DULUTH — Beet-pulp pellets from Grain Elevator A were loaded on the Netherlands-bound vessel Maxima on Tuesday morning in the Duluth-Superior Harbor, a return to service for the century-old elevator that has hasn't seen a ship since 2013.
The elevator that sits at the north end of Rice's Point, previously owned by General Mills, was purchased by Hansen-Mueller Co. in 2022. Upgrades have been made to the storied facility in the past year, including roof repairs, a revamped compressed-air system and general maintenance to the elevator's legs, belts and scales.
"It's been a long road and it's culminating today, starting what we hope will be a very long run here of this kind of activity in the port," said Josh Hansen, president of the Omaha-based grain merchants.
The reopening comes after a shipping season with the lowest level of grain exports from the Duluth-Superior port since 1890 — even a 20% drop from 2021. In the next two days, about 12,300 short tons of beet pulp pellets will be loaded onto the Maxima before it travels to the Netherlands.
"I think having us here with this capacity can only help bring further tonnage in and out," Hansen said. "So that will be our aim — driving that up."
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The Maxima arrived in Duluth on Monday, after spending a week at the Calumet Harbor port in Chicago.
Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said she has often been asked about the future of the long-empty grain elevator. It's all part of a life cycle for a facility like this, she said.
"It takes awhile to find the correct buyer — and we found that in Hansen-Mueller," she said, describing the company as experienced, family-run and Midwestern.
Grain Elevator A is 185 feet tall and has storage capacity of 3.5 million bushels. Consolidated Elevator Co. built the structure in 1908, using ceramic tile and brick to replace a wooden elevator that had previously stood on the site since 1894. It was then purchased by General Mills in 1943.
"She's not a real looker," Hansen said of the facility. "But she can get a lot done in a day. I think we'd all be super pleased if we looked as good as her at 115 [years old], and I know that we'd be happy if we could get the amount of work done at her age when we're that old."
Hansen-Mueller has owned the Daisy Elevator and Grain Elevator M complex in Superior, Wis., for about 20 years, facilities that use the railroad for transport. With the addition of Elevator A, the company has access to the St. Lawrence Seaway — in addition to rail and trucking options.