McCook’s J. H. Tillotson-built elevator is still all original, down to the light fixtures

J. H. Tillotson built this attractive elevator at McCook, Neb. in 1948.

Kelly Clapp explains how levers and pulleys are used to distribute grain.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The straight-up elevator at McCook, Nebraska, was built for a private owner in 1948. J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, Colorado, was tapped for the project, and it was completed just a year before the Mayer-Osborn Construction Company of Denver built the nearby Frenchman Valley Cooperative elevator. My grandfather, William Osborn, was a superintendent for Joe Tillotson at the time, just before going on to form the Mayer-Osborn Company with Gene Mayer, so both projects were his.

Kelly Clapp, a Frenchman Valley Co-op employee, opened up the elevator so I could look inside. A trapped pigeon stood  in the doorway when it opened, blinking in the unaccustomed light. It fluttered off when we went in. What I saw was state of the art for 1948.

The elevator leg, which lifts grain from the pit to the top of the bins.

The elevator stands by itself and is unique since no renovation has ever been done to it. The elevator is original, right down to the light bulbs, Kelly said. It operates as it always has. It only takes corn when the other McCook elevators are full. The elevator is cleaned right before harvest, so the manhole covers, stamped “J. H. Tillotson, Denver,” were off and the bins were open.

The elevator has basic electrical functions such as lighting, and the conveyors and the leg are motor-operated, but all of the controls for it are manual. Levers and pulleys operate in the driveway to direct grain chutes to load corn into a waiting truck, and a similar arrangement at the top of the man-lift directs grain into the proper bin while loading the elevator.

The interior of the driveway, with the leg to the right.

This elevator is a completely intact example of our agricultural past–as fascinating as a water-driven grist mill from the century before. Structures of concrete and steel, built for industrial purposes, don’t merit a historical marker or national designation, but they are just as significant as an ancient town hall or a dignified farm house. I think I prefer the plain functionality of the grain elevator.

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5 comments on “McCook’s J. H. Tillotson-built elevator is still all original, down to the light fixtures

  1. Sharon Davis says:

    Just think its amazing and so much could be learned from all of this.

  2. ndjmom says:

    The rail lines in McCook on that stretch of highway are very busy, they make for some very cool photographs as they are lined up at the elevators down that stretch of road.

    • kocart says:

      Back in 2008 I took a picture from the bridge that took in the line of elevators. Back then, I had no idea that two of the elevators were built by my grandfather. I only knew about the one. I would like to go again and catch some colorful rail traffic with that elevator line–it’s a remarkable vantage point. Thanks for following our blog!

  3. You know, I never had any idea how fascinating this stuff could be– why aren’t there school field trips? I would’ve loved to hear about the history of mechanics of these places when I was in school (luckily, I now have your blog to make up for lost time :P)

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