How a grain elevator works: A motor will power the ‘leg,’ lifting the grain from ground level

In this 1950 photo from Neil Lieb's archive, he explains what we see inside a crate that's being hoisted to the top of the Alta, Iowa, grain elevator. "That’s the motor for the belt and probably the gearbox," he says. "We didn’t take it out of the crate till we got it on top because the crate was designed so we could lift it. That little crane could hold a lot of weight.

In this 1950 photo from our contributor Neil Lieb’s archive, he explains what we see inside a crate that’s being hoisted to the top of the Alta, Iowa, grain elevator. “That’s the motor for the belt and probably the gearbox,” he says. “We didn’t take it out of the crate till we got it on top because the crate was designed so we could lift it. That little crane could hold a lot of weight.”

 

 

 

 

During the Alta, Iowa, elevator’s construction, temporary bins held the grain

 

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In this 1950 photo from Neil Lieb’s archive, our contributor explains what we see in this view from atop the newly completed elevator in Alta, Iowa. “Those were storage bins for the excess before the elevator was built,” he says.

 

How a grain elevator works: Moving grain from the silo to a rail car

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That pipe is used to run the grain down to the railroad cars when they’re shipping it. Inside of that tank, there’s a hole that connects to that pipe. The system works [this way], you open a tank at the bottom, and run the grain into the pit. You use a belt to take it to the top and into this pipe. Commentary by Neil Lieb, photo from his archive. 

Collin Quiring delivers a load of corn to Tillotson’s Aurora South elevator

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Collin Quiring, a 26-year-old reader of this blog who farms with his brother in Henderson, Nebr., made contact and offered to send some photos when he took a load of grain to the Aurora South elevator, which was built by Tillotson Construction Company in 1959.

Collin had first commented on one of Kristen’s posts.

A view of Tillotson Construction Company's Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

A portrait of Tillotson Construction Company’s Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

“It’s funny that you drove through Hampton,” he wrote. 

“I’ve been following this blog for a while now and started looking at all the manhole covers on elevators that I haul to, and sure enough there were a lot of Chalmers-Borton, Tillotson, and Mayer-Osborn elevators around.

Hampton has the manhole covers on the outside of the silos and they’re 10 feet or so off the ground, so I’ve been wondering who made it for a while now!

It looks like you just saw the one downtown elevator in Aurora though?

The other elevator is called Aurora South and is on the southwest edge of town. It used to be a Cargill elevator, but Aurora Coop purchased it.

I’m pretty sure that’s a Tillotson elevator, too.”

So Collin did some more reconnoitering and took pictures on his next run.

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Collin’s view from the scale house.

“We’ve been alternating where we were taking corn, and I was planning to get back there for a few more pics.

But harvest will be over in an hour.

So I won’t be getting back there anytime soon.

Here’s what I did get while trying not to hold up the line.

End of this week or beginning of next I will be hauling to Hampton and will send you some from over there.”

Two days later, he made the run to Hampton but found it was not a Tillotson elevator; instead, it was built in 1959 by Grain Storage Construction Company, of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

A last farewell to a wooden elevator at Ryegate, Montana

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The search for our grandfathers’ elevators has led us to many small towns and many grain operations. Among our discoveries have been ancient wooden elevators, now quaint relics among their larger concrete cousins. In some towns, wooden elevators still have jobs to do, but their time is short.

Charles H. Tillotson built wooden elevators long before his children took up the slip-formed concrete building technique, and at one time, every Midwestern town with a rail line had a row of them serving the local farmers. Now it is increasingly rare to find a town with more than one wooden elevator in service, or for that matter, still standing.

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The Ryegate, Mont., elevator is flanked by its replacement fertilizer plant.

In the last year or two, in several towns, locals have told me that their wooden elevators were no longer used and would shortly be destroyed. I made an extra effort to document those elevators. This week, I almost missed one. In Ryegate, Mont., a new fertilizer plant was put into operation last year, and the elevator that had served the purpose was now slated for destruction.

When I stopped to photograph the pair of wooden elevators at Ryegate, a town on U.S. 12 in east-central Montana, I went into the local cafe for a burger. A fellow at the bar introduced himself as Ken. He wondered where my hometown was, and the purpose of my visit. When I told him I was a bit of an elevator tourist, he told me about the Ryegate elevators. DSC_5156

Ken worked at the Ryegate facility. He said that over the years, he had been employed as a grain hauler and in almost every other aspect of elevator work.

The smaller elevator was built in 1917. Ken said grain dropped 70 feet from the top of the grain spout to a truck below while loading. The elevator had been in use as recently as two years ago, then the new fertilizer plant was built nearby to replace it.

The larger elevator, built in 1914, was still used for storage—it had fresh siding and looked neat and clean on an immaculate lot. But the smaller elevator, equally handsome, would be razed next week. He hoped I would get out and take more pictures before it was gone.

Our discussion ranged from elevators to the military. Ken served in the U.S. Army, had great admiration for the old C-130 aircraft, and expounded with enthusiasm about the M-1 Abrams tank and the Tow missile. He got a kick out of talking with another veteran who shared his interest. He also spoke with reverence about serving under President Ronald Reagan.

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The interior of the shed addition.

Our conversation was interrupted as a young lady burst into the cafe, exclaiming,

“I just got a deer!”

As two men moved to follow her out the door to see her trophy, she said,

“Come see. I got my mulie.”

Her announcement passed without any comment at the bar. Apparently, during deer season, such declarations are expected.

Before I departed to take a closer look at the doomed elevator, Ken introduced himself more formally as Sgt. Ken Davis, and shook my hand. It was an honor to meet this veteran who served back when we had a 600-ship Navy (in the good old days, about three wars ago).

As I took another circuit around the old elevator to shoot a few last pictures, the sun played on the high clouds, projecting light like a halo radiating about the old structure. I thought it a fitting farewell.

In honor of Veterans Day, I salute Sgt. Davis and his life’s work. I hope he enjoys the pictures. DSC_5231

A recent trip west reveals mystery elevators

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

After our annual trip west to tease the elk (hunting them is perhaps too strong of a term, since our freezer has admitted no elk meat for several years), we took a small detour to look at elevators. I headed the car east onto Hwy 34 in Neb. after stopping to photograph the Grand Island, Neb. elevator, a Johnson Construction project.

This time my dad, Jerry Osborn, went with us, and he humored me, though he was eager to get home. The kids just rolled their eyes and said, “Not another elevator!”

Like pearls on a string, grain elevators line up on Hwy 34 as it stretches from town to town west of Lincoln, Neb. From the look of the rounded headhouses on each elevator,  Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha had free reign there during the construction years, having butted out potential competition as it changed the landscape on the old road.

Only the York and Aurora elevators are recorded in the company construction record pages we have. I will present them more fully in a later post.

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The Murphy sign stenciled on the elevator does not seem to be a town name

The Murphy and Hampton elevators present a bit of a mystery. Since I had a full load of family cramped together in a rental car that was barely an SUV, more suited to a terrier dog and a bicycle than the five passengers it claimed to hold, I did not stop to investigate the mystery elevators. I had to be content with a few pictures taken on the fly.

Here they are. I wonder if any of our readers remember these elevators, or can identify the builders? They will get another visit, hopefully soon, but for now, enjoy the photos.

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Hampton’s elevator also has a rounded headhouse

‘A Tillotson unique feature: the end of the headhouse is round’

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, photo from his archive

The concrete work is finished. You see those windows up there? The end of the headhouse is round because it’s hard to lay steel on a square corner. When you’re laying rebar, you have long straight sticks. Corners are hard to do. The is a Tillotson unique feature, as far as I know. It looks good because it matches the contours of the rest of the building. It was functional because the steel of the tank comes in about four pieces, and you lay them and they overlap. It was pretty exacting. You worked on your knees all night, up and down. You got the steel off the rack and you had to get down under neath and run it under all that stuff. And you did that over and over. The day that we were going to put the glass in the windows, those were steel-frame windows. There’s a little metal clip that holds the glass. You put the putty on the outside and you’re all done. The day we were doing that, the wind was blowing so hard, it was breaking the glass as we were put it in. We had to quit because of the danger of flying glass. They bought some different glass that was stronger, double-strength glass. It was just one of those things. All of a sudden, boom, this flying glass comes across the room at you.