Could the previously unidentified Tillotson employee be Mary Melia?

Virginia Slusher 01

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.

Making sense of a chimney near a wooden elevator in Alta, Iowa

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Commentary by Tim Tillotson, photo from the Neil A. Lieb archive

Note: What follows is from a phone interview on May 14. Uncle Tim is speculating about the reason why some Tillotson Construction Company employees stayed behind for this small job after completing the concrete elevator at Alta, Iowa, in the summer of 1950.

That chimney is probably about 30 inches in diameter. They’ve got a mortar mixer down there for masonry, a hand line going up, and the framework is scaffolding. The building in front is eight-inch block. Every three blocks is two feet. The building is 12 foot to the eaves.

There’s a reason for that damn stack, and it’s got to have something to do with fire down below. [Brother] Charles [Tillotson] said it could’ve been an iron-working shop.

Why does that car have chock blocks front and rear? Is it some kind of an anchor? It’s a 1935 or 1936, possibly DeSoto.

If you were burning coal, you wouldn’t get sparks. Maybe they were baking bread, cornbread. They’re carrying that stack high enough to get above the wooden elevator. What the hell it could be made of to be that thin and not be braced?

I don’t understand what’s with the masonry mixer down there. If that stack, for example, was a heavy metal tube, I don’t know that you could plaster it.

Mechanization and the Russian wheat deal caused elevator construction booms

AuroraBrad Perry

Story and photos by Brad Perry

These photos are from my travels across Highway 34: Aurora Cooperative and their branch at Murphy. The workhouses would indicate Tillotson. The new two-tank annex at Aurora was done by Todd & Sargent. I believe the four-tank annex at Murphy was T&S as well.

You’ve gotten me thinking about all the construction I was involved in.  Here comes some more history.

Prior to the past eight to 10 years, there were two boom periods of elevator construction in the Midwest. The first is well documented by your blog— early ’50s thru mid 60’s. That was the mechanization age of United States agriculture.

By the ’60s, however, we were building flat storage buildings for the Commodity Credit Corporation. This and the United States Department were our market–and our only market. I still remember being in St. Edward, Neb., in 1975, and being told that the co-op had just gotten shipping orders on 250,000 bushels of wheat that had been in storage there for 12 years.

That’s what paid for the monster terminals in Hutchinson, Salina, Wichita, and Enid.

MurphyBradPerry

The second boom period followed the Russian wheat deal of 1972 and 1973. After that purchase, the USDA eliminated diverted acres and we went to wall-to-wall production. It created the need for new, and faster capacity.

This boom lasted into the early 1980s. It was assisted in Nebraska by center-pivot irrigation.

Most of the elevators were built by co-ops. Cargill, Continental, and a few local privates built in Nebraska, but not many. Peavey was a purchaser rather than a builder.

Farmland Industries served as the general contractor on virtually all of these elevators and annexes. At the Bank for Cooperatives, we waived the need for a performance bond if Farmland was the general contractor.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it looks like it could be a Tillotson elevator.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it could be a Tillotson elevator. Existing records don’t indicate company activity there. 

That saved a ton of money for the client, and also Farmland paid patronage dividends on the project. Farmland then subbed out the contracts to the major builders that they used.

These were Mid-States, Jarvis, and Borton as the main players. Farmland also brought Wilson, Venturi, and Jordan into Nebraska when demand heated up.

Todd & Sargent did several projects in Nebraska, but mainly stayed in Iowa—lots more grain (and new elevators built) over there.

Quad States built a few facilities (Rising City, Shelby, Benedict, Hooper, and Milford) in Nebraska as well.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial,  headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters to it are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial, headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

There are a couple of odd ones that occurred when the general manager had had experience with a contractor from a different state.

For example, the big elevator at Tamora was built by Conger, a Minnesota company, and the newer workhouse at Plymouth by Weigel, also of Minnesota.

During this period, most facilities–elevators and annexes–were built with 24- to 28-foot diameter tubes.

Toward the end of this boom time, we started seeing en masse conveyors used on annexes, replacing Texas headhouses and open belts with trippers.

We also saw the movement away from small tube elevators to 40 ft and larger diameter tubes.

This was due to two factors: the producers’ yields and harvest speed and the movement to outbound unit trains.

Tillotson Construction employees share playful moments outside the company’s Omaha office

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Story by Tim Tillotson, photos from the Virginia Slusher archive

Editor’s note: The story is from a May 14 phone interview.

On the top pic, second from left, Ted Morris? It don’t look like him at all to me. Wayne Skinner, I believe that’s his Olds they’re leaning against.

In the background is Fairmont Ice Cream. They brought refrigerated rail cars in there. One of them, Dad rammed the ass-end of his ’56 imperial into, backing out of the front of the office and I don’t know where he was going in such a hurry. Second day he had it. A four-door Southhampton, pink and white, Mother drove it most of the time. The air conditioning system—they were coming into the picture then—the condenser unit was in the front of the trunk in a big metal box.

When he slammed into the tongue of that rail car, you know how high those tongues stick out, it got into the trunk and the back window. He had them working 24 hours a day to fix that thing, the trunk, back window, and roof.

After he had it fixed, you could always hear some broken glass shifting around in the box of that unit.

Wayne was the so-called engineer, he set over there in that drafting room in the other side of the office, did all the structural calculations.

It was a ’49 or ’50 Olds. Wayne is in the middle pic with Bob Rodgers. He was like the bookkeeper.

Top and bottom picture? There’s Virginia (second from right) and I don’t know who that woman is.

Johnny (Hassman) had to be office help. He didn’t really have anything to do with the drawings or plans. I don’t even remember that he even worked on a job. And I don’t remember why he was there. He got his college work done, I think, in Missoula.

Uncle Ralph, Johnny’s dad, helped later in sales. I remember Ralph talking about him almost living in the car, and he ate a lot of pork and beans out of the can to pay for his way through college. I can’t remember his academic agenda.

Ted was the pilot. He worked int 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 after Dad passed.

In Hampton, Neb., the grain elevator could be from the Tillotson Construction lineage

Brad Perry Hampton Nebr.

Story and photos by Brad Perry

Bradshaw, Neb.

Bradshaw, Neb.

I was a loan officer in Nebraska and financed many of the elevators built from 1975 to 1980. The dominant Nebraska builder was probably Mid-States, out of Omaha, along with Jarvis. Borton wasn’t very active in Nebraska at that time, but Farmland Industries brought more players in. Venturi and Jordan were two of them. Farmland served as the general contractor on the majority of elevators built by co-ops in the 1970s and 1980s. The players in Iowa were Younglove and Todd & Sargent, but the lowest-priced builder was always Quad-States out of Des Moines. It’s easy to tell their elevators—they only had one design! This photo above is from Hampton, Neb. Looks like a Tillotson, but I think it was Sampson. There was a twin to it at Bradshaw, 10 miles east, that was hit by lightning and had to be torn down.