Building a grain elevator required a whole boxcar of lumber

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, photos from his archive

From a telephone interview on July 22, 2014:

Decks for the formwork are stacked at upper-right corner of the foundation. Piles of sand and gravel are for concrete. It took one complete boxcar-load of lumber to build most elevators. Everything came by rail in those days.

One thing you did, you re-used all that lumber many, many times. The inside walls of forms were all taken down, taken apart, and the lumber was all reused. We always had a crew of two or three guys cleaning lumber, taking the nails out and cleaning the concrete off of it. Slip-form lumber was seldom reused. By the time you stripped the forms out at the top, that lumber fell 120 feet to a concrete slab and by the time it got there, it was moving. So when it hit, it pretty well disintegrated.

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This is probably the third or fourth day. They went about six inches an hour. The boxes were put in the forms to leave holes where they wanted a hole. On the inside, they’d want a hole to put a spout or something. They’re all pre-made and numbered. The shift foreman’s responsibility is to make sure they’re put in where they’re supposed to be. They have a given height and given location.

You always knew how high you were because in the elevator’s water shaft there was a continuous measuring stick so you knew exactly how high off the ground you were. It was important that these boxes be put in at a certain height.

You also had a continuous ladder. We used to race up and down.

You see the jacks are on the outside. The guys looking over the rails, this is the back side. Way on the other side is where the cement is coming up. You can’t see a hoist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stabbing jack rods one-handed and borrowing smokes in Alta, Iowa

scan0007Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, photo from his archive

In a telephone interview July 22, 2014, Neil describes this dramatic scene:

Everything is in place, I can tell you that. This is all ready to go. The big long ones are jack rods. if you follow them down you can see the jack. One-third into the picture from right, you can see the jack heads. You turn those a quarter turn at a time.

An interesting thing about jack rods, to impress the new hires, the old timers… They were eight-foot-long, one-inch cold-rolled steel weighing about 65 pounds. The trick was that you pick up the rod and put it in the jack with one hand. it was something you just did. Just to demonstrate ability, I guess. Everybody on the crew could stab a jack rod one-handed.

Around the outside wall, the thin rods are vertical rebar. If you look in the middle, you can see the hold that the concrete goes in.

Bracing for the hoist is what cuts across the roofline of the house.

Wayne Baker, foreman, is probably the one striding through the middle. Baker never bought cigarettes. When I worked in construction, everybody smoked. I don’t ever remember seeing him pull out a pack of cigarettes.

A Tillotson skyscraper dominates corn country in Randall, Iowa

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

During every elevator scouting trip, there comes a fork in the road where we choose which elevator to see, and which to save for another time. On the way home from Nebraska this summer we came to such a place at the junction of Iowa Route 175 and US 69 in central Iowa. To the north I could see the silhouette of an elevator at Jewell, and just east from Jewell, across the South Skunk River, the town of Ellsworth beckoned. But as I checked my map, to the south I saw Randall, which was a familiar name. I elected to turn south onto US 69.

The name should have been familiar, because it is found in several places in the Tillotson Construction Company records. The elevator in the central Iowa town of Randall was built in 1949 using the “Dike Plan.”

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The elevator commands the Randall skyline

In the company records for subsequent projects at West Bend and Pocahontas, Iowa, both built using the Dike plan, the quantities of concrete and steel and the machinery details were summarized with the shorthand, “Like Randall,” for each project. The Dike plan was widely used for Tillotson’s quarter-million-bushel elevators.

The Randall elevator and its annexes overlooked a silent street of empty storefronts on that quiet Sunday. The co-op office looked new and efficient. The town was a perfect snapshot of the principle of economy-of-scale: the small business, like the small farm operation, must grow, combine forces, or die.

We have the construction records for Randall’s elevator and its siblings in West Bend and Pocahontas, which vary in minor details. Randall’s specifications follow.

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The Randall Lumber Co. appears to be a survivor of the economic slump.

 

Specifications

Capacity per plans (with Dock): 252,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 2,520 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 2,066 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 40 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (including jack rods): 109.37 tons

Average steel per cubic yard reinforced concrete: 106 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans:

Below main slab: 4,637 pounds steel, 40 cubic yards concrete

Main slab: 39,291 pounds steel, 266 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 129,000 pounds steel, 1,430 cubic yards concrete

Work and Driveway floor (including columns): 3,700 pounds steel, 24 cubic yards concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 11,832 pounds steel, 58 cubic yards concrete

Overhead Bin bottoms: 4,876 pounds concrete, 30 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof (or garner): 8,791 pounds steel, 56 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor (complete): none

Cupola walls: 8,404 pounds steel, 92 cubic yards concrete

Distributor floor: 1,848 pound steel, 11 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: 2,360 pounds steel, 18 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 3,000 pounds steel, 30 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway: 1000 pounds steel, 11 cubic yards concrete (driveway extension, walls and roof)

DSC_0664Construction details

Main slab dimensions (drive length first dimension): 60′ x 72 1/2′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 4,200 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel): 4,241 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 74 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 985 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 pounds per bushel): 7,560 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 12,880 tons

Bearing pressure: 3.06 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 21″

Main slab steel: bent 1″ square at 7″ o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 1/2″ diameter at 9″ o. c. spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 655 excluding extension

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: 14’9″

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 24 1/2′ x 50 1/4′ x 40′

Pulley centers: 165.25′

Number of legs: 1

Distributor floor: yes

Track sink: yes

Full basement: yes

Electrical room: yes

Driveway width clear: 12′

Dump grate size: 2 at 9′ x 6′ and 9′ x 14′

Column under tanks size: 20″ square

Boot legs and head: concrete

DSC_0635Machinery details

Boot pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 2 3/16″

Head pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 3 15/16″

R.P.M. Head pulley: 42

Belt: 355′, 14″ 6 ply Calumet

Cups: 12″ x 6″ at 8 1/2″ o. c. spacing

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower [3 circled here]

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturers rating): 7,920 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical rating): 6,340 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15% for motor): 32 horsepower

Man lift: 2 horsepower Ehr.

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 10″ w.c.

Cupola spouting: 10″ diameter 14 gauge

Truck lift: 7 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Dust collector system: Fan to bin

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: provision

Remarks

3 bin distributor under scale

Provision for hopper scale

 

 

 

 

The Alta, Iowa, grain elevator’s unique layout was ‘a different kind of job’

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb and photos from the Neil A. Lieb Archive

This post’s two photos show early stages of work on Tillotson Construction Company’s grain elevator at Alta, Iowa, in the spring of 1950. In a July 22 phone conversation, Neil Lieb, who worked on this elevator as a Tillotson employee (1949 to 1951) described details:

Three tanks on right, two on left, a square tank on left … The little tanks were a lot more trouble to make. Alta was not designed by Tillotson. It was designed by some outfit out of Kansas City. So it was a different kind of a job, and it was specifically designed—they had some kind of a grain-drying system that was relatively new. When these [elevators] were built, they didn’t dry the grain. It had to be dry before you put it in. Alta had some kind of a drying system. These bins were all designed—the whole idea was you could have smaller quantities of grain stored that was wet, and you’d run it out of these bins and through the dryer into the bins below. Half full of wet grain, the other half full of dry. The dry was taken back and dumped in the major silos.

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The co-ops in Iowa were very large in those days, with hundreds of members signed up. They would take a sample out of the load and do a moisture content test. So they would test each load and put it in one of these tanks based on how much moisture it had. When they went to dry it, it would take out the required amount of moisture. I know we had a lot of extra electrical work.

The plans for the elevator are inscribed on the elevator [slab], so you could set the forms where they belonged. The scribing was done a couple of days after the slab was poured. So when you build forms and moved them in, you knew exactly where to put them. It looked like it was all hit and miss, but it wasn’t.

Sixteenpenny nails were used in nailing together the forms. When you’re doing this, the foreman will count heads. You make all these interior pieces before you do anything else. When you make these, the foreman counts out heads, and he opens that many kegs of sixteenpenny nails, and they’re all supposed to be empty when you go home at night. Fifty-pound kegs and twenty-ounce hammer, and you start the nail and drive it with three strokes. The nail is a little over seven inches long. When you do that all day long for several days, you develop a real good right arm.

The twin of the vanished Glidden, Iowa, elevator still stands at Churdan, Iowa

DSC_0476Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Tucked into a nest of grain bins in the west-central Iowa town of Churdan is an old original elevator built by Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Neb. The annex hard by its side also boasts the Tillotson name.

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It is immediately obvious that the old Tillotson structure has been updated at some time in the past with a leg that extends above the headhouse, thereby keeping the machinery most prone to overheating far from accumulations of grain dust.

DSC_0497DSC_0490The annex beside it shows signs of cracking. Stress cracks are an old enemy of elevators, a problem which eventually spelled the demise of the Churdan elevator’s twin at Glidden, Iowa, and also the Mayer-Osborn elevator at Maywood, Kan.

Manhole covers along the side declare that the annex was built by Tillotson Construction in 1955.

DSC_0486An elevator built by Quad States was added to the Farmers Cooperative complex some years later. (Its trademark stepped headhouse is curved only at the outside margins, a usually reliable indicator of a Quad States design. A manhole cover dated 1969 boasts its provenance.)

A white-painted metal bin, served by the Tillotson elevator headhouse, was also added to the site to increase storage capacity.

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Click the photo to witness the demolition

After demolition of two faulty bins in 2013, the concrete remnants were bulldozed into the center of an empty lot across from the co-op office.

A large-capacity shiny metal bin across the street completes the scene.

We are fortunate to have the specifications for the Churdan elevator, which is an early example built in 1949, and for its 198,960-bushel annex. The elevator specifications are detailed below.

The “Churdan Plan” was used for a number of Tillotson elevators, including Glidden, Sanborn, Gilmore City, and Thompson, Iowa; Greenwood and Fairfield, Neb.; and Montevideo, Minn. The construction of elevators using this plan spanned from 1949 to 1952. Specifications varied according to an individual customer’s  requirements.

The “Churdan Plan” consisted of four 14 1/2-foot-diameter bins, 100 feet tall, with a 13-by-17-foot driveway and eight bins over the driveway. It had a 13-foot spread. Notations in the company record said “bin split for drier” and “16 bins and dust bin.”

Specifications

Capacity per plans (with Dock): 102,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,318 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,083 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 25 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (including jack rods): 57.72 tons

Average steel per cubic yard reinforced concrete: 106.5 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans:

Below main slab: 3,133 pounds steel, 29 cubic yards concrete

Main slab: 15,937 pounds steel, 113 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 73,405 pounds steel, 760 cubic yards concrete

Work and Driveway floor (including columns): 3,370 pounds steel, 26 cubic yards concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 3,480 pounds steel, 19 cubic yards concrete

Overhead Bin bottoms: 3,752 pounds concrete, 23 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof (or garner): 3,060 pounds steel, 30 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor (complete): 186 pounds steel, 3 cubic yards concrete

Cupola walls: 3,481 pounds steel, 35 cubic yards concrete

Distributor floor: 886 pound steel, 7 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: 1,129 pounds steel, 9 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 1,036 pounds steel, 20 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway: 600 pounds steel, 9 cubic yards concrete (driveway extension)

DSC_0494Construction details

Main slab dimensions (drive length first dimension): 48′ x 48′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 2,270 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel): 2,224 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 50 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 360 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 pounds per bushel): 3,060 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 15 tons

Gross weight loaded: 5,709 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.52 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 18″

Main slab steel: straight 1 1/4″ square at 10″ o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 3/8″ at 8″ o. c. spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 440 excluding extension

Height of drawform walls: 90′

Pit depth below main slab: 12’0″

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 15′ x 32 1/3′ x 22′

Pulley centers: 115.67′

Number of legs: 1

Distributor floor: yes

Track sink: yes

Full basement: yes

Electrical room: yes

Driveway width clear: 13′

Dump grate size: 2 at 9′ x 5 1/2′ and 9′ x 15′

Column under tanks size: 16″ square

Boot legs and head: concrete

Machinery details

Boot pulley: 60″ x 14″ x 2 3/16″

Head pulley: 60″ x 14″ x 3 15/16″

R.P.M. Head pulley: 44

Belt: 272′, 14″ 6 ply Calumet

Cups: 12″ x 6″ at 9″ o. c. spacing

Head drive: Howell 30 horsepower [3 circled here]

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturers rating): 6,540 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical rating): 5,230 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15% for motor): 19.9 horsepower

Man lift: 2 horsepower Ehr.

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 8 1/4″ w.c.

Cupola spouting: 10″ diameter 14 ga.

Truck lift: 7 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Dust collector system: Fan to bin

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: None

Remarks

Split bin for dryer

Analysis of photos from Tillotson Construction’s job in Alta, Iowa

 

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By Charles J. Tillotson with photos from the Neil A. Lieb archive

The images from the Neil A. Lieb Archive are the best historical, phase-by-phase photos that I’ve seen yet. They give the layman a good concept of what actually takes place, from start to finish, in building a grain elevator.

A few comments I might add:

The excavation for the foundation began with dynamite.

Excavating the foundation began with a bang.

Neil writes about the use of dynamite during the excavation process. Dynamite was used for foundation excavation on many a job because of the deep frost. We even used it for cutting the foundation of the reinforced concrete garage we built on the old place in Omaha. We were young ’ns then, but still got to set (light) the fuses to a few charges.

I remember getting the neighbors excited about what the hell we were doin’ now.

By the way, the garage utilized slip-form construction with steel stays instead of wood for the formwork—another of Dad’s experiments. He was interested in finding materials that could be reused over and over, rather than having to buy lumber formwork for every new job. I guess this method didn’t make a lot of sense, as he never tried it out on an elevator.

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This photo is an historical testimony as to how the so-called unskilled, common man could be taught layout along with measuring, wood cutting, and other carpentry skills. The labor used to build these forms and construct the entire grain elevator structure was obtained, for the most part, from the inhabitants of the local vicinity where the elevator was to be built. Most of the workmen had no experience whatsoever in the construction industry.

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People used to marvel at how the cement went into the top of the formwork and came out the bottom of the forms, in a set-up, semi-solid state, all occurring whilst the deck and forms continued to extend upwards, being jacked up on screw jacks. Once the slipping of the forms began, it never stopped, unless by a power outage, a severe storm, or some other interference.

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Beneath the deck and main formwork, a sub-scaffolding was constructed to provide access to the exterior face of the concrete structure, which required patching and touch-up for a final smooth finish. A rich mixture of cement, sand, and lime was used which was applied to the concrete face by hand, usually covering the entire exterior surface, removing all blemishes. The finish material was hoisted in five-gallon buckets to the finishers. These workmen traversed the scaffold of wood planking—usually two, 2 x 12s laid flat between the wooden hanger frames that attached to the formwork above. Very dangerous work without a safety net!

At the ground level, a workman on a tractor would load a Georgia buggy with cement, to be hoisted to the top and placed in the formwork. Small skip loaders, tractors with scoop-type buckets mounted on the front, were an essential tool used during construction. This included scooping up the sand, gravel, and cement to make concrete and placing them in a mixer.

Neil A. Lieb collection Once the concrete was ready for placement, the tractor scoop was filled with the cementitous mixture and transported to the side of the elevator whereby the tractor would dump its load into a Georgia buggy to be hoisted up to the deck for placement.

Because of the extensive use of the tractor, more than one would be worn out. During the extremely active 1950s, Tillotson Construction Company would purchase Ford Ferguson tractors a dozen at a time, just to keep up with the need for replacement

The logistics of material supply was always challenging for the grain elevator builder. Usually, the projects were located in very rural farmland areas, where the supply of lumber, steel, sand, gravel, cement, gasoline, and oil was miles from the site. Because the construction utilized the slip-form method, the operation never stopped once it began, making it paramount that the supply of materials be established beforehand along with a comfort level that there would be no interruption once the job started.

Neil has noted (in an as yet unpublished commentary) the mixture of the gleaming, white, finished “paint,” which wasn’t really paint at all but instead a cementitious mixture that lasted for a very long time. Some of the elevators existing today still boast the original finish. Tillotson was among the few contractors that finished out their jobs this way.

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Training the local unskilled labor in the processes of placing and wire-tying the reinforcing steel –and of pouring concrete, turning screw jacks, keeping the slip-form deck level, et cetera– were just a few of the many headaches the job superintendent had to bear during the initial start-up phases.

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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