The vanished Glidden elevator, a concrete giant, has gone the way of the wood

Story by Kristen Cart

It is tremendously disappointing when you realize an elevator should be there, and isn’t. I recently passed through the north-central Iowa town of Glidden, a small place mostly on the south side of Highway 30. I knew from Tillotson construction records that an elevator and an annex were built in Glidden back during the elevator boom. But though I leaned over to that side of the car to peer at the skyline, hoping to see the familiar white Tillotson elevator outline, all I saw were two hulking bins of another more modern sort.

You learn to expect old wooden elevators to disappear. But the 1940s and ’50s vintage concrete elevators usually are not so quick to go.

Glidden, IA 51443 - Google MapsThis situation would require some investigation, but not on a day when I had to get home, with another 400 miles or so to go. I had at least one more stop planned to see an elevator, at Ralston, a town just a few miles further east, and my three kids tolerated the stops, hanging in there at the frazzled edges of their patience.

When I got home, I resorted to the Internet. Satellite images have become so good that you can virtually identify a builder from above. But in the case of Glidden, there was no sign of an old elevator, only a bulldozed area where the forms for two circular bins had been laid out. Apparently I had not overlooked the desired elevator–it was gone.

NEW Cooperative Inc - Google MapsI didn’t count on being able to date the demolition, but the map’s “street view” came to the rescue. An uploaded photo, watermarked 2013, showed a view of the site from an intersection down the street. From that perspective, the old elevator stood as it always had, since it was built. So the old elevator was probably retired after the last of its grain was out, in time for new bins to be built for the next harvest, sometime in 2013 before winter set in.

I missed my grandfather’s (alleged) McAllaster, Kan., elevator by a couple of months when it was torn down over a year ago. But in the satellite image that was available at the time, you could see where the destruction had begun. Several round bins were newly absent, and holes appeared in the top of the headhouse.

I don’t imagine that satellite engineers envisioned this use for their images.

 

Charles H. Tillotson straddled the divide between wood and concrete

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

My Great-grandfather Charles H. Tillotson may have been following his trade by instinct, but he opened the way for descendants to distinguish themselves in the business of elevator construction.

I know the Tillotsons saw themselves primarily as carpenters. My Uncle Charles J. Tillotson went to work as an apprentice carpenter for Tillotson Construction, which was founded after the death of his grandfather Charles. My Uncle Michael Tillotson learned carpentry on through the family business and worked as a carpenter throughout his career. When I helped him finish concrete sidewalks on a couple of side jobs in the 1970s, he preached a gospel that carpenters could do it all, whether it be concrete or painting. And in elevator construction, it was true.

Charles H. Tillotson was born in Brunswick, Mo., in 1880. He married Rose Brennan in Riverside, Iowa.

He and my Great-grandmother Rose had an apparently cozy life in Omaha with their three grown children, Joseph, Reginald, and Mary, all of whom became involved in elevator construction. Kristen Cart’s research has found the Tillotsons listed in the 1930 census. They lived at 624 N. 41st.

A 1936 city directory listed Charles H. as president of Van Ness Construction, a company that built mills and elevators. Joseph served as secretary-treasurer and Reginald was a foreman. Mary worked as a clerk-typist at the Federal Land Bank.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938

By then, Reginald was married to my grandmother, Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson. Their firstborn Charles J., had arrived in 1935, followed the next year by my mother, Mary Catherine.

Uncle Tim Tillotson, the middle of their three sons between Charles J. and Michael (who was born in a home-built house trailer at a Smith Center, Kan., job site), says a story exchanged among the uncles was that Great-grandfather Charles H. would tell Reginald, “Put out that cigarette,” when they were working on jobs. The danger of fire was constant. How ironic, then, that Charles H. held a cigarette for his portrait.

After the death of paterfamilias Charles H., the Tillotson Construction Company was formed by Reginald, Joseph, and Mary. We would love to learn more about how this proceeded.

Meanwhile, the transition to slip-formed concrete construction was under way, with the Tillotsons’ carpentry skills being readily applied to the formwork.

The 1945 vintage elevator at Lodgepole, Nebraska, and the death of Bill Morris

DSC_0446Story and photo by Kristen Cart

A newspaper article recently came to light that upended our elevator construction timeline, causing us to reconsider the story of the Lodgepole, Neb., elevator and the careers of Joseph H. Tillotson and my grandfather William Arthur Osborn.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, said that the death of Bill Morris, the superintendent on the Lodgepole job, and that of Joe Tillotson, the owner of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, came within a month or so of each other. Now it appears likely that the season was the same, but both fatal car accidents occurred in different years–1945 and 1947–a fact easily misunderstood by the young boy my father was at the time, as he listened to the adults talk about business.

elevator021

We believe this photo by William Osborn is from Lodgepole, Neb.

The article appeared in the Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 8, 1945:

Omahan dies after car accident

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP). W. B. Morris, 36, an employee of the Tillotson Construction company, of Omaha, was fatally injured Saturday night when struck by a car driven by Howard B. Kirk, 48, of Lodgepole, Neb., Deputy Sheriff Arnold Braasch said Sunday.

The deputy sheriff reported Morris was changing a tire on his car about ten miles east of here when the accident occurred. He died in a hospital about five hours later.

Braasch said Morris’ home was in Texas, but that he was living in Lodgepole while working on the construction of a new grain elevator.

County Attorney R. P. Kepler said he will decide on Monday whether an inquest is to be held.

We attributed the Lodgepole elevator’s construction to J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, the independent company Joe Tillotson started after his parting of the ways with Tillotson Construction of Omaha. We wrongly believed that both Bill Morris and Joe Tillotson had died in 1947 while working on the Lodgepole job. Now we know that Bill Morris died in 1945 while working for Joe Tillotson. The new fact pins down the date of Joe’s departure from the Omaha company–a move my grandfather made at the same time.

When interviewed in 1949 about his first, independent, Mayer-Osborn Construction venture in McCook, Neb., William Osborn named a number of elevators he had built before. We still believe all of the elevators Bill Osborn listed were J.H. Tillotson elevators.

According to the McCook article, Bill Osborn said the elevators in Maywood, Traer, Wauneta, and Lodgepole were built in 1945. If the reporter was right about Bill Morris’ employment, all of the 1945 elevators would be too early to be J. H. Tillotson elevators. However, none of them were recorded in the Tillotson Construction specifications and none built in the Omaha company’s style.

The reporter writing about Bill Morris’ death in 1945 was unaware of the freshly minted company Joe Tillotson had started, and wrongly identified Bill Morris as a Tillotson Construction of Omaha employee.

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An early photo of the Lodgepole elevator was kept at the location.

The fact that in 1945, Bill Morris went from a superintendent job at a verified Tillotson Construction project in Giddings, Tex to a superintendent position at the Lodgepole elevator job, a project demonstrably not built by the Omaha company, precisely dates the time Joe Tillotson chose to go out on his own.

The 1945 construction date of the Lodgepole elevator gives us a much more accurate understanding of the birth of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, a venture that lasted about four years, until my grandfather built the McCook elevator for Mayer-Osborn Construction in 1949.

A tragedy took Morris in his prime, but my grandfather stepped into his place, gaining valuable experience as a builder. To this day, the graceful Lodgepole elevator serves as a fitting monument to Morris’ productive career.

Wrecking out details are provided in drawings from Tillotson records

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

The papers we received from my Uncle Tim Tillotson included not only the record of Tillotson Construction Company’s building activities, but also these pages showing details of building a wrecking-out platform as well as jack rod assemblies and formwork details. Page two is dated November 12, 1954.

A wrecking-out platform was needed as workers disassembled the formwork on the inside of the completed elevator.

Charles H. Tillotson 1

Uncle Charles Tillotson has previously written about his close call when cable clamps failed.

In that post he described a wrecking-out platform this way:

The final scaffold then becomes a square platform suspended in a round tank.

The void on each side of the scaffold is used for lowering or throwing the wood material into the tank’s dark abyss. After all the overhead wrecking has been accomplished, another team gains access to the tank’s bottom via a manhole in the side of the tank at or near ground level.

Charles H. Tillotson 3

The drawings and details presented in the notes included here are invaluable. For example: The hole in the roof is formed with a one-quart motor oil can. (“Remove can & plug hole,” the addendum reminds.)

Charles H. Tillotson 5

The handwritten note in the upper right corner of the first page says, “I put my center needle beam under the manhole then it is easy to get plank on and easy to get on scaffold. If you think this helps O.K. other wise [illegible] to a goose going south.”

“I’ll pick it up when I catch him down about Galveston,” this section concludes.

Charles H. Tillotson 4

Another note is on the quality of timbers: “I’ve been using these for 20 years if you use 3 good 2 x 6 they work fine and save over the 3 x 6 & all that steel and all you have to do is cut the ones you use in the tanks and they will work in small bins.”

We look forward to readers’ comments on the pages.

Charles H. Tillotson 7

In 1954, near the boom’s end, Albert City, Iowa, had a gleaming concrete elevator

Albert City, Iowa

By Ronald Ahrens 

Looking at this photo of Tillotson Construction Company’s 252,000-bushel elevator, completed in 1954, it’s easy to imagine the pride and awe of a small town’s few hundred residents.

Albert City is in northwest Iowa on a spur from Route 3, not far from Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. The Tillotson’s had also built that same year in nearby Pocahontas, where there was tragedy.

The Albert City job went more smoothly as the structure rose far above the tallest elms, although Uncle Charles Tillotson, who recently dug up this photo, has written about his frightening dismount from the formwork during a storm.

Uncle Michael Tillotson has also recollected about working here:

“The following summer (1954) we went to Albert City, Iowa, 75 miles North of Council Bluffs. We rented rooms in a private home. We worked with a 20 something guy that ran the winch pulley bucket to the top of the elevator as it progressed, and brought building materials down. We also rode the bucket up and down to get on deck. The elevator bens were 125 feet to the top with a Head-House of 75 on top of that.”

Company records show the elevator was built according to the same plan used in Pocahontas. This entailed eight outer bins that were eighteen feet in diameter and, contrary to Uncle Mike’s reckoning, 120 feet tall. Altogether, some 2091 cubic yards of concrete were reinforced by 106.57 tons of steel.

The bins rose from a main slab 21 inches thick and 60 x 72.5 square feet in area. It supported a gross loaded weight of 12,974 tons.

The cupola, or headhouse, was 23 feet wide, 58 feet tall, and 40 feet long.

Albert City was a single-leg elevator. Its head pulley was 72 inches in diameter and turned at 42 rpm. A 40-horsepower Howell motor supplied more than enough energy to turn it.

Twelve-inch-wide cups on a six-ply, 14-inch-wide belt carried up the grain that was dumped by incoming trucks. The 12-foot-wide driveway had two dump grates: 9 x 6 feet and 9 x 14 feet.

In 1954, Tillotson also built in Dacoma, Lahoma, Orienta, and Weatherford, Okla.; Booker, Tex.; Ensign and Montezuma, Kan.; Bellwood, Neb.; and Glidden, Goldfield, Newell, Manson, Pocahontas, and Iowa Falls, Iowa.

These were among Tillotson’s last elevators–the records close out with work in 1955–and they represented nearly everything the company knew about building.

A visit to Google Maps shows the elevator is still standing, which is to be expected given the Herculean effort needed to knock down all that reinforced concrete. But it appears idle. Given what we’ve learned about the limitations of midcentury elevators and today’s need for greater storage capacity and quicker unloading, that would make sense.

Nevertheless, it endures as a handmade monument, and a rich human history goes with it.

This ‘continuous pour’–and the marching band–would delight our grandfathers

By Ronald Ahrens

Photo by AC Martin.

Photo by AC Martin.

A  USA Today insert in my Feb. 6 edition of the Desert Sun newspaper carried this story about the new tower under construction in Los Angeles. The news will be of interest to the concrete enthusiasts among our readers.

The report on the 1100-foot Wilshire Grand project describes how the the foundation slab will be laid on Feb. 15: “The project will attempt to set a Guinness World Record with the largest continuous concrete pour ever… More than 2,100 truckloads will deliver 21,200 cubic yards of concrete weighing 82 million pounds.”

A typical Tillotson elevator–for example, Albert City, Iowa–needed 2091 cubic yards of reinforced concrete. That’s just under one percent of what’s going into the 100-foot-deep hole on Wilshire Boulevard. I’m trying (without success) to picture 100 grain elevators compressed in there.

The USC band will precede the first truck to the site.  It is not recorded that any band ever marched to the opening of an elevator job.

Nor is it believed a swimming pool topped any elevator, as will be the case at Wilshire Grand.

Technical complications will arise during the pour, and a quite amazing means of addressing them has been devised, as you will read in the story.

I mentioned all this to Uncle Chuck Tillotson and shared the clipping with him. He said that my grandfather Reginald had foreseen for Tillotson Construction Company a commercial future beyond elevator construction.

Applying their expertise with concrete in different applications would only have been natural, but it’s doubtful  he foresaw anything quite this big.

And I’m sure he didn’t think about anyone taking a dip while 1100 feet above the city.

The Tillotson elevator at Vail, Iowa, is fully explained in builder specifications

The ubiquitous curved headhouse exemplifies the Tillotson style at Vail, Iowa

The curved headhouse exemplifies the Tillotson style at Vail, Iowa.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

DSC_2984

An overexposed image brought out the Tillotson name on the blue port cover.

During our travels, we are always on the lookout for a Tillotson elevator, so coming across the Vail elevator in the eastern part of Iowa during a Thanksgiving visit was a pleasant surprise.

The trademark curved headhouse came into sight at a distance, and with some excitement we pulled over near the elevator, hoping to find an embossed manhole cover to confirm the builder. Painted blue, about halfway up the side above a loading spout, was a steel cover with its stamped name, “Tillotson Construction Co., 1955, Omaha Nebr.,” faintly visible in the late afternoon shadow.

We needn’t have looked. The Vail elevator is among the structures detailed in the Tillotson concrete elevator specifications, which span over fifteen years.

In a brisk, chill wind, I took some quick photographs (interrupted briefly when a railroad employee warned me to keep a respectful distance from the tracks), and then I dashed back into the warmth of the truck. “Vail, Iowa,” was a familiar name. When I checked, I found it was listed in the rich store of information that Tim Tillotson provided.

Eureka!

DSC_3006Below are the specifications for the elevator at Vail, Iowa, built in 1955.

The elevator was built using the “Manson plan,” which specified 5 bins with a 16 ft diameter and 120 ft height, a 13 x 17 ft driveway, a dust bin and fan, a dryer bin, and 16 bins and overflow.

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 152,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 1,551 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 1,552 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers) 27 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 69.5 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 89.8 pounds

 

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 5,457 lb/64 cu yd

Main slab 19,460 lb/186 cu yd

Drawform walls 88,017 lb/1087 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1,988 lb/18.5 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 5,261 lb/28.5 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 2,949 lb/22.1 cu yd

Bin roof & Extens. roofs 5,287 lb/35.8 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) 292 lb/4.8 cu yd

Cupola walls (including leg and head) 5,590 lb/63.0 cu yd

Distributor floor 1,530 lb/11.0 cu yd

Cupola roof 1,760 lb/14.0 cu yd

Miscellaneous (track sink, steps) 1,107 lb/15.0 cu yd

Construction details

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 54 x 51 ft

Main slab area (actual outside on ground, less pit) 2,482 sq ft

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4,000 lb/cu yd + steel) 3,173 tons

Weight of plan concrete (hoppers 4,000 lb/cu yd) 96 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lb/cu yd) 615 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 lb per bushel) 4,560 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 18 tons

Gross weight loaded 8,462 tons

Bearing pressure 3.4 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 24 in

Main slab steel (bent) number 9 at 7 inches

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) number 4 at 12 inches

Lineal feet of drawform walls and extensions 526 ft

Height of drawform walls 120 ft

Pit depth below main slab 16 ft 3 in

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.) 22.25 x 42.5 x 26.5 ft

Pulley centers 152.75 ft

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 ft

Dump grate size 5 x 9 and 15 x 9 ft

Columns under tanks size 16 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

 

Machinery Details

Head pulley size 72 x 14 x 4 9/16 in

Boot pulley size 72 x 14 in

Head pulley rpm 42

Belt 330 ft, 14 in 6 ply calumet

Cups 12 x 6 in at 10 1/2 in

Head drive Howell 30 horsepower, 4

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 6,440 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 5,150 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 23.8 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower Ehr

Load out scale 10 bu

Load out spout 8.25 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Bin

Cupola spouting 10 inch diam.

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor Provision

 

Also Built

Main slab includes 3 in pile cap 23 cu yd

Split one overhead bin

Dust bin and fan

Hang pit 3,126

Special track sink

Piling

Dennis Russell reflects on his brother Jim’s tragic death on the Murphy, Neb., elevator

This photo, provided by Kurtis Glinn, shows Tillotson Construction's Murphy elevator in the early 1960s. Note the ground storage of grain sorghum on the right.

This photo, provided by Kurtis Glinn, shows Tillotson Construction’s Murphy, Neb., elevator in the early 1960s. Note the ground storage of grain sorghum on the right, and the old wooden elevator on the left.

By Ronald Ahrens  

A recent telephone conversation with Dennis Russell, who lives in Plano, Tex., revealed more details about the Russell family and his brother Jim, who died in an accident during construction of the Murphy, Neb., elevator. Dennis was the youngest of eight brothers: Bob, Roger, Jim, Jack, Byron, Bill, and Mark.

Their father William, born in 1900, had done construction on ammunition depots during World War Two, Dennis recalled. William, known as Bill, went to work for Tillotson Construction Company at an unknown date after the War.

“He worked for them a long time,” Dennis said. “He left Tillotson’s and started Mid States Construction Company with Gordon Erickson and another individual. I think he was a partner for a brief period and then ran jobs for them as a superintendent until his retirement.”

The name was changed to Mid States Equipment Company. Grain elevators and feed mills were the main specialties. Bill Russell retired in 1972, but he “always had fond memories working for Tillotson, I know that,” Dennis said. “I remember he was awful fond of Mary.”

Jim Russell’s promising future cut short 

Dennis was born in 1949. “My whole life was elevators. We moved every year from ’59 till I graduated high school.”

All the Russell brothers worked on elevators, Dennis recalled. “I worked on those quite a bit myself every summer.”

“Jim, he was third-oldest, he died in, like, ’58 in Murphy, Neb., right outside of Aurora. There was an article about that in the Aurora paper at the time. We lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, but that summer I was in Aurora, we were staying with Dad. I remember Mom taking that phone call.”

At the time of his death in a freak accident (the links below tell the story), Jim was married to Shirley, a nurse, and had one year of law school remaining at the University of South Dakota.

More details on the Nebraska elevator site where Jim Russell died

By Kurt Glinn

I was the manager at the Aurora Cooperative Murphy location in central Nebraska. I was told from the old timers in the area that were around when the elevator was built in the late-’50s [that an] accident happened there, shutting down construction for about a week.

The Aurora Coop's Murphy elevator and annex. Jim Russell died in a fall during the elevator's construction.

The Aurora Coop’s Murphy elevator and annex. Jim Russell died in a fall during construction.

Murphy is no more than an elevator along the railroad now. It is six miles west of Aurora, Neb., or fifteen miles east of Grand Island, Neb.

Thank you for a wonderful site. One of my first bosses was a man by the name of Willis “Bill” Maahs. He was a superintendent for Tillotson into the early ’60s when he stayed in Aurora and  became operations supervisor for Aurora Co-op. He helped build the Murphy elevator and the Aurora elevators. There are two Tillotson houses in town, as well as the feed mill in Aurora.

I have always been intrigued with the workings of the old concrete houses versus the new bigger faster ones, although I know how farming and the grain business view them.

Concrete grain elevators are very highly regarded in the industry as the most permanent. My reference is to the older, smaller, multi-bin elevators of 20,000- to 25,000-bushel bins versus the newer 250,000- to 300,000-bushel bins being built.

The industry has come along way in the last fifty years: the ability to jack the forms with hydraulics, the diameter of the bins, the height and capacity of legs. Putting all the equipment outside of the structures rather than enclosing everything in the house, which has saved many elevators from the disaster of explosions, et cetera.

Farmers are into a newer generation also, thirty-five years and younger. They want fast unload and large unloading pits.
The ag industry as a whole had seen large improvements in the size and capacity of equipment, making some of the smaller, older elevators almost impossible to use.

I find the older ones more interesting because they were what started a new generation from wood houses to concrete. Building work floors and platforms from concrete rather than steel and expanded metal. All is my own opinion as to why I enjoy the first generation of concrete grain elevators in the ag industry.