A last farewell to the Tillotson terminal elevator art works on Vinton Street

DSC_0372Story and photos by Kristen Cart

In the last weeks, the unique art project along I-80 in Omaha, Neb., came down as the Vinton Street display was concluded. The Tillotson Construction elevator stands now as it always did, plain and utilitarian, while still graceful in its own way.

As the Vinton Street banners first went up in the two phases of Emerging Terrain’s Stored Potential, first in 2010 and then in 2012, I had the opportunity to visit and photograph them. They had not weathered harsh winters and hard sunlight yet, and were as bright as the artists’ fresh paint.

Here are a few images, as a last tribute to this unique community art project.

The beauty of this project speaks for itself. The elevator now stands denuded of its decoration, yet poised for the next phase of its long and useful life.

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A view of early preparations at the foundation of Alta Cooperative’s elevator

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Photo from the Neil A. Lieb Collection

In a July 22 telephone conversation, Neil A. Lieb, who worked for Tillotson Construction Company from 1949 to 1951, described for us the elements of this photo, taken in the spring of 1950 during the earliest stage of work on the Alta Cooperative elevator, in Alta, Iowa.

  • The slab and rebar box in middle is the pit, covered with wood to leave a hole in concrete.
  • The horizontal box in the background is for the elevator’s leg, the critical motor-driven pulley-and-belt mechanism with attached scoops that lift the grain from the pit to the headhouse for distribution to bins and silos.
  • Planking is to provide a smooth course for the wheelbarrow in order to transport and dump freshly mixed concrete.
  • The dirt in the background came from the excavation.
  • In the center, the larger black tank on left contains acetylene and the smaller one holds oxygen, for fueling a torch, presumably to cut rebar.
  • The concrete mixer (upper left) had the capacity of one-half or one cubic yard of concrete.

Editor’s note: Although there is some distortion, the upper-right corner appears to show a worker who is bent at the waist and leaning away from the camera.

 

 

Emerging Terrain’s banners come down from the storage silos at Vinton Street

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By Ronald Ahrens

As these pages from the July 22 edition of the Omaha World-Herald show, the community art project that adorned storage silos at Tilltoson Construction Company’s landmark Vinton Street elevator have been taken down.

The story by Casey Logan explains that various exigencies combined to signal “time’s up” for the displays.

We were fortunate to have visited in 2012 and seen them for ourselves.

And now we ask what’s next for this massive terminal complex?

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Excavating with explosives led to trouble on Tillotson’s Alta, Iowa, elevator

 

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Story by Neil A. Lieb and photos from the Neil A. Lieb Collection

I do not know exactly when the Alta job started, but I think it was in March or early April of 1950. At that time of the year the ground in Iowa is frozen two to three feet deep. Since the ground was frozen, the bulldozer could not dig the hole needed for the slab. So it was decided they would use dynamite to loosen the soil. I guess Superintendent Bill Russell had this approved by the town fathers and the police and fire chef. 

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Now, remember, Alta is a very small town, maybe 900 to 1000 residents then.

It was decided to use one-quarter stick of dynamite at a depth of 18 to 24 inches. The first charge was set off and it loosened about six to seven feet of dirt so they repeated this procedure every six to eight feet.

After setting off several charges, someone decided that if one-quarter stick worked so well, one-half stick would loosen a bigger area. So they used one-half  stick for the next charge. When it was set off, the explosion was so loud that Bill came charging out of his office to find why at about the same time as the woman across the street came out of her house screaming that her china cabinet had fallen over and all her good china had been broken. 

Within a few minutes the mayor, fire and police chiefs, and most of the town council members showed up. I guess Bill was very busy trying explain. Once he’d calmed everyone down, they all left.

That was the end of the dynamiting. The next day everyone was swinging a pick.

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Newly discovered photos show Tillotson’s big Alta, Iowa, grain elevator in 1950

Neil A. Lieb collection

Photos contributed by Neil A. Lieb

Of the slew of elevators Tillotson Construction Company put up in 1950, the one at Alta, Iowa, could have been considered a typical job, although the photo above shows that a sign company must have gone to work sinking anchors in the headhouse for the raised lettering. Built in the small Buena Vista County town that sits at the highest point on the Chicago-Illinois Railroad in its crossing of the Hawkeye State, the elevator followed Tillotson’s established Palmer Plan, with eight tanks of 18 feet in diameter rising to 115 feet in height. There was a 13-foot-wide driveway passing through the house in an opening 15 feet high under four split bins. An additional note about the Palmer plan says, “Extra dist @ Cupola and on Cleaner Floor,” and we take the abbreviation to mean distribution.

Formwork as the Alta Cooperative's elevator rises in a continuous pour. Note the driveway door.

Formwork as the Alta Cooperative’s elevator rises in a continuous pour. Note the driveway door.

Here is the full list of specifications:

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 246,070 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 2640 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 2082 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers) 49.6 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 112.4 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 107/96 pounds

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 9419 lb/91 cu yd

Main slab 32,077 lb/272 cu yd

Drawform walls 142,070 lb/1424 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1485 lb/30 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 6682 lb/47 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 7929 lb/40 cu yd

Bin roof (corner) 10150 lb/51 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) none

Cupola walls 9655 lb/88 cu yd

Distributor floor 1912 lb/10 cu yd

Cupola roof 2753 lb/15 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps) 2560 lb/13 cu yd (a note here in the plans says “Cleaner floor”)

Elevator construction continued around the clock in a spectacle that must have awed the surrounding community.

Elevator construction continued around the clock in a spectacle that must have awed the community.

Construction details 

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 60 x 73.5 feet

Main slab area (actual outside on ground) 4101 sqare feet

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4000#/cu yd + steel) 4276 tons

Weight of plan concrete (hoppers 4000#/cu yd) 99 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000#/cu yd) 708 tons

Weight of grain (at 60# per bushel) 7380 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 20 tons

Gross weight loaded 12,483 tons

Bearing pressure 3.04 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 24 inches

Main slab steel (bent) 1 in diameter at 7 inch o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) 5/8 inch diameter at 6 inch o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls 762 feet including exterior

Height of drawform walls 115 feet

Pit depth below main slab 15 feet 0 inches

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.) 23 x 61.5 x 39 feet

Pulley centers 161 feet

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 feet

Dump grate size 3 – 9 x 6 feet

Columns under tanks size 20 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

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Machinery Details 

Boot pulley 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches

Head pulley 72 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches

R.P.M. head pulley 42 rpm

Belt 14 inch 6 ply Calumet

Cups 12 x 6 inch at 8 inch o.c. Howell

Head drive 40 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 8440 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 6750 bushels per hour

The finished elevator, before the headhouse windows were installed and whitewashing was done.

The finished elevator, before whitewashing and installation of the headhouse windows.

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 33 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower electric

Load out scale Two 25 bushel Rich.

Load out spout 10.75 inch W.C.

Cupola spouting 10-inch diameter 14 gauge

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Dust bin

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor 14-inch R.H. 3 hp.

A Tillotson elevator overlooks the 76th Dayton Championship Rodeo grounds

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The Dayton, Iowa, rodeo grounds bustle with activity for the championship event.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Dayton, Iowa, elevator is an especially handsome one, built in a typical Tillotson style. It is one of an overwhelming majority of Tillotson elevators that are still in use. It is quite an achievement to build something so enduring.

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Modern updates are evident in this view.

One of the secrets of the longevity of concrete elevators of this type is the ability to upgrade the machinery and to expand capacity. The elevators were built with the understanding that they would soon be filled and would need additional bins. The Tillotson Construction Company revisited certain sites over and over as they added concrete annexes and other improvements, while occasionally other companies won the contracts.

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The feed mill stands to the right.

You can see that the concrete elevator was retrofitted with an external leg. This modification is a safer design than the old internal one, because accumulated grain dust cannot come into contact with overheated machinery if a bearing or belt fails. Metal bins were added for additional capacity. A feed mill complements the storage facility, completing a one-stop shop for farmers.

The Dayton elevator’s original construction was not without trouble, however. Tillotson Construction Company was compelled to pay for repairs after the elevator cracked under its original grain load. The Farmers Elevator Company sued, according to the Farmers Elevator Guide, in 1954. The repairs were expertly done and the elevator still stands today.

Picking up the thread on screw jacks unravels some elevator fundamentals

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By Ronald Ahrens

These plans found in the Tillotson Construction Company archives show details of jack screw assembly and formwork, which were essential in the continuous pour method of building elevators, and they contain the key to unlocking the story of how screw jacks came into use.

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This key in is in the all-caps lettering “FOWELL SINKS JACK AND FORM.” A Web search reveals that “Fowell” is misspelled. Russell H. Folwell and William R. Sinks were Chicagoans who were granted patent 855452 for Apparatus for Raising Concrete Forms.

The patent application, filed with drawings (seen right) on Feb. 7, 1907, and awarded on June 4, 1907, stated,  “The invention relates to means for erecting concrete structures, and more particularly to apparatus for supporting and raising the forms or molds and the staging employed in building vertical concrete walls.”

The next year, the Canadian Stewart Company Ltd., of Montreal, started building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s 3.5-million-bushel terminal elevator in Thunder Bay, Ont. Folwell was chief design engineer; Sinks supervised the construction. Work was finished in 1910.

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Docomomo Canada-Ontario, which is part of Docomomo International, the organization that advocates for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement, says this:

“Folwell and Sinks experimented with their lifting device for concrete forms … in 1903-04. By the time the Grand Trunk was constructed, they had perfected their jackscrew lifting device, increased the amount of steel reinforcing and developed mechanical means for delivering the wet concrete to the construction site.”

Additionally: “The device allowed for speed in construction and resulted in smooth wall surfaces.”

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The Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 128, characterized the jack screw apparatus in a nine-point description.

Before perfecting the jack screw method, Sinks had been a proponent of tile construction for elevators, according to his grandson John Sinks, a genealogical researcher. He says his grandfather joined James Stewart & Company in 1905. For 108 years, between 1845 and 1953 (the company had come from Canada to the U.S. after the Civil War), Stewart was “one of North America’s most accomplished and longest-standing contractors,” the site of the National Building Museum tells us.  

Meanwhile, Nelson Machine Company, of Waukegan, Ill., appears to have been a manufacturer not only of screw jacks but also of pressing machines and irons.

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