The vanished Glidden elevator, a concrete giant, has gone the way of the wood

Story by Kristen Cart

It is tremendously disappointing when you realize an elevator should be there, and isn’t. I recently passed through the north-central Iowa town of Glidden, a small place mostly on the south side of Highway 30. I knew from Tillotson construction records that an elevator and an annex were built in Glidden back during the elevator boom. But though I leaned over to that side of the car to peer at the skyline, hoping to see the familiar white Tillotson elevator outline, all I saw were two hulking bins of another more modern sort.

You learn to expect old wooden elevators to disappear. But the 1940s and ’50s vintage concrete elevators usually are not so quick to go.

Glidden, IA 51443 - Google MapsThis situation would require some investigation, but not on a day when I had to get home, with another 400 miles or so to go. I had at least one more stop planned to see an elevator, at Ralston, a town just a few miles further east, and my three kids tolerated the stops, hanging in there at the frazzled edges of their patience.

When I got home, I resorted to the Internet. Satellite images have become so good that you can virtually identify a builder from above. But in the case of Glidden, there was no sign of an old elevator, only a bulldozed area where the forms for two circular bins had been laid out. Apparently I had not overlooked the desired elevator–it was gone.

NEW Cooperative Inc - Google MapsI didn’t count on being able to date the demolition, but the map’s “street view” came to the rescue. An uploaded photo, watermarked 2013, showed a view of the site from an intersection down the street. From that perspective, the old elevator stood as it always had, since it was built. So the old elevator was probably retired after the last of its grain was out, in time for new bins to be built for the next harvest, sometime in 2013 before winter set in.

I missed my grandfather’s (alleged) McAllaster, Kan., elevator by a couple of months when it was torn down over a year ago. But in the satellite image that was available at the time, you could see where the destruction had begun. Several round bins were newly absent, and holes appeared in the top of the headhouse.

I don’t imagine that satellite engineers envisioned this use for their images.

 

Charles H. Tillotson straddled the divide between wood and concrete

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

My Great-grandfather Charles H. Tillotson may have been following his trade by instinct, but he opened the way for descendants to distinguish themselves in the business of elevator construction.

I know the Tillotsons saw themselves primarily as carpenters. My Uncle Charles J. Tillotson went to work as an apprentice carpenter for Tillotson Construction, which was founded after the death of his grandfather Charles. My Uncle Michael Tillotson learned carpentry on through the family business and worked as a carpenter throughout his career. When I helped him finish concrete sidewalks on a couple of side jobs in the 1970s, he preached a gospel that carpenters could do it all, whether it be concrete or painting. And in elevator construction, it was true.

Charles H. Tillotson was born in Brunswick, Mo., in 1880. He married Rose Brennan in Riverside, Iowa.

He and my Great-grandmother Rose had an apparently cozy life in Omaha with their three grown children, Joseph, Reginald, and Mary, all of whom became involved in elevator construction. Kristen Cart’s research has found the Tillotsons listed in the 1930 census. They lived at 624 N. 41st.

A 1936 city directory listed Charles H. as president of Van Ness Construction, a company that built mills and elevators. Joseph served as secretary-treasurer and Reginald was a foreman. Mary worked as a clerk-typist at the Federal Land Bank.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938

By then, Reginald was married to my grandmother, Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson. Their firstborn Charles J., had arrived in 1935, followed the next year by my mother, Mary Catherine.

Uncle Tim Tillotson, the middle of their three sons between Charles J. and Michael (who was born in a home-built house trailer at a Smith Center, Kan., job site), says a story exchanged among the uncles was that Great-grandfather Charles H. would tell Reginald, “Put out that cigarette,” when they were working on jobs. The danger of fire was constant. How ironic, then, that Charles H. held a cigarette for his portrait.

After the death of paterfamilias Charles H., the Tillotson Construction Company was formed by Reginald, Joseph, and Mary. We would love to learn more about how this proceeded.

Meanwhile, the transition to slip-formed concrete construction was under way, with the Tillotsons’ carpentry skills being readily applied to the formwork.

A tale from the Johnson Construction elevator at Galatia, Kansas

DSC_0582 copy Blencoe

Blencoe, Iowa

Story by Kristen Cart

Once again, one of our readers has supplied a fascinating glimpse into the construction of an elevator.

Emily Frank is the granddaughter of Darrell Greenlee, a foreman for Johnson and Johnson-Sampson. She related a story about the beginnings of the Galatia, Kan., grain elevator:

The Post Crescent 26 Mar 1959My grandfather built slipform concrete grain elevators while my mom was little. My grandparents moved around every three to six months from the time they were married until my mom (the third of six children) was in third grade. I find a lot of your stories remind me of the ones my mom told or my grandmother tells. You did one where a man fell to his death from an elevator during construction. Unfortunately that happened on a job where my grandfather was the foreman, as well…

My grandfather worked for Virgil Johnson. At the time the company was Johnson Elevator Company.

At a job in Galatia, Kan., in 1959, while Darrell was stabilizing the family trailer, it fell and he was hit across his back and shoulders. Rosina took him to the hospital. The hospital wasn’t going to see him until she could pay. She didn’t have insurance. She told them instead, “I’ve got enough money to buy this damn hospital.” When they left two days later, she paid cash.

Rosina called Virgil to tell him that Darrell had been hurt–not bad but he was pretty bruised up. Rosina wasn’t sure what they were going to do. She told Virgil she wanted to know what he was going to do because if Darrell didn’t work, he didn’t get paid. Virgil asked if his butt was bruised and then pointed to a chair and said “See that chair right there, he can park his ass right there and supervise from his chair.”

When the elevator was just about completed a man fell from the top of the elevator. Darrell was a witness to the fall. The guy opened the door at the top and the wind caught him and blew him over the side of the elevator. He fell 120 feet to his death. The man was Arthur Kronberg, 42, originally from Menasha, Wisconsin.

Rosina said when they called the man’s brother to tell him he could come pick up his belongings, he didn’t seem very interested, except he asked if there was anything of value. They had told him his brother had a truck. The man reluctantly agreed to get the truck.

Emily filled in some of the details of her grandfather’s career. The history of Johnson Elevator Company that she shared intrigued us, because the company took up where Mayer-Osborn Company left off and built strikingly similar elevators. The Galatia elevator is a close copy of the Mayer-Osborn elevators at McCook, Neb., and Blencoe, Iowa. Because of the similarities between them and a number of other Johnson elevators, we have speculated whether designer Gene Mayer continued his career with Virgil Johnson and brought his designs with him. Emily continued:

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Page City, Kan.

The elevator at Galatia is on one of Johnson’s business cards.

Johnson used to work with some brothers with the last name Sampson. They were Virgil Johnson’s brothers-in-law. They worked together for a while, too, under the name Johnson-Sampson.

My grandfather worked constructing concrete elevators from 1947 to about 1963. He worked for several different people.

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Mitchellville, Iowa.

Johnson was the man he worked for most, on and off over the years. When Virgil and his brothers-in-law split, my grandfather went to work for Dewey Construction and then Young Love. Then Virgil found a partner, and my grandfather worked for Johnson & Bratcher. Then Virgil went off on his own as Johnson Elevator Company.

When Virgil went broke after a missile base job in the 1960s, my grandfather worked for a guy by the name of Guy James. He did two jobs for him until he finally settled in Rushville, Ill. He never built another elevator, but he had his own company and they did a lot of elevator repair work.

My own grandfather William Osborn’s experience followed a similar trajectory–after he was done with elevator construction, he went on to elevator repair and maintenance. We always attributed the cancer that took him at age 75 to the dust he breathed during those years, though some of the damage could have been from smoking, a habit he dropped ten years before he died.

The hazards of the business were sometimes obvious, but often stealthy and unexpected. From dust, to wind, to new boots, to heedless roofers, many things in elevator construction took lives–but the monuments built by these mortal men remain, withstanding tornadoes, floods, hail, and every natural disaster.

 

The 1945 vintage elevator at Lodgepole, Nebraska, and the death of Bill Morris

DSC_0446Story and photo by Kristen Cart

A newspaper article recently came to light that upended our elevator construction timeline, causing us to reconsider the story of the Lodgepole, Neb., elevator and the careers of Joseph H. Tillotson and my grandfather William Arthur Osborn.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, said that the death of Bill Morris, the superintendent on the Lodgepole job, and that of Joe Tillotson, the owner of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, came within a month or so of each other. Now it appears likely that the season was the same, but both fatal car accidents occurred in different years–1945 and 1947–a fact easily misunderstood by the young boy my father was at the time, as he listened to the adults talk about business.

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We believe this photo by William Osborn is from Lodgepole, Neb.

The article appeared in the Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 8, 1945:

Omahan dies after car accident

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP). W. B. Morris, 36, an employee of the Tillotson Construction company, of Omaha, was fatally injured Saturday night when struck by a car driven by Howard B. Kirk, 48, of Lodgepole, Neb., Deputy Sheriff Arnold Braasch said Sunday.

The deputy sheriff reported Morris was changing a tire on his car about ten miles east of here when the accident occurred. He died in a hospital about five hours later.

Braasch said Morris’ home was in Texas, but that he was living in Lodgepole while working on the construction of a new grain elevator.

County Attorney R. P. Kepler said he will decide on Monday whether an inquest is to be held.

We attributed the Lodgepole elevator’s construction to J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, the independent company Joe Tillotson started after his parting of the ways with Tillotson Construction of Omaha. We wrongly believed that both Bill Morris and Joe Tillotson had died in 1947 while working on the Lodgepole job. Now we know that Bill Morris died in 1945 while working for Joe Tillotson. The new fact pins down the date of Joe’s departure from the Omaha company–a move my grandfather made at the same time.

When interviewed in 1949 about his first, independent, Mayer-Osborn Construction venture in McCook, Neb., William Osborn named a number of elevators he had built before. We still believe all of the elevators Bill Osborn listed were J.H. Tillotson elevators.

According to the McCook article, Bill Osborn said the elevators in Maywood, Traer, Wauneta, and Lodgepole were built in 1945. If the reporter was right about Bill Morris’ employment, all of the 1945 elevators would be too early to be J. H. Tillotson elevators. However, none of them were recorded in the Tillotson Construction specifications and none built in the Omaha company’s style.

The reporter writing about Bill Morris’ death in 1945 was unaware of the freshly minted company Joe Tillotson had started, and wrongly identified Bill Morris as a Tillotson Construction of Omaha employee.

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An early photo of the Lodgepole elevator was kept at the location.

The fact that in 1945, Bill Morris went from a superintendent job at a verified Tillotson Construction project in Giddings, Tex to a superintendent position at the Lodgepole elevator job, a project demonstrably not built by the Omaha company, precisely dates the time Joe Tillotson chose to go out on his own.

The 1945 construction date of the Lodgepole elevator gives us a much more accurate understanding of the birth of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, a venture that lasted about four years, until my grandfather built the McCook elevator for Mayer-Osborn Construction in 1949.

A tragedy took Morris in his prime, but my grandfather stepped into his place, gaining valuable experience as a builder. To this day, the graceful Lodgepole elevator serves as a fitting monument to Morris’ productive career.

Wrecking out details are provided in drawings from Tillotson records

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

The papers we received from my Uncle Tim Tillotson included not only the record of Tillotson Construction Company’s building activities, but also these pages showing details of building a wrecking-out platform as well as jack rod assemblies and formwork details. Page two is dated November 12, 1954.

A wrecking-out platform was needed as workers disassembled the formwork on the inside of the completed elevator.

Charles H. Tillotson 1

Uncle Charles Tillotson has previously written about his close call when cable clamps failed.

In that post he described a wrecking-out platform this way:

The final scaffold then becomes a square platform suspended in a round tank.

The void on each side of the scaffold is used for lowering or throwing the wood material into the tank’s dark abyss. After all the overhead wrecking has been accomplished, another team gains access to the tank’s bottom via a manhole in the side of the tank at or near ground level.

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The drawings and details presented in the notes included here are invaluable. For example: The hole in the roof is formed with a one-quart motor oil can. (“Remove can & plug hole,” the addendum reminds.)

Charles H. Tillotson 5

The handwritten note in the upper right corner of the first page says, “I put my center needle beam under the manhole then it is easy to get plank on and easy to get on scaffold. If you think this helps O.K. other wise [illegible] to a goose going south.”

“I’ll pick it up when I catch him down about Galveston,” this section concludes.

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Another note is on the quality of timbers: “I’ve been using these for 20 years if you use 3 good 2 x 6 they work fine and save over the 3 x 6 & all that steel and all you have to do is cut the ones you use in the tanks and they will work in small bins.”

We look forward to readers’ comments on the pages.

Charles H. Tillotson 7

A search for Van Ness elevator images yields surprising results

Story by Kristen Cart

When hunting for ancient elevators–and by ancient, I mean hundred-year-old, steel-sheathed, wooden construction–you run into a serious problem: most of them no longer exist.

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A 1936 Omaha directory

The elevator you are looking for may have burned down years ago, followed by a replacement that also burned down. The things liked to catch fire, as a search of old newspapers will show.

Concrete construction was meant to reduce the problem, but the new elevators would burn in spectacular fashion when grain dust ignited, throwing debris and victims sky high.

The fertile ground for old elevator hunting remains the Internet, thanks to bloggers, satellite imagery, photographers, and the odd stuff that accumulates online.

Recently, we turned up some truly fascinating finds. We had discovered Charles H. Tillotson was president of Van Ness Construction Company, of Omaha, in the 1930s. He was the original founder of the construction business (and its progeny) that his children and their associates operated into the 1950s, as documented in this blog.

Charles H. Tillotson

Charles H. Tillotson

Now that we had a company name for his earlier efforts, the hunt for Van Ness elevators was on.

Rydal, Kan., was home to an early Van Ness elevator. The town was profiled in the blog Dead Towns of Kansas, a project by the Hutchinson, Kan., journalist Amy Bickel. On her page is a marvelous 1950s vintage aerial photograph of bridge construction showing two 1888- to 1907-vintage elevators, one of which was built by Van Ness. One of the two pictured elevators burned in 1952. We do not know if the fire consumed them both.

Luckily, a Van Ness mill and elevator in Grenola, Kan., was deemed historical, and the Kansas State Historical Society successfully nominated it for the National Register of Historic Places. Since grain was no longer stored there, the greatest threat to its survival was gone.

It is the only example we have found that still stands.

The architect of this elevator, designed and built in 1909, was P. H. Pelkey Company, with the construction completed by the R. M. Van Ness Construction, of Fairbury, Neb.

This company could have been the predecessor to the Van Ness Construction Company that Charles H. Tillotson led, and it may have been his earlier employer. A little more research could tease out the history of the Van Ness building enterprises in Nebraska.

But the elevator is representative of the typical construction of the time, when Charles would have been working in the business.

This old elevator is located in Grenola, Elk County, Kan., on a railroad siding which was formerly on a mainline of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Southern Kansas Division.

A gleaming elevator and annex with distinctive headhouses in Glidden, Iowa

Glidden, Iowa

Tillotson’s 122-foot-tall elevator, center, was built at Glidden, Iowa, in 1949. The company added the 112-foot, 331,000-bushel storage annex in 1954. Photo: Tillotson Construction Company archive.

By Ronald Ahrens

On April 11, 1949, the Daily Times Herald, of Carroll, Iowa, reported a new elevator  under construction in Glidden for the Farmers Co-operative Company.

“About 20 feet higher than the present buildings, the new elevator will be situated east of them,” the newspaper reported. “With the additional storage space the company, for several years the largest co-operative elevator owned and operated in Iowa, will be able to take care of a large amount of corn and beans grown extensively in the Glidden area.”

The bins had quickly risen to 100 feet in height.

Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, was using a crew of about 35 men, who worked 10 hours per day, the report continued, perhaps leaving out at this late stage that a continuous pour would have require successive shifts in order to reach 100 feet.

Completion of the 100,000-bushel elevator was expected by July or August, the report said.

Through the company’s construction record, we now know more about the elevator. It is the twin of another elevator built that year in Churdan, about 22 miles away on county and main highways.

Those elevators had an exact capacity of 102,000 bushels. They used 1083 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 57.72 tons of steel, including jack rods. The 24-inch-thick main slabs were 48×48 feet in area. The overall weight of the reinforced concrete, rated at 4000 pounds per cubic yard plus the steel, was 2224 tons.

Each elevator could hold 3060 tons of grain, averaging 60 pounds per bushel. Including all machinery and the hoppers, the gross loaded weight was 5709 tons, for a bearing pressure of 2.52 tons per square foot.

The curved cupola, or headhouse, which was the important signature of a Tillotson elevator, stood 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

These were single-leg elevators, each with a full basement and an electrical room. Pulley centers were at 125.67 feet.

Each boot pulley was 60 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches while each head pulley differed only by having an axle shaft 1 3/4 inches greater in diameter.

The six-ply Calumet belt supplied for each leg was, of course, 14 inches wide. Cups of 12 x 6 inches were to be set nine inches apart, although a note under “Remarks” somewhat ominously says, “Cups @ 12″ O.C. @ Glidden” and adds “Job Error.”

A 30-horsepower Howell electric motor drove the head pulley. The theoretical leg capacity according to manufacturer ratings was 6540 bushels per hour, but running at a conservative 80-percent of capacity meant a more realistic take-up of 5230 bushels per hour.

The remarks make one distinction between Churdan and Glidden, saying the former had a split bin for the drier while no bin was fitted at the latter.

The driveway was 13 feet wide. There were two dump grates of 9 x 5 1/2 feet and 9 x 15 feet.

Later entries show a 331,000-bushel storage with flat-bottom tanks was added at Glidden in 1954. The next year, Churdan was expanded with 198,960 bushels of new capacity. They used 2318 and 1351 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, respectively, and 116.5 and 79.5 tons of steel.

Other specs for Glidden’s storage:

Main slab: 33 1/2 to 49 x 127 feet for 5481 square feet in total

Weight of reinforced concrete: 4752.5 tons

Weight of grain: 9930 tons

Gross weight loaded: 15,007.5 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.97 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24 inches

Height of drawform walls: 104 feet

Cupola (headhouse) dimensions (W x L x H): 14 x 98 1/4 x 8 1/3 feet

Top and bottom belts: 24 inches @ 600 feet per minute

Cross belts: 24 inches @ 600 feet per minute