The railroad tracks behind the Craig Grain Company were quiet Wednesday.
The giant, steel grain bins were empty, waiting for the wheat harvest season to arrive in the fall.
But, the next wheat railcar that comes through won’t stop at the Craig Grain bins on its way to Front Range flourmills, as trains have for the last 43 years.
It will rattle past, leaving the grain elevator still and collecting no fine, golden seeds from the bins.
As he stood by the deserted tracks Wednesday, Craig Grain owner Gordon Grandbouche said he won’t miss the day-to-day operations of the grain distribution business when he retires and closes his doors for good July 1.
But, he will miss the people.
He’ll miss the local wheat farmers who truck their harvest in every fall, the part-time help he hires during the busy season and the friends and clients who stop by his store on Industrial Avenue.
“It’s a good bunch of people to work with,” he said. “It’s been good years for me, a good business. But, I have no hard feelings about leaving it.”
He said the decision to retire was not an economic one.
“It’s time,” Grandbouche said. “I’m 76 years old. It gets harder to do. It’s just an opportunity to get out.
“It’s not an economic thing. It’s still a decent business.”
Grandbouche’s father was a wheat farmer in Nebraska before he moved to Northwest Colorado in the 1950s, where he continued to cultivate golden fields and ran a grain elevator in Hayden.
Grandbouche bought Craig Grain in 1967, when it was just two bolted steel grain bins. He added more infrastructure and built a steady base of producers.
Through the decades, Grandbouche has seen the typical ups and downs of the agriculture industry, in which the weather often decides production, demand and prices.
Acting as salesman, economist and machinery operator nearly the entire span of his business, Grandbouche once had as many as five employees during a boom in the 1980s.
Recently, he’s worked mainly on his own, enlisting part-time help during the harvest season.
The company receives, weighs, processes and treats wheat grain before shipping it to flourmills in Denver and beyond.
ConAgra, a food production corporation in Denver, receives some of Grandbouche’s grain to use in products found typically on local grocery store shelves.
Some of the grain is cleaned, treated and used to replant wheat fields.
In the wheat industry, there is no typical year, he said, but he moves anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 bushels a year. Each bushel is equivalent to about eight gallons. He’s moved as many as 800,000 bushels in one year.
The grain comes and goes in bulk, brought in by trucks and leaving the same way, if not by rail.
But there are a few grains of wheat that have never left Moffat County.
Grandbouche recalled an old friend who used to stop by and pick up small sacks of grain to grind into flour.
She baked homemade bread and would return to the shop with samples.
“She’d always give me a loaf,” he remembered. “A hot loaf, with butter.”
A future afoot
As he stood in his shop demonstrating how he checks for moisture content and nitrogen in his product, he popped wheat grains into his mouth to chew on.
He said he isn’t worried about his producers, who have other local options for selling their wheat.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Businesses come and go, people come and go. It’s all going to be fine.”
With three children, four grandchildren and a 1-month-old great-granddaughter, Grandbouche will have plenty of family obligations to keep him occupied in retirement.
But, in years to come, he might find himself in his son’s wheat fields, unable to shake the family legacy.
“Your whole life you think of things you want to do,” he said. “Now I don’t have any big plans. My son farms here, he has a wheat farm. I’ll probably help him out.
“You get started at things, and it just becomes your life.”