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Preserving the past: Group seeks to preserve, document country grain elevators and their histories

FARGO, N.D. -- Bruce Selyem sees a big part of rural America's heritage being lost. The Bozeman, Mont., photographer launched the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society to help change that. "If we don't do something now, it will be too late," ...

FARGO, N.D. -- Bruce Selyem sees a big part of rural America's heritage being lost.

The Bozeman, Mont., photographer launched the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society to help change that.

"If we don't do something now, it will be too late," he says.

Changing face of ag

The nonprofit society was established in 1995 "to promote the preservation of country grain elevators and their history by the collection, conservation and dissemination of information for documentary purposes."

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Small-town grain elevators once were a common sight in the Upper Midwest.

Farmers buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals, and sold their grain at the elevators.

The economics of agriculture have changed, putting a priority on size and efficiency for both farms and grain elevators.

North Dakota has about 400 grain elevators, compared with 460 a decade ago and 580 two decades ago.

As time passes, the employees and customers of the shutdown elevators move away or die. And old elevators often are destroyed, either out of security concerns or to make room for new ones.

"The longer we wait (to collect information), more is lost," Selyem says.

Financial support for the society comes from annual dues, corporate donations and private and public grants.

Volunteer effort

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The society has no paid employees, only volunteers -- primarily Selyem and his wife, Barbara. Bruce Selyem takes photographs. Barbara collects information and writes articles.

The two often run a booth at grain and feed shows to promote the society. Many of its 350 members live in the Upper Midwest.

Membership costs $20 ($25 outside the United States) for individuals and families. Business memberships cost $100.

Dave Britton is one of the members.

Britton, president of Britton Transport in Grand Forks, N.D., visited many area grain elevators as a boy. He often traveled with his father, Clarence, who was involved in the grain industry, and enjoys taking photos of area grain elevators.

"I really think the grain elevators are an important part of our prairie culture," he says.

Information: www.country-grain-elevator-historical-society.org .

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