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A Wheat Elevator

Grain Elevator A Compound Machine

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Transporting grain from farms to the market or storage silos has always been a challenge. In 1842 a solution was found by the invention of the grain elevator. A grain elevator is used in many steps of grain transportation. First a small elevator is used to load the grain into the truck. Then larger elevators are used to transfer the grain from the truck to the mass transport vehicles such as trains and barges. Finally grain elevators are used to transfer grain from the trains, trucks and barges to the top of storage silos.

A grain elevator is a compound machine consisting of many simple machines such as a wheel and axle, a pulley, and a lever. In this project you will construct a simple model of a grain elevator.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.  

Project advisor

This project requires adult support to cut and drill the wooden pieces.

Information Gathering:

Find out about grain elevators. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the history and the structure of grain elevators. Identify material around you or in your local craft store or hardware store that can be used in construction of a grain elevator model. While searching the internet, use the terms such as wheat elevator, grain elevator and bucket elevator. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Following are samples of information that you may find.

In 1843 Joseph Dart of Buffalo solved the problem of handling the grain with the invention of his steam-powered elevator. Dart’s bucket elevator raised grain from lake boats to built storage bins where it remained until being lowered for transshipment or for milling.



What’s the purpose of a grain elevator? Most basically, it’s used to transfer grain from the vehicle in which the farmer brings it to the elevator into a mass-transportation vehicle for shipment to a major market. The first elevators moved the grain from the farmer’s horse drawn wagons into barges for shipment along canals. Later, the elevators transferred the grain to the railroad. The elevator serves several purposes. It grades the quality of the grain, dries it, stores it and ships it. The feed elevators also provide grinding and mixing services. Source…

A grain elevator is usually located near the storage silos where trains, trucks and barges can reach to it.





Let’s follow the process of
receiving and shipping grain
through the schematic drawing.
Imagine yourself in a grain elevator.

When a farmer (grain producer) delivers grain to an elevator, the grain truck is driven up the elevator driveway and onto a scale(1). The elevator manager weighs the truck on a government inspected scale. The weight of the truck is recorded on a Canadian Grain Commission approved ticket.
The truck is unloaded by either an elevator hoist or a hoist on the farmers truck. The truck is raised so that the grain flows out of the back of the truck box, through a grate in the scale, and into a collection area called a pit (2). This area is known as the front pit. When the truck is empty, it is re-weighted. The difference between the full and empty truck is the weight of the grain delivered. This figure is recorded in the producers delivery permit book.

When large volumes of grain are delivered it is necessary to store grain in the annex. Grain may be placed in the annex from any portion of the elevator or directly from a delivery truck. Let’s move from the pit to the annex.
The elevator manager sets the necessary machinery, such as the front leg and the top annex conveyor in motion. The proper spouting is also placed in position. The grain is now elevated from the front pit, up the leg, through the distributor, onto the top conveyer and down a spout into an annex bin. All the bins in a grain elevator are numbered, and the elevator manager records the type and grade of the grain in each bin on a bin chart.

Nearly all the grain shipped from a country elevator leaves by rail. The shipping process begins when one or a number of hopper cars are spotted on a rail-line near the track-side of the elevator. The car is opened, inspected for soundness and cleanliness, and the loading spout is placed in the top of the car.
The elevator manager then sets the distributor (4) to channel grain to the loading spout (6), selects the bin (7) to draw the grain from and begins the loading operation. The grain is then taken from the bin and dropped into the hopper scale (8) where it is weighted and lowered into the back pit. The elevation leg (3) lifts the grain to the top of the elevator and drops it into the distributor which directs it to the loading spout and into the grain car.
When the car is loaded with the required amount of grain, the car is closed and the hatches are sealed with a numbered metal strip. The loaded car number and the amount of grain inside is recorded with the grain company and the railway, and the car is picked up by a passing train.
New technology and better equipment have had a beneficial effect on the performance of country elevators. Many elevators are being fitted with two elevation legs which gives the elevator manager the flexibility to unload trucks and load rail cars simultaneously. Both legs can be used for shipping and receiving grain. The use of computers to relay accounts and automatically operate the elevator is also in place at many country points.
Although there are fewer elevators now operating, those that are left are more efficient and able to handle larger amounts of grain.
Whether old or new, large or small, made from wood, concrete or steel, country elevators perform the same function. These large structures which dot the countryside in Western Canada gather large volumes of grain from many producers. Because this is where grain is collected, because is the first order of movement of grain from farm to market, these elevators are called ‘primary elevators’.


Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to construct a grain elevator model as a compound machine.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

Identifying variables and hypothesis are not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”


A grain elevator is made of two parallel poles with one spool on each end. A conveyer belt or chain travels over the spools. Small buckets are mounted on the belt or chain. The upper spool spins by a motor so the belts and buckets start to move. The lower spool enters the grains so the buckets can lift grains.

In our model we use two wooden sticks as poles. We also use wooden spools. A ribbon or a strip of thin leather works as the belt. Buckets are made of heavy construction paper.


1. Get two same size wooden sticks the same length as the elevator that you are planning to make. For example for a two feet tall elevator, use two, 2-foot sticks. On each end of each stick mark a spot that is equidistance from the sides and that end. Make a hole on these spots with a diameter which is slightly larger than the diameter of the wood dowels that you are using. These holes will later hold the spools.

2. The two sticks that form the side rails of the grain elevator, must be kept apart at a distance that is slightly more than the size of the spools. Another wooden stick can be used to keep this distance. For example if your spools are 2 inches long, then a wooden stick that is 2 1/8 inches wide and 16 inches long can be mounted between two rails to keep them apart.

In one of the models that I made, I used multiple smaller wood dowels to keep the rails apart; In that case may rails looked like a ladder. Using a one piece stick is much easier.

3. Cut a wood dowel about 1″ longer than the spool length. Insert the wood dowel into the spool hole so that about 1/2″ of the wood dowel stays out on each end of the spool. If the diameter of the holes in the center of the spools is smaller than the wood dowels that you have, you can use a long drill bit and enlarge the hole so it matches the diameter of the spool hole.

4. Apply some glue to secure the wood dowel in this position. Note that the wood dowel must fit the spool snugly.

5. Cut another wood dowel about 2″ longer than the spool length. Insert the wood dowel into the spool hole so that about 1/2″ of the wood dowel stays out in one side and 1 1/2″ on the other side. Apply some glue to secure the wood dowel in its position. Do NOT connect the handle at this time.


6. Take the small piece of wood, which will be your crank, and drill two holes on each end with the same diameter as your wood dowels. These holes must also be equidistance from the sides. One hole will house a small wood dowel used as a handle. The other hole is for the axis of the upper spool.

7. Insert the wood spool with the longer dowel into the holes of one side of the two rails. Make sure that the spool can spin freely. This side of the rail will be the upper side.

8. Insert the wood spool with the shorter dowel into the holes of the other side of the two rails. Make sure that the spool can spin freely. This side of the rail will be the lower side.

Both spools must be able to spin freely at this time. If they don’t, enlarge the holes or sand the wood dowels until they do.


9. Finish off the crank and handle on the spool with the longer wood dowel. Insert the longer side of the upper wood dowel into the handle and use glue (if needed) to secure it in place. You now have a finished structure.




10. Place the ribbon around the wood spools and either sew it together or use pins to secure it tightly. It is very important to have the ribbon tight. You can test your structure thus far by turning the crank and checking to make sure the ribbon goes around on the spools. If it does not, trace back the steps and try to figure out what went wrong.10. Place the ribbon around the wood spools and either sew it together or use pins to secure it tightly. It is very important to have the ribbon tight. You can test your structure thus far by turning the crank and checking to make sure the ribbon goes around on the spools. If it does not, trace back the steps and try to figure out what went wrong.


11. You are now ready to construct the individual buckets that will attach to the ribbon belt. Use heavy construction paper to cut the forms shown in the right. You can then fold them to make small buckets. As you see these buckets are almost like small boxes; however, one side of them is larger. This is the side that must be connected to the ribbon.




12. Make enough buckets so you can mount them 3 inches apart. Once you have all the buckets, staple them to the belt equal lengths apart.

We used staplers to connect the buckets; however, you may sew them, glue them or connect them any other way.




13. Use some grains, rice or lentils to see if your elevator works. Insert the lower end of the elevator into a bowl of grains and spin the upper handle. We used rice and it worked really well.





14. You are now ready to finish this project. In this last step we want to create a cover to protect the belt from outside contaminants. Use construction paper to make a cover. Make sure there is enough clearance room between the buckets and the cover.

Materials and Equipment:

This is the list of materials that we used in one grain elevator model. You will need to make your own list based on the wood material that are available to you.

  • 2, 1⅛” x 2′ (W x L) wood pieces that will serve as the rails. The thickness should be 3/16″.
  • 1, 3/8″ x 16″ x 2 1/2″ stick as a spacer between the rails.
  • 1, 1⅛” x 3″ (W x L) wood piece used for the crank.
  • 2, 1 1/2″ x 2⅛” (Diameter x L) wood spools.
  • 1, ⅜” x 5″ (Diameter x L) wood dowel.
  • 5, ⅜” x 2⅝” (Diameter x L) wood dowels.
  • Approximately 4′ x 1 1/2″ ribbon that will serve as the belt. Grosgrain ribbon is good because it is semi-
  • elastic.
  • Stapler with staples.
  • Scotch tape.
  • Wood glue.
  • Construction paper.
  • ⅜” drill bit and drill.
  • Small piece of sand paper.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.

This section is not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.


If you do any calculations for your project, write your calculations in this section of your report.

Summery of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.

This section is not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

This section is not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

This section is not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.

This section is not required for engineering or display projects such as this one.


List of References



If you need books about grain elevators, visit your local library or search www.amazon.com and search for books about grain elevator.