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


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.


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.


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.


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.




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



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


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


Cupola in drawform walls


Also Built

Transfer spout to mill

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



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


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. 

Revisiting Greenwood, Nebraska, and its Tillotson grain elevator


The Tillotson elevator and annex alongside the railroad tracks in Greenwood, Neb.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Along U.S. 6 between Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., stands an early testament to the ingenuity of the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha. This early elevator, which rises alongside the highway next to its attached annex in the town of Greenwood, still holds grain. The original elevator was built with a capacity of 129,000 bushels. On the side facing the highway, stenciled in black, is a sign that says “Built by Tillotson Construction Co. Omaha Nebraska.” The lettering is partially obscured by paint and concrete patches.

Highway 6 is a very familiar stretch of road. I have driven it innumerable times between Ashland and Lincoln while visiting my family–on every run to Lincoln, the old Tillotson elevator and its annex come up on the right side of the road about a third of the way there. As a little girl, when traveling across Nebraska, I would see a white edifice on the horizon, and it meant a new town was coming up and we were closer to our destination. Now, living far away, I rarely see the elevators that have become so familiar. But last summer, I revisited this one.


A Burlington Northern train slows to pass through town on an early morning run.

The Greenwood elevator was built in 1951. Its annex was added in 1954, and although we do not have the construction record of the annex among our Tillotson company papers, the embossed manhole covers identify its provenance.

The pairing of a Tillotson elevator with a Tillotson annex is fairly unusual in the company records–usually another company would come along and build an annex. During the elevator boom, it seems very likely that the Tillotson company was too busy to meet the demand for annexes that were springing up everywhere, and it is very doubtful that they competed and lost the contract at each site. The company was too good at what they did, and it is almost certain that they had more work than they could accept.

DSC_0421We have the building specifications for the original elevator in the Tillotson Construction Company records.

Greenwood’s elevator was built following the Churdan Plan, with four 14 1/2-foot-diameter tanks, 120 feet high, and a 13 x 17-foot driveway. The spread was 13 feet, and eight bins were built over the driveway. The plan called for 17 total storage bins and a dust bin, with bin number 8 split to accommodate a dryer. The total capacity was 129,000 bushels.

Grain capacity per foot of height was 1318 bushels. For the project the company poured 1255 cubic feet of reinforced concrete, and 25 cubic feet of plain concrete for the hoppers. 60.23 tons of steel were used for construction (including jack rods). The average weight of steel per cubic yard of concrete was 96 pounds. The plans broke out the concrete and steel to be used for each line item:

Below main slab: 3,200 pounds of steel; 30 cubic yards of concrete;

Main slab: 15,870 pounds of steel; 118 cubic yards of concrete

Draw-form walls: 82,377 pounds of steel; 934 cubic yards of concrete

Driveway and work floor (including columns): 3,370 pounds of steel; 26 cubic yards of concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 3,491 pounds of steel; 19 cubic yards of concrete

Overhead bin bottoms: 3,752 pounds of steel; 23 cubic yards of concrete

Bin root: 3,060 pounds of steel; 30 cubic yards of concrete

Scale floor (or garner), complete: 186 pounds of steel; 3 cubic yards of concrete

Cupola walls: 2,789 pounds of steel; 35 cubic yards of concrete

Distributor floor: 886 pounds of steel; 7 cubic yards of concrete

Cupola roof: 1,129 pounds of steel; 9 cubic yards of concrete

Misc (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 360 pounds of steel; 20 cubic yards of concrete

Attached driveway: driveway extension included above


Concrete repairs are evident around the annex manhole cover.

Construction Details

The dimensions of the main slab were 49 x 49 feet, with a main slab area (actual outside on the ground) of 2,377 square feet. The total weight of reinforced concrete, at 4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel, was 2,570 tons. Also computed at 4000 pounds per cubic yard, the total plain concrete weight for the hoppers was 50 tons. The fill sand for the hoppers, at 3000 pounds per cubic yard, was 360 tons. The planned weight of grain was 60 pounds per bushel, and when filled, the elevator could hold 3,870 tons of grain. Fifteen tons of structural steel and machinery were added to complete the planned gross weight, loaded, of 6,865 tons. The elevator was designed to withstand 2.89 tons per square foot of bearing pressure.

Greenwood 01The dimensions of the elevator were planned as follows:

Main slab thickness: 18 inches

Main slab steel: 1 1/4-inch square at 10-inch o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom for the round tanks: 1/2-inch diameter at 12-inch spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 1,006 feet

Height of drawform walls: 120 feet

Pit depth below main slab: 12 feet 0 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 17 x 34 x 22 feet

Pulley Centers: 145.67 feet

The elevator was designed to operate with one leg. A distributor floor, track sink, full basement, and electrical room were included in the plans. Two dump grates, 5 1/2 x 9 and 15 x 9 feet, were built. The columns under the tanks were 16 x 16 inches square, and the boot-leg and head were built of concrete.

Machinery details

Boot pulley: 60 x 14  x 2 2/16 inches

Head pulley: 60 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches

R.P.M. Head pulley: 42 rpm

Belt: 310 feet of 14-inch 6-ply Calumet

Cups: 12 x 6 inches at 9-inch spacing

Head drive: Howell 30 hp.

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating): 6,250 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical): 5,000 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor): 22 hp.

Man lift: 1 1/2 horsepower electric

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 8 inch w.c.

Truck lift: 7 1/2 Ehr.

Dust collector system: fan to dust bin

Cupola spouting: 10-inch diameter

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: none

Also built

Inside steps

Dryer provided (split bin)