Looking inside and outside of Tillotson’s elevator in Cavalier, N.D.

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Story by Ronald Ahrens with photos by Scott Hansen

While looking at the specifications for Tillotson Construction Company’s concrete elevator built at Cavalier, N.D., in 1948, we gave a call to CHS, Inc. and reached Scott Hansen, who oversees operations at the 460,000-bushel facility there.

South view.

South view. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Hansen said the Tillotson elevator is mainly used for extra capacity during harvest. The operation mainly handles wheat, he said in a subsequent text message, “but also a lot of soybeans and corn.”

He offered to take some pictures, and we present them here, along with repeating the specs from our post of July 27.

This elevator was built according to the plan used for an elevator at Sheldon, Iowa, in 1941. It featured a center driveway and four tanks, each being 14.5 feet in diameter and rising 102 feet. Total capacity was 93,700 bushels.

The job required 1,027 tons of reinforced concrete and 55.13 tons of steel.

At 18 inches thick and covering 1,768 square feet, the main slab supported a gross weight as as high as 5,321 tons. Eight bins were overhead in the 12-by-17-foot driveway.

Crowning the main house was a cupola, or headhouse, of 15.5 x 32 x 22.5 feet, and the pulley center in this single-leg elevator was 127.0 feet above the floor.

North view.

North view. The blue conveyor fills the structure; the gray one on the ground empties it.

Boot and head pulleys were 60 x 14 inches, but the head pulley’s axle diameter of 3-7/16 inches was 1.25 inches greater than the boot’s.

The 14-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6-inches spaced 10 inches apart. A 20-hp Howell motor supplied the drive in the headhouse. Actual leg capacity was 4500 bushels per hour.

A 2-hp motor operated the man lift. (Lifts in some Tillotson elevators of this era were still hand-operated.)

Cavalier was a fully accessorized elevator, with a 10-bushel load-out scale, an 8-inch load-out spout of 10-gauge steel, and 14-gauge cupola spouting. There was a 7.5-hp truck lift and a dust collection system consisting of a fan, column, and bin.

In the space for remarks at the page’s bottom, we find written, “One end round on cupola.” Yet the photo shows both ends are rounded.

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A Tillotson elevator, fully accessorized when new, remains on call for extra capacity in Cavalier, N.D.

My uncles have said Tillotson Construction Company built elevators in a swath extending from Alberta, Canada, to the southeastern United States. Records show activity in Estill, S.C. and Millet Ville [sic], S.C., for example, but we haven’t seen anything to substantiate the claim about Alberta.

IMG_6962Tillotson was active in North Dakota, though. In 1948, the company built an elevator in Cavalier, N.D. Named for the early settler Charles Cavileer, this town of about 1,300 people–the seat of Pembina County–is located in the extreme northeastern part of the state, about 20 miles from the United States-Canada border.

After finding the elevator on Google Maps, we made a phone call to the CHS, Inc., on Airport Road, in Cavalier. Scott Hansen, who answered, said the complex, pictured above, has capacity for 460,000 bushels, and the old concrete elevator is used for extra space during the harvest.

The record shows it was built on Tillotson’s Sheldon, Iowa, plan with four tanks, each being 14.5 feet in diameter and standing 102 feet tall. Overall capacity was rated at 93,700 bushels.

The job required 1,027 tons of reinforced concrete and 55.13 tons of steel.

At 18 inches thick and covering 1,768 square feet, the main slab supported a gross weight as as high as 5,321 tons. Eight bins were overhead in the 12-by-17-foot driveway.

IMG_6961Crowning the main house was a cupola, or headhouse, of 15.5 x 32 x 22.5 feet, and the pulley center in this single-leg elevator was 127.0 feet above the floor.

Boot and head pulleys were 60 x 14 inches, but the head pulley’s axle diameter of 3-7/16 inches was 1.25 inches greater than the boot’s.

The 14-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6-inches spaced 10 inches apart. A 20-hp Howell motor supplied the drive in the headhouse. Actual leg capacity was 4500 bushels per hour.

A 2-hp motor operated the man lift. (Lifts in some Tillotson elevators of this era were still hand-operated.)

Cavalier was a fully accessorized elevator, with a 10-bushel load-out scale, an 8-inch load-out spout of 10-gauge steel, and 14-gauge cupola spouting. There was a 7.5-hp truck lift and a dust collection system consisting of a fan, column, and bin.

In the space for remarks at the page’s bottom, we find written, “One end round on cupola.” Yet the photo shows both ends are rounded.

How we would love to know the job’s cost! Alas, a call to the Pembina County historical society revealed that all old copies of the Cavalier Chronicle are out of our reach on microfilm.

With its stepped headhouse, could the elevator in Odebolt, Iowa, be from Mayer-Osborn’s lineage?

Story by Ronald Ahrens with photos by Brad Perry

Blen NorthRecords of the Tillotson Construction Company show no information on the grain elevator at Blencoe, Iowa. A previous post presents recent photos from Blencoe as well as delving into mysteries surrounding the Tillotson elevator and the one by Mayer-Osborn Company.

Now Brad Perry volunteers his own photos from Blencoe, which is just off Interstate 29 less than an hour’s drive north of Council Bluffs. Here we see the Tillotson, with the curved headhouse, and the Mayer-Osborn, with the stepped headhouse.

Supplying more photos, Brad raises an interesting question: could the elevator at Odebolt, Iowa, which is 63 miles to the northeast, be part of the Mayer-Osborn lineage? It also has a stepped headhouse. He notes that they had to have been built at the same time. It stood near the elevator of the Cracker Jack Company, which had operations in Odebolt.

Ode top

Brad supplies the link to a black-and-white image in the University of Iowa’s digital library.

Lacking Mayer-Osborn records, we can’t say without further probing or perhaps a site visit.

But we’re happy to pursue yet another thread in the story of our grandfathers’ grain elevators.

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The demise of Mayer-Osborn Construction remains an enduring puzzle

Audrey, Gerald, William and Alice Osborn, ca. 1950

Audrey, Gerald, William and Alice Osborn, circa 1950.

Story by Kristen Cart

Some mysteries are not meant to be solved. Perhaps it is a natural outgrowth of my grandmother’s tight-lipped discretion where evil tidings were concerned. I can remember the disapproving purse of her lips if I broached the wrong topic–it was wise to move on.

Albert Skoog as a boy

Albert Skoog as a boy

Alice Christoffersen married William Osborn in the 1920s. All anyone in our family could know about those times was conveyed in the pleasant images of a young couple goofing around by the lake and fishing. In later pictures you could see the pained expression of a long-suffering middle-aged woman, but her concerns were private, at least when they brought bad memories to mind.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, was quite amazed to find he had a deceased great-uncle, whose name had never been spoken in front of him. Alice Christoffersen’s maternal uncle, Albert Skoog, died young from injuries sustained in a horrific automobile crash when she was a young woman. The story was relegated to the darkest recesses, never to be mentioned again.

“Albert Skoog Dies from Effects of an Auto Accident

Had Lived Nearly Ten Months with a Broken Back

After living nearly ten months with a broken back, during which time he suffered untold agony, Albert Skoog, 42, formerly and employee of the Fremont Stock Yards, died at the home of his sister, Mrs. James L. Christoffersen, south of Fremont. Death was due to injuries sustained in a automobile accident on the Lincoln Highway about a mile east of Fremont last October….”

The article went on to describe the accident and his medical treatment. He died in the family home of Alice’s parents.

This image was found among Grandma's pictures. It was the car her uncle wrecked in an ultimately fatal accident.

The wreck fatally injured Albert Skoog, who died months later from a broken back. Grandma had this photo of the car in an album that once belonged to her mother.

No stone marks his grave. It took many years to locate pictures of him, preserved by a different branch of the Christoffersen clan. Images of the wrecked car also survived, tucked away in Grandma’s photo album. But such things were not discussed in my grandmother’s world.

Another side of Grandma’s personality was not so discrete–she would tell stories that put others in a bad light when she thought she could gain favor for herself. This habit got worse as she aged, and by the time she passed on at age 98, family members believed awful stories about each other because of things she said.

We have tried, without success, to verify Grandma’s story of why my grandpa, William Osborn, got out of the elevator business. Perhaps she invented it. We have no way to tell.

Mayer-Osborn elevator at McCook, Neb. during a family visit, ca 1950. This elevator was the first of its type, a model for the later Blencoe elevator.

Mayer-Osborn elevator at McCook, Neb. during a family visit, circa 1950. This elevator was a prototype for the Blencoe elevator.

Dad never had an inkling about why his dad quit (except that he heard in whispers not intended for him) until Mom started poking around. Grandma told her the story, apparently in a fit of pique. Details were fuzzy, and by now, not well remembered. There’s hardly more to it than speculation. But that one glimpse was the only information we ever got. Otherwise, it “wasn’t discussed,” as Dad put it.

Mom says an elevator was built, and very shortly thereafter, failed. She variously used the terms “collapse,” “explosion,” and “fire.” But the two things she was pretty consistent about were the facts that the concrete mix was wrong because the crew had shorted the materials (possibly for financial gain), and that the collapse occurred as soon as the elevator was filled with grain for the first time. That is all she remembers from what Grandma told her.

Dad says his father was out of the business by 1955. Dad remembers that his dad had come home to Fremont, Neb., from Denver, Colo., the home base of his business, that summer when he should have been on the job. He thinks that his dad was blamed for the failure–Bill’s partner, Gene Mayer, apparently went on without him. But that is all we have.

We don’t know where it happened and haven’t found a newspaper story. We know a large terminal elevator collapsed that year in Fargo, N.D., but we discovered the identity of that builder and it wasn’t Mayer-Osborn. There were whispers about an elevator that had a bad headhouse around Linn, Kan., or Bradshaw, Neb., which might have been his, but that story hasn’t been verified or dated.

The Blencoe, Iowa elevator built by Mayer-Osborn

The Blencoe, Iowa elevator built by Mayer-Osborn

The only story I can verify is the tear-down and restart of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Blencoe, Iowa. The concrete mix was wrong there, and it cost a few days and quite a lot of money to correct. Could that relatively mundane event in 1954 have created a rift between the partners, Bill Osborn and Gene Mayer? Was the tale of a more dramatic accident simply angry gossip from my grandmother?

Until we know more, it is a skeleton yet to be found, buried in a very deep closet.

 

 

Could the previously unidentified Tillotson employee be Mary Melia?

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Photo from the Virginia Slusher archive

We believe the woman on the far right is Mary Melia. Her husband Marvin also worked for Tillotson Construction Company and served as a pilot. Virginia Slusher is second from right.

Mary Melia died six months ago. Here’s an obitiuary:

Melia, Mary Clare (Burns) Aug 31, 1922 – Dec 29, 2014

Preceded in death by husband, Marvin G. Melia. Survived by children, Marvin G. Melia II of Pleasant Valley, Mo., Mary Lou (Timothy) Brennan, Steven M. (Janet) Melia of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Donald L. Melia; brother, Jack (Carol) Burns of Twenty Nine Palms, Calif.; 10 grandchildren; 10 great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

VISITATION Thursday, January 1, 2015 from 4-7 pm with a Rosary at 7 pm at Roeder Mortuary 108th Street Chapel.

FUNERAL SERVICE Friday, January 2, 2015 at 10am at St. Philip Neri Church 8200 N. 30th Street.

Interment Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

A low-wing airplane sped up business for Tillotson Construction Company

Navion

Commentary by Tim Tillotson

Note: What follows is from a phone interview on May 14. Here, Uncle Tim recalls flying with Tillotson Construction Company’s pilot Ted Morris.

I remember taking a few trips in that Navion with him. It was one of the last planes Dad bought, the only one with a low wing. That Navion was fast, too, a faster plane. I remember being with him somewhere–where the hell were we?–trying to find a spot to land and picked a spot that looked absolutely wonderful from up there. We didn’t realize till we were almost on the ground that the spot had three-foot-tall grass. We went plowing through that grass and also an electric fence that was in the middle. We had to plow our way out.  

Dad [Reginald “Mike” Tillotson] could never get a license because he had double hernia and all that. Ted was our pilot and we also had Marvin Melia, he flew dad, too. Marvin was giving me flyin’ instructions. We’d go out there to the airport, North Omaha. Marvin’s the one that flew Dad around. They didn’t fly every day, or every week necessarily. He’d been flying Dad two years before. 

Ted came back from KS one time in that Navion, and he said something about, “Let’s go home fast.”

So he’s flying like 200 feet off the ground, really a lot of fun. He radioed in to get clearance for landing, and the communication that came back said, “Where the hell are you? We cant pick you up on the radar!”

Ted said, “I guess we better get up off the deck so they can see it.” 

Neglecting to lag an elevator’s head pulley led to disaster in Bellwood, Neb.

Commentary by Tim Tillotson

Note: What follows is from a phone interview on May 14. He tells of a grain elevator repair job undertaken for Ted Morris, who by 1959 was a former employee of Tillotson Construction Company.

From left, Tim and Chuck Tillotson and La Rose Tillotson Hunt in 2012.

From left, Tim and Chuck Tillotson and La Rose Tillotson Hunt in 2012.

Ted Morris was the pilot. He worked in the office with Wayne doing the drawing and getting the specs together. He flew Dad when Dad would go out to the jobs. Ted used to take me flying out to the job. He was a fun guy, good natured. He tried going into business himself. Matter of fact, when Mart and I got married, we went out to York, Nebraska, to do a repair job that he had a contract on, in the dead of the winter. That was in ’59. It was Bellwood–the one that had the explosion. It blew the damn headhouse apart. Mart and I were married in November ’59 and we went out.

They were dumping grain in the drive pits to feed it up to the tanks. It was cold and also windy, I believe. When they rolled the damn overhead doors down to shut off the wind tunnel through the drive, the dust built up and that was also a job … I don’t know who decided not to lag the head pulley; it’s like putting a tire on a steel wheel. I don’t know what the hell was supposed to be such a big savings. I don’t know we were the only ones that did it, the other grain elevator contractors did, too, they quit lagging the head pulley. That big pulley would slip for a little bit till it got some speed up. Eventually, they found out the hard way, it was taking the facing off the back of the belt and exposing the fiber web in it. The damn web spots would get hot and start on fire.

Conveyor_head_pulley_lagging_for_V_shaped[1]They called it lagging because they’d fasten or wrap a lag of grain elevator belt around real tight like a rubber tire to give it grip.

When I say we would lag the pulley, we didn’t do it. Where we purchased the pulley, they did it before they shipped. There was supposed to be some kind of cost savings. When you’re trying to pull 110, 120 foot of belt, with grain, it takes quite a bit to get thing rolling.

I guess because of the wind, they closed the overhead doors. The dust built up from the trucks just dumpin’ that grain, you can imagine, and it built up, The fire actually started in the boot pit. They were running that grain up, and I think they stopped the belt for a little bit because somebody went down into the pit to grease the bearing, and there was a fire and it exploded. It slammed him into the little steel ladder. The fire went right up the leg well, which was full of dust, and it just blew out in the headhouse.

The distributor floor was quite a height off the roof deck in the headhouse, and of course it was up overhead. You had to have some heights for the spider legs that went out to the tubes. That’s where it did its big explosion. It had enough force to actually bulge the headhouse walls. The distributor floor was concrete but held in place by a key way in the headhouse wall. They call it a key way when you slip the headhouse walls at a certain level. You put tapered two-by-four blocks in the forms that you could peel out later like teeth, so when you poured the floor it went into the keyways and that’s what held the distributor floor walls up. The explosion bulged the headhouse walls out so that they turned loose that distributor floor, which left it standing on the feed pipes that went into the tanks.

I’m trying to remember if Bellwood was the one with the galley out to the annex blowing the windows out of it, and it knocked the tripper–a little feeder that went out across the annex building and would fill whatever tanks you wanted–off its tracks.

The Bellwood Gazette reported the Holland Brothers' elevator fire in 1902.

The Bellwood Gazette reported the Holland Brothers elevator fire in 1902. It was the third elevator that had burned “inside of a year,” and as the town was gaining such notoriety, the Gazette was considering becoming a daily paper.

They were doing the repair on it. I think we pulled off because the temperature was so damn low you couldn’t put your bare hand on a piece of metal; it would stick. I remember we come back into Omaha and wasn’t out there that long. Mart and I came back to Omaha, stayed at my Uncle Ralph (Hassman’s) house, Johnny’s dad, before we got that apartment on the second floor of an old house that was turned into an apartment on Izard Street. That’s when I went to work for Leo A. Daly, the architects, in Omaha, for $300 a month. I went to work for them on the drawing table.

We were actually in York. It might have been a different repair job. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was one of Dad’s elevators. We were married on Armistice Day of ’59. We had to be out there in December. I was working for Daly maybe a week when Dad passed on January 5, 1960.

The York job was a repair, and it was a repair from an explosion but nothing compared to Bellwood. I remember we were up in the headhouse when were there. The one asshole I didn’t know, and either did the other guy. He loaded, like, a shoebox on the floor with acetylene ’cause it’s a heavy gas, and it laid down in that box, and he turned around and threw a match over there and that that box blew up. I damn near ran off the frigging roof to get out of that headhouse. He thought that was so damn funny. I was about ready to bust him. I don’t like his sense of humor.  

Ted wasn’t doing well at the business. I remember a time or two he called Mother. He was distraught, he wasn’t making it. I don’t remember what happened to Ted.