Insights from a Ralston, Iowa, elevator maintenance worker

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At the far left edge of the photo, the annex can be seen behind the similarly sized elevator.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Each time we travel to Nebraska to see our family, I try to investigate elevators, and the kids groan and roll their eyes, pulling electronic entertainment out of their backpacks.

In March, our trip home warranted a stop at Ralston, Iowa, where we hoped to see an annex built by Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha as we trekked eastbound along U.S. Highway 30. Ralston is about midway across the state and lies south of the highway, and is the site of one of the projects documented in Tillotson company records.

The West Central Cooperative elevator complex, silent and lofty, rimmed the edge of town as we approached on a bright Sunday afternoon. Not a soul was in sight as we entered the parking lot near the cooperative headquarters. But a car in front of the office building was open with a shopvac beside it. Someone had to be around.

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A much larger group of elevators was behind me, away from the town, as I took the photo.

The elevator group in Ralston is dominated by a large squarish elevator, a multi-bin elevator, and a large, multi-bin, rectangular annex snugged in beside the latter. Between the first elevator and the second is an old wood elevator which immediately attracted my attention. It made a fine photographic subject. While shooting the scene, I looked for signs of a Tillotson project. Nowhere was there any manhole cover with the name of a builder. And no one was present who could give me a look inside.

The annex, slightly narrow than the elevator, is on the left

The annex, slightly narrower than the elevator, is on the left.

In fact, the deserted elevator group so dominated the town, along with its companion group of elevators a mile or so down the tracks, that it seemed intimidating to go near it. So I stood off and took photos from across the street.

DSC_6001Heavy rail traffic attended the tracks alongside the elevators in spite of the sleepy Sunday. I counted several trains, blaring their arrival as they passed through town.

At last, a fellow emerged from the cooperative building and commenced vacuuming the company car. I approached him to ask him about the elevators. Ron Hickey, of Farnhamville, Iowa, waved a friendly greeting. He said he was a bit of a newcomer to the Ralston site, but had worked at Boxholm, Iowa, the site of another Tillotson elevator, for two years before coming here. He said that Boxholm’s elevator had 96 florescent light bulbs, and until recently, he was responsible for cleaning every one of them.

Presently, he was cleaning one of several company vehicles parked in front of the nicely appointed offices. The place had every sign of prosperity. Ron said West Central was one of the largest cooperatives in Iowa, and was very successful.

Once we arrived home, I had to resort to the company records to positively identify Tillotson Construction’s contribution to the site. The specifications for Ralston fit the size of the annex I had seen–a massive structure about twice the size of the average elevator project. Since this structure was an annex, many items normally included in a complete elevator build were not required. The Tillotson construction details are reproduced below.

The Ralston storage was built in 1953 using the “Ralston Plan,” which had eight 28′ diameter, 115′ tall bins with a 2′ spread, flat bottoms, and a screw conveyor.

Capacity per plans: 537,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 4,838 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 2,779 cubic yards

Plain concrete (4″ hoppers and liner): 9 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (includes jack rods): 168.18 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 121.00 lbs.

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab: steel 3,128 lbs.; concrete 29 cubic yards

Main slab: steel 102,340 lbs.; concrete 606 cubic yards

Draw form walls: steel 203,034 lbs.; concrete 1,920 cubic yards

Driveway and work floor: not installed

Deep bin bottoms: not installed

Overhead bin bottoms: steel 4,666 lbs.; concrete 24 cubic yards

Bin roofs and extension roofs: steel 14,284 lbs.; concrete 112 cubic yards

Cupola walls: steel 8,907 lbs.; concrete 20 cubic yards

Distributor floor: concrete 2 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Cupola roof: concrete 3 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): not installed

Attached driveway (in this plan, a gallery, with cross tunnel not included): concrete 63 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

DSC_6010Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 66 2/3′ x 121 2/3′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 7,738 square feet

Weight reinforced concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard plus steel): 5,726 tons

Weight plain concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 18 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 154 tons

Weight of grain (60 lbs. per bushel): 16,125 tons

Weight structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 22,043 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.86 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24 inches

Main slab steel (size and spacing): straight; 1 1/4 square inches and 8 inches o. c.

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 5/8 inch diameter and 6 inches

Lineal feet of draw form walls and extension: 717 feet 7 inches; 39 feet 6 inches

Height of draw form walls: 115 feet

Pit depth below main slab: 9 feet 6 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside width and length and height): 12′ x 14′ x 20′

Pulley centers: 137 1/2 feet

Number of legs: 1 main (see pulley center above) and 1 jack

Distributor flow: yes

Track sink: no

Full basement: no

Electrical room: no.

Driveway width-clear: not installed

Dump grate-size: not installed

Columns under tanks: not installed

Boot–leg and head: steel

Machinery details

Head pulley (main leg): 48″ x 16″ x 4 15/16″

Boot pulley: 48″ x 13″ x 2 3/16″

RPM head pulley: 48 rpm

Belt: 15″-6 ply calumet

Cups: 14″ x 7″ at 10″

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower: 3

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer’s rating): 7,950 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical): 6,350 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity): 26.4 horsepower

Man lift: not installed

Load out scale: not installed

Load out spout: not installed

Truck lift: not installed

Dust collector system: fan into bin

Cupola spouting: not installed

Driveway doors: not installed

Conveyor: 24 inch screws

Also built

Track scale: 50 foot, 50 ton: concrete 35 cubic yards

 

 

 

 

Boxholm manager foresees timely completion of Tillotson’s new elevator

Photo uploaded to KCCI in 2009 by the station's u local contributor hmuench

Boxholm, Iowa–Manager Bud Lane reported that the new 200,000-bushel Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company’s concrete elevator will be completed on July 15. Tillotson Construction Co. of Omaha is the builder.

The structure will rise 150 feet with storage tanks standing 120 feet high.

The firm will have 256,000 bushels of space with the new unit.

Farmers’ Elevator Guide, 1954-1955 library volume 

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Note: The Boxholm Farmer’s elevator was founded in 1900, according to a 2004 article in the Dayton Review. On October 25, 2004, the elevator–now expanded–took in 145,422 bushels of grain, the new single-day record at this location. For the entire 2004 harvest season, more than 2 million bushes were taken in.

On November 16, 2009, two workers were injured when a grain dryer exploded at the Boxholm elevator. See the report from Des Moines station KCCI.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

Boxholm is in northwestern Boone County, Iowa.