On a recent Saturday afternoon, I bicycled past TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota where tailgaters were partying in the parking lots with the help of hamburgers, hot dogs, and beer.
I rode past the parties and the parking lots, and stopped at 25th Avenue SE, which seems to be the current line in the sand between two worlds in southeast Minneapolis: the business of shipping and storing grain, and the business of higher education — everything from football to physics.
A few photos show you how close these two worlds are:
Grain elevators alongside football stadiums. It’s a weird juxtaposition, but the two worlds have a slightly whimsical connection, as you’ll see in a minute.
The grain operation in the photos is Electric Steel Elevator. The company has been storing and shipping North American grain since the start of the previous century. At its founding, the company was so proud of its shiny steel construction and modern electric motors that it named itself after those two features, and also created postcards with images like this:
Minneapolis isn’t nearly as grain-centric as it used to be, but it is definitely still in the game. Electric Steel Elevator ships a variety of grain including wheat, oats, rye, and barley from North Dakota and Canada. The grain arrives by rail to the rail shed.
Then the grain is lifted up (elevated, as in grain elevator), and distributed into the big steel silos.
Grain arrives by train, but Electric Steel ships it all over the country by truck. On this Saturday afternoon, though, things were quiet — the trucks lined up, ready to go.
The company might be feeling a little squeezed by changing times. There’s the expanding university, of course, and then there’s the city, which is pushing around a lot of dirt right in front of the manager’s office building. More development and more roads are planned. The city wants to build a park next to Electric Steel Elevator, develop the land all along the railroad tracks, and tie everything together with a new road, Granary Road.
The tailgaters will drink to that with beer containing malted barley.
Wait. Barley. Let’s take a speculative, but entirely possible, journey:
The barley in the tailgaters’ beer came from Canada by rail for temporary storage in one of the Electric Steel Elevator’s shiny steel silos. One of those colorful trucks hauled it to Rahr Malting in Shakopee where workers used it to produce malt and other brewing supplies. A beer company bought that malt, brewed up some beer and sold it to the tailgaters.
Last week I visited again. It was late in the day and this time, things were quiet on both sides of 25th Avenue SE. I couldn’t resist recording a few seconds of the eerie stillness, the only movement a train gliding past for destinations unknown.
Many thanks to Larry Morrison of Electric Steel Elevator Company and Haila Maze of the city of Minneapolis. Thanks, too, to the Minnesota Historical Society for permission to use a photo from its collection.