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.

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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An unlikely connection to Tillotson’s elevator in Elkhart, Kansas

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By Ronald Ahrens

“Oh, look at the funny building!”

So might a visitor from Southern California say after driving 1300 miles to Elkhart, Kan., in order to celebrate a niece’s graduation.

As it turns out, that visitor keeps bar at my club.

I heard her say she had been to Kansas.photo-1

“Where in Kansas? Atchison? Topeka?”

“Oh, nowhere. Elkhart.”

(They went across the Oklahoma border to have some fun. She won’t send the photo of herself dancing on the pool table.)

“Really? My grandfather built the Elkhart grain elevator, starting in 1945. I hope you took a picture.”

As it turns out, as you see, she took two.

Some day, I’ll explain everything she wants to know about reinforced concrete construction, surface bearing load, elevator motor speed, and storage annexes.

Meantime, we have all this.

Thank you, Shirin.

 

 

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.

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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.

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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

A reader recalls his youthful days at the grain elevator in Emmetsburg, Iowa

This T.E. Ibberson elevator, foreground, keeps company with a Tillotson elevator, right, in Dallas Center, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart

This T.E. Ibberson elevator, foreground, keeps company with a Tillotson elevator, right, in Dallas Center, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart

By Paul Grage

Editor’s note: Paul Grage (pronounced “GREGG-ee”) of Rockwell City, Iowa, is a 39-year-old supervisor at North Central Correctional Facility there. In his free time he surfs the Web looking for elevator sites.

I would like to share some memories of Cargill in Emmetsburg, Iowa, during the 1980s.

My fondest memory is of Old Number 2, built by T.E. Ibberson, of Minneapolis. My dad was the manager from 1979 until about 1996, and I would often call after school at harvest to see if I could come hang around. If they were accepting grain at Number 2, that is where I would be.

The alleyway [driveway] was huge. It had one  main grate and two side grates for overflow that all emptied into one  pit. It had a large horn like a fire alarm buzzer. This  sounded for phone calls, when the leg was up to speed, or when a bin ran full. The side entrance inside was flanked by two large aerator fans that roared. As a kid, it was kind of terrifying to exit between these two.

The Ibberson nameplate. Photo by Kristen Cart

The Ibberson nameplate. Photo by Kristen Cart

I remember the rippling of the grates as semis crossed them. I still remember the old portable, homemade, electrically powered, hydraulic pump that raised the old barge box wagons pulled by pickup trucks.

I remember the old gate at the bottom of the pit that accessed the leg. It was moved by a large lever next to the pit, right next to the leg button. You had to hear the buzzer before you opened that gate unless you wanted to plug the leg before it got up to speed. My dad tells horror stories about unplugging the leg. A test of your manhood was to go to the headhouse and hold back the anti-rollback dogs, like a one-way clutch, with a wrench or bar. The whole trunking would shake. The distributor crank was right next to the leg and man lift. It was a lever brake and crank-style bin selector that had belt pulley webbing on it to indicate which bin you had selected.

I remember the first trip to the headhouse with my brother. He was an employee with Cargill before they had nepotism rules. It was a sight to behold: the big open headhouse with all of its huge spouts, the huge gearbox and chain-drive leg and the big distributor. Inside this headhouse was a huge plywood shack. It was explained to me that it was a tripper scale used for loading railroad cars. It was long out of use, as this elevator had no rails and the new elevator did. This tripper scale did have long rods that extended down the man lift shaft to the alley below.

I remember the ride up the man lift with my brother. The dust was so thick on the walls the people had stopped along the way and scratched rather colorful sayings in the dust. (This was long before the days of dust control, so that dust was a good three inches thick in that man lift shaft. Now they have an air chuck so they can blow the dust down.) When I say man lift shaft I mean man lift onlythe leg shafting was built into the concrete.

The T.E. Ibberson name on the manhole cover.

The T.E. Ibberson name on the manhole cover.

The metal trunking only existed between the boot pit up to ceiling of the alleyway and then from the bin deck to the leg-drive pulley in the headhouse. The rest of leg trunking was made of a cement column inside. The shaft that the rest of the bucket was built into was hopper-bottomed just like all the overhead bins.

If I remember right, this elevator had eighteen overhead bins, one of which was used for rail car/tripper scale.

After learning the elevator inside out, the ironic thing is that I could never go to work in the grain business because I’m allergic to soybean dust. It’s almost lethal to me. When I was a kid, it didn’t faze me a bit. But my last year I hung around there, around 1988, I had to wear a respirator. 

Something else: They don’t paint this elevator any longer because it’s stress-cracked. They quit painting it because it was making the concrete rot. I like the aged look.

In 1954, near the boom’s end, Albert City, Iowa, had a gleaming concrete elevator

Albert City, Iowa

By Ronald Ahrens 

Looking at this photo of Tillotson Construction Company’s 252,000-bushel elevator, completed in 1954, it’s easy to imagine the pride and awe of a small town’s few hundred residents.

Albert City is in northwest Iowa on a spur from Route 3, not far from Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. The Tillotson’s had also built that same year in nearby Pocahontas, where there was tragedy.

The Albert City job went more smoothly as the structure rose far above the tallest elms, although Uncle Charles Tillotson, who recently dug up this photo, has written about his frightening dismount from the formwork during a storm.

Uncle Michael Tillotson has also recollected about working here:

“The following summer (1954) we went to Albert City, Iowa, 75 miles North of Council Bluffs. We rented rooms in a private home. We worked with a 20 something guy that ran the winch pulley bucket to the top of the elevator as it progressed, and brought building materials down. We also rode the bucket up and down to get on deck. The elevator bens were 125 feet to the top with a Head-House of 75 on top of that.”

Company records show the elevator was built according to the same plan used in Pocahontas. This entailed eight outer bins that were eighteen feet in diameter and, contrary to Uncle Mike’s reckoning, 120 feet tall. Altogether, some 2091 cubic yards of concrete were reinforced by 106.57 tons of steel.

The bins rose from a main slab 21 inches thick and 60 x 72.5 square feet in area. It supported a gross loaded weight of 12,974 tons.

The cupola, or headhouse, was 23 feet wide, 58 feet tall, and 40 feet long.

Albert City was a single-leg elevator. Its head pulley was 72 inches in diameter and turned at 42 rpm. A 40-horsepower Howell motor supplied more than enough energy to turn it.

Twelve-inch-wide cups on a six-ply, 14-inch-wide belt carried up the grain that was dumped by incoming trucks. The 12-foot-wide driveway had two dump grates: 9 x 6 feet and 9 x 14 feet.

In 1954, Tillotson also built in Dacoma, Lahoma, Orienta, and Weatherford, Okla.; Booker, Tex.; Ensign and Montezuma, Kan.; Bellwood, Neb.; and Glidden, Goldfield, Newell, Manson, Pocahontas, and Iowa Falls, Iowa.

These were among Tillotson’s last elevators–the records close out with work in 1955–and they represented nearly everything the company knew about building.

A visit to Google Maps shows the elevator is still standing, which is to be expected given the Herculean effort needed to knock down all that reinforced concrete. But it appears idle. Given what we’ve learned about the limitations of midcentury elevators and today’s need for greater storage capacity and quicker unloading, that would make sense.

Nevertheless, it endures as a handmade monument, and a rich human history goes with it.