their effective enforcement is not an easy task. On the whole, however, it must be said that the transportation service for wheat has improved vastly during the last 25 years, while its cost has been enormously reduced during the same period of time. Such evils as exist will doubtless be corrected in at least some measure as a result of the present wave of popular agitation against all corporate abuses.
1 Industrial Commission, 6:48. 2 Industrial Commission, 4:5-6.
The storage of wheat has four aspects which correspond to the four stages of transportation, namely: Storage at the farm; at the local market; at the primary market; and at the seaboard. Under the subject of storage is included the vertical and horizontal transportation involved in getting wheat to and from wagons, cars, ships and warehouses.
Storage of Wheat at the Farm.—The granary upon the farm should have an exposed location, and should be so constructed as to make the handling of grain as easy as possible. The principal things to be guarded against are dampness, insects and vermin. Cold does not injure wheat, and it lessens the activity of injurious insects. The loss from insects decreases with increased bulk and decreased exposure of the surface of grain. Bins should be constructed with smooth, oiled, or painted walls to prevent lodgment of insects, and without air spaces where vermin can hide. If the granary is fully exposed, a single thickness of inch boards will keep out all rats and mice. Where injurious insects are likely to be abundant, the windows should be screened, the doors made close fitting, and all crevices and other means of ingress closed. If the granary is properly constructed, there is practically no loss of weight through storage. On the largest wheat farms, such as exist in the Red river valley, the grain is stored in elevators. Alongside of the railroad track which runs through the great field, two elevators of about 50,000 bushels capacity each are located on opposite corners of the farm. On the Pacific coast, where there is no danger of rain, the sacked wheat is left lying in the open field until it is shipped. East of the Mississippi river, mixed farming is generally practiced, and as a rule there is sufficient granary room on the farm to store the wheat held over, which is quite a large portion. In the Northwest, where the main feature of farming is growing grain for the market, it is estimated that 75 per cent of the grain is put upon the market before the close of the year.
Storage of Wheat at the Local Market.—The unit of accumulation at the local market is the wagon load. The unit of railway shipments is the car load. The shortest time that the wheat can be stored at the local market, then, is until enough of one grade has accumulated to fill a car, which may be only a fraction of a day. For various reasons, grain may be stored at the local markets for longer periods. When the buyer lacks better facilities, the wheat is often transferred directly from the wagon to the car by means of manual labor. By far the most usual method, however, is by means of the elevator.
The modern elevator is a very essential factor in our wheat industry. Its chief functions are storage; cleaning, drying and gathering wheat; and the vertical and horizontal transportation incident to these processes and to the processes of loading and unloading from wagons, cars and ships. Steam or electric power operating the machinery of the elevator accomplishes all this work without any aid from manual labor, work that would require the manual labor of a vast army of men to accomplish it. If it were thus performed, the operations would be so slow and expensive that they would raise the cost of producing wheat to such a height as to prohibit much of the production now carried on. With one single exception, the entire process of producing wheat flour, including the raising, harvesting, threshing, shipping and milling of the wheat, may be accomplished by machinery. It remains for some genius to remove this exception by inventing a machine that can handle the sack of wheat on the Pacific coast, and one that can handle the sheaf of wheat in the Red river valley. It would seem that neither task should be beyond the inventor's power. Of the machinery used on a large wheat farm, the plow stands at one end, and the elevator at the other. Human labor has been minimized throughout all of the operations. All agricultural implements are guided by levers; threshermen are only assistants to a machine which delivers the grain into a sack or grain tank; those who unload the wheat from the wagons simply loose a bolt, and the grain is dumped; those who heave wheat into bins merely press buttons; and those who load it into cars or ships need but pull a lever. The elevator at the local market often has its machinery so constructed that it can empty 1,000 bushels an hour from wagons, and sometimes 10,000 bushels a day are received by a single elevator. These elevators are generally constructed of wood, and have a capacity varying from 10,000 to 40,000 bushels. From the point of view of ownership and management, there are three types of elevators found at the local markets: (1) Those provided and owned by the farmers themselves; (2) those owned by the local grain dealers; and (3) those controlled by the grain buyers located at the primary markets. Hundreds of elevators situated along the railroads which extend into the grain territory are controlled from the primary markets by what are called line elevator companies. The Northern Pacific Railway with its elevators may be taken as a typical case. On this road during 1901, there were 430 line elevators, 286 local dealers' elevators, and 22 farmers’ elevators. In the same year in Brown county, South Dakota, a county which is 36 miles wide by 48 miles long, and which is considered as typical of the Dakotas and Minnesota, there were 45 elevators with a capacity of from 12,000 to 15,000 bushels each. There were also 12 flat houses with a capacity of from 3,000 to 5,000 bushels each, and 3 large elevators belonging to flouring mills. Twelve line companies were operating in the county, and they owned 30 of the warehouses. 20 of them were owned and operated by independent parties. When local market conditions are unsatisfactory, the farmers establish more elevators. During 1904-5, the farmers’ elevators in Minnesota increased approximately 90 per cent in 18 months.” For the year ending September 1, 1901, 1,549 licenses were issued for country elevators and warehouses in the state of Minnesota. The successful working of elevators as now constructed and all the principles of their machinery are entirely dependent on the flowing quality of wheat. Since the advantages of this quality for labor-saving machinery had been completely established prior to the extensive development of the wheat industry on the Pacific coast, it is a peculiar and noteworthy fact that in the subsequent development of the wheat industry, the Pacific coast differed from other parts of the country in this, as in nearly all other things, by not taking advantage of the flowing quality of wheat. The grain is handled in sacks, and