The Tillotson elevator in Hinton, Iowa, is fully upgraded to fulfill today’s mission

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Hinton, Iowa, grain elevator, anchoring the eastern verge of town along U.S. 75 in western Iowa, looks very little like it did when it first rose in a continuous pour over the flat surrounding farmland. Conveyors and legs and platforms stick out at odd angles from the headhouse–distribution central for the sprawling complex of elevator, drier, and annexes. The long row of grain storage bins and equipment deeply overshadows the eastern side of the highway, which zips past the center of town without a nod to the businesses along the main streets to its west.

An elevated conveyor crows in red lettering, “Floyd Valley Grain, L.L.C.,” where it may be easily read from the road. To drive the point home, two dedicated locomotives parked upon the nearby rails are painted bright red in the company colors and sport the company name. This cooperative, the advertising seems to say, is the true center of town.

DSC_6412Innovation and modernization bristle from every side of the old Tillotson elevator. The externally installed legs (the parts of an elevator that lift the grain during the loading process) are a later modification taken to prevent grain dust fires: the moving parts that may heat up, such as bearings and motors, are no longer confined in an enclosed space with combustible grain dust. The various conveyors connect to newer annexes that were built when the storage demand outgrew the original elevator. The entire complex has become a far greater enterprise than our grandfathers, builders of the original structures, ever envisioned.

I paged through the Tillotson Construction Company records, preserved in handwritten and carefully photocopied pages, looking for the building specifications for the original Hinton elevator. Unfortunately they were not preserved with the rest. But we know it is a Tillotson elevator from a news item about an accident at the construction site where a man fell to his death in 1954. Perhaps records pertaining to the subject of a potential lawsuit were not with the rest of the file.

The elevator follows a well-tested design, and like the majority of the later Tillotson elevators we have studied, it still serves. It is a fitting testament to the engineering pioneer that was Tillotson Construction Company.

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A mystery unfolds at the Tillotson elevator of Blencoe, Iowa

This elevator is attributed to the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, but evidence points elsewhere

This elevator is attributed to the Tillotson Construction Company, but evidence points elsewhere.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

In an earlier post, we showed that the elevator built by the Tillostson Construction Company in the northwest Iowa town of Blencoe had a structural failure prior to completion. A photo provided by Tim Tillotson showed that the concrete slumped over the driveway after the slip-form pour had progressed considerably past the point of failure. Construction would have halted there. The question of how the elevator was completed was never answered.

In the company records we have, the specifications log ended by 1956, while the company continued to build elevators beyond that date. So later records are lost to us. Tim Tillotson estimated that this mishap occurred in about 1955. I discovered, on review, that Blencoe was not in the specifications at all. Why?

A photo of the manhole cover on the rail side of the elevator could provide the answer. It is not typical for Tillotson elevators to have exterior manhole covers on elevators of this type, so the existence of these was a little surprising. More shocking was the identity of the company that placed them.

"Grain Storage Const. Co, 1959, Council Bluffs, Iowa" is embossed on the manhole cover

“Grain Storage Const. Co, 1959, Council Bluffs, Iowa” is embossed on the manhole cover.

The Grain Storage Construction Company of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is not familiar to us. It may be the company called in to repair the damage when the failure occurred.

We don’t know if Tillotson Construction was fired on the spot. But it is also possible that Tillotson was given a second chance–the design of the elevator clearly follows the trademark Tillotson design, whether copied by some one or built by the original contractor.

I wonder if the original repair destroyed the structural integrity of the elevator, and Grain Storage Construction was brought in to replace two of the bins. We know it was a later job because of the 1959 date on the manhole covers. Unfortunately, I made my visit on a Saturday, and the co-op was closed, so there was no one there to ask.

It is a beautiful, functional elevator today. It stands beside the older Mayer-Osborn elevator, which is also clearly in use sixty years after it was built. Both elevators had problems during construction, but the capacity was urgently needed, so both projects were finished. How the Tillotson elevator ultimately became a Grain Construction Company branded elevator is a mystery we will try to solve in a future post.

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Virginia Slusher remembers her years as Tillotson Contruction’s office girl

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Story by Virginia Slusher, photos from her collection

Editor’s note: Virginia Slusher, who lives near Kansas City, contacted us to share these recollections and photos. We have previously written about The Office, part of the old Anheuser-Bush brewery on Jones Street, which served as Tillotson Construction’s headquarters in the 1950s. 

Beginning in the fall of 1951, I worked for Mike (Reginald) and Mary Tillotson for seven years. I was the “office girl”–some bookkeeping, receptionist, et cetera.

I went to Commercial Extension School of Commerce, and Johnny Hassman was my date for our graduation party. He was in the office quite often. I think Johnny helped with sales. IMG_1390

One morning I arrived first, and the safe was hanging open. Because of the burglary, I immediately ran down to the gas station on the corner. The thief took the petty cash they kept in the safe. I don’t think he bothered anything else. The police came to investigate.

I loved working there; they were so good to me.

The three guys and I would sit up on the balcony and play cards sometimes when Mary was gone. It was a raised area where Wayne and Ted, the two engineers, sat. Bob the bookkeeper sat just below.

I loved the guys. They took me out for my first legal drink when I turned 21 years old. They teased me unmercifully but were so good to me.

I remember typing about 2000 W-4s at the end of the year. Men would work for one or two days and quit. I also sent all the “give us your business” cards to the small towns in multiple states. Virginia Slusher 01

The other woman–I can’t remember her name–was working there when I started.

They had a huge NCR bookkeeping machine that she taught me how to operate. Shortly after I started there, the company sold it to, I think, China.

Mary was different to say the least. She had an ugly Boxer that came to work with her sometimes. He would slobber on me; therefore, I did not like him!

She used to tape a St. Christopher medal on her desk. We joked that we wondered if the desk would take her somewhere.

Johnny Hassman and Virginia Slusher celebrate her business school graduation. Photo from the Virginia Slusher archive.

Johnny Hassman and Virginia Slusher celebrate her business school graduation.

She was very good to me, gave me nice bonuses at the end of the year, not quite as big as the three guys. But very good for the ’50s. I received $1000 to $15oo. The men usually around $10,000. Very large amount for the times.

Mike (Reginald) was funny, not in the office much. I had to write the checks to pay the family bills.

I was still Virginia Engel but married William Slusher while working there, 60 years now, and they were very nice to us.

When the company closed, Mary found a new job for me at Power District credit union.

Elevator construction men found time for romance on the side

Commentary by Neil Lieb with photo from his archive

A little quirk happened in West Bend, Iowa. Construction men were known as love ’em and leave ’em. Blaine Bell, Ed Hart (roommate from Gilmore, Iowa) and myself all married girls from West Bend. Pop Bell was a sawman for Bill Russell—all he did was cut lumber, all the pieces, all the forms. He had a big table saw, probably an 18-inch rotary blade driven by a two- or three-horsepower electric motor.

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell .

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell .

Blaine Bell and I, in West Bend, they built a feed manufacturing building next to the elevator next to Main Street, downtown. My wife Jolene’s father, Joseph Higgins, had a barber shop. They had an apartment right behind the barber shop and she used to come out and hang up clothes and the normal stuff. My wife was a redheaded Irishman. Blaine kept saying, “I have to see if I can get a date,” and it irritated me.

One day I made a point to be on the ground when I knew she was coming out of the house. I got a date with her. She wasn’t supposed to date construction people. We were married over 59 years. That was in October of 1950.

Editor’s note: This anecdote is from an interview on July 18, 2014.

Getting off-level and taking a fall at Tillotson’s Bushland, Tex., elevator

Entering Bushland, Texas. Photo by Stefan Joppich, used with permission.

Entering Bushland, Texas. Photo by Stefan Joppich, used with permission.

Commentary by Neil Lieb with photo from his archive

Somewhere between checking the water level when we started and checking it in the middle, the forms became about 3.5 inches off level. That’s because one guy who was running the jacks on one side wasn’t making his rounds as he was supposed to. The guy was fired on the spot.

Now you had to get the decks level again. When you’re going off level, you’re going at an angle. So what happened, you got a little swerve in the tanks. It’s only an inch. You can’t see it. The only time is if you go up and down on a hoist. So the bottom and top are not exactly over each other.

It had no effect. Not enough to be significant. We were about 65 or 70 feet in the air when it happened.

Every job had a peculiarity. The guy in Bushland jumped off the top. He started to fall, so he jumped. He jumped out far enough to land on the sand pile. We were probably 40 to 50 feet. He landed on the side of the sand pile and slid to the bottom.

We said, “How you doing?”

He said, “Oh, I’m fine. I’ll be a little stiff and sore.”

There were seven guys that I worked with. Baker was one and Bill Russell, all of ’em fell or got killed somewhere along the line.

When you’re working in the air, you become careless because it’s like walking on the ground, but you’re not walking on the ground.

Steelworkers, they all say you get too familiar with working off the ground. When they do that, they become careless.

 

Details, details! Here’s more about the finished grain elevator at Alta, Iowa

The finished elevator. Photo from the Neil A. Lieb Archive.

The finished elevator. Photo from the Neil A. Lieb Archive.

Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, with photo from his archive

That’s the west side of the elevator. If you were bringing grain in, you would go in that door and out the other door. See that railroad track? All elevators I’ve ever been near, seems you go in the back side and out the front side. You see the second row of windows? You see where the last “A” is? That’s where the motor sets. The belt would be on the right-hand side of the driveway. The driveways are always offset to one side, and the belt to the other side. The drive motor sits about where that “A” is, maybe about the top. It sits on top of two I-beams. They go into the wall of the headhouse and the wall of the shaft that drives the belt. The lettering was done after we left. Tillotson didn’t have anything to do with it. Some sign company came in and did it. They used lead anchors. It had a steel in the middle and lead sleeve on the outside. You can go to a hardware store and still buy them. They had a drill—they called a star drill—and you hit it with a hammer. You hit it, you turned it. You hit it, you turned it. You use a five or seven pound shop hammer to hit it with. Now they have drill bits that cut through concrete. There’s probably an anchor, on the T, at each corner, the middle at the top, and the bottom. The big letters have three or four. The small letters have two. I have no idea, I didn’t do it. See the dark part at the bottom of the pipe, that’s flex pipe so you could put it in the grain car.

 

 

 

 

 

Minneapolis, Kansas sports a completely unique Tillotson elevator, circa 1947

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

I knew there was a small Tillotson elevator in Minneapolis, Kan., when I stopped there last weekend on a quick trip to Nebraska from Wichita.

I had a weekend layover and a rental car, and was headed up to see my folks. The town is right where I-135 gives out when driving north from Wichita. I had to get off anyway to continue north, so when I spotted the elevator down by the railroad bridge, I went to check it out.

The Minneapolis elevator was recorded in the concrete elevator specifications of the Tillostson Construction Company. It was one of the handful of Tillotson projects built in Kansas.

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The manhole cover at the base identifies Tillotson Construction of Omaha as builder.

I did not expect what I found. The manhole cover identified the builder, so there was no doubt, but this 1947 creation was unlike any Tillotson elevator I had ever seen.

The elevator was starkly beautiful, balanced, and gracefully situated in its surroundings. Though it was small, its perfect proportions and simplicity made it monumental. A wide-angle, close-quarters view made it look even grander in the photo.

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I have a passion for window panes—the more, the better. They look good in photos, and the Tillotson Company must have agreed—the several windows that let light into the headhouse to illuminate the workspace had a multitude of them.

It may be a nostalgic thing for me—I remember as a little kid seeing painted panes left over from the blackout days of the last great war. It took lots of paint and many, many hours to cover the hundreds of panes in an aircraft hangar or gymnasium, but it was the only way to hide every scrap of light from an anticipated airborne menace. Many years later, after the paint was peeled and broken panes were replaced with unpainted ones, an interesting patchwork remained. That image held fast in my childish memory.

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Though the cooperative was closed for the weekend, blower noise testified to the elevator’s present utility, along with that of its towering neighbors. After the 1947 elevator was built, more capacity was added—a second elevator and a large annex stood beside the Tillotson structure, and judging by their style, they probably came along not too much later. The whole complex was perfectly neat and tidy.

I took advantage of the quiet and did a thorough job photographing the exterior of the elevator and its companions. Further investigation will have to wait for a time when someone is home at the co-op.

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Specifications

The specifications describe a small, early elevator, of only 100,000 bushels capacity. It was intended to serve a mill operation. The elevator was built using the “Pond Creek plan,” which specified 4 tanks with a 15 1/2 ft diameter, 125 ft drawform walls through the cupola, an attached driveway, no distributor floor, 6 spreads and 9 bins.

Capacity per Plans (with Pack): 100,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,020 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total): 906 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 10 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods): 40.67 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 90.3 pounds

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab: 3,720 lb/34.4 cu yd

Main slab: 12,775 lb/84.7 cu yd

Drawform walls: 56,190 lb/694 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns): 112 lb/1.3 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms: None

Overhead bin bottoms: 910 lb/6.5 cu yd

Bin roof (garner): 730 lb/7.7 cu yd

Scale floor (complete): None

Cupola walls: Drawform walls

Distributor floor: None

Cupola roof: 3,053 lb/21.4 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps): Included

Attached driveway: 4,250 lb/56.0 cu yd

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Construction details

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.): 41 x 41 ft

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 1,626 sq ft

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4,000 lb/cu yd + steel): Excluding driveway,  1,752 tons

Weight of plain concrete (hoppers 4,000 lb/cu yd): 20 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lb/cu yd): 218 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 lb per bushel): 3,000 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery: 10 tons

Gross weight loaded: 5,000 tons

Bearing pressure: 3.08 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness: 18 in

Main slab steel: (straight): 1 in diameter at 9 in o. c. spacing

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks): 1/2 in diameter at 12 in o. c. spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 310 ft with no extensions

Height of drawform walls: 125 ft

Pit depth below main slab 13 ft 3 in

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.): 17 ft 7 in high within drawform walls

Pulley centers: 128.25 ft

Number of legs: 1

Distributor floor: No

Track sink: No

Full basement: No

Electrical room: No

Driveway width–clear 13 ft

Dump grate size: 1 at 5 ft x 9 ft

Columns under tanks-size: None

Boot — leg & head: Concrete

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The grain operation is a close neighbor to residents of the town. This old house is under renovation.

 

Machinery Details

Head pulley size: 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 in

Boot pulley size: 72 x 14 x 3 7/16 in

Head pulley rpm: 36

Belt: 280 ft, 14 in 6 ply calumet

Cups: 12 x 6 in at 10 in o. c. spacing

Head drive: Howell 20 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating): 5,780 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical): 4,600 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 17.9 hp

Man lift: Hand operated

Load out scale: None

Load out spout: None

Cupola Spouting: None

Truck lift: 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system: Fan → Air

Driveway doors: One sliding

Conveyor: None

Remarks

Cupola in drawform walls

 

Also Built

Transfer spout to mill