Edward Koppes injured in fall at Bonner Springs, Kansas

Injured in Fall (The Sun’s Own Service)

Hanover, Kans., Jan. 28—Edward Koppes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Chris Koppes of Hanover, received a fractured right hip and right arm when he fell 20 feet from the roof to a concrete floor of a grain elevator which he was helping to build at Bonner Springs, Kans., on Jan. 19. He was taken to a Kansas City hospital. He is an employee of the Tillotson Construction company.

Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1948

Wayne Baker, 23, dies after falling from scaffold

Wayne Baker Funeral Rites Monday P.M.

Funeral services for Wayne Baker, 23, Swanburg, will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at the Faith Lutheran church at Swanburg.

Baker was killed in Estill, S.C., when he fell 100 feet when a scaffold on which he was working broke.

Baker was employed by the Tillotson Construction company, Omaha, Neb., and was working on a grain elevator at the time of the accident.

His parents are Mr. and Mrs. Abe Baker, Swanburg.

Brainerd (Minn.) Daily Dispatch

March 22, 1952

Tillotson Construction wins contract to rebuild in Hawarden, Iowa

Elevator Contract Awarded

New Structure to Replace Building Which Burned Last Fall

The Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha was awarded the contract Monday evening by the E.R. Lambertson estate for the erection of a new grain elevator on the North Western railway right-of-way to replace the structure which was destroyed by fire last September.

The new elevator is to be approximately the same size as the old structure. It will be 26×28 feet in size with a 14-foot driveway and will have a capacity for approximately 20,000 bushels of grain. The sides of the building will be covered with corrugated iron and it will have a metal roof. The old office, which escaped the flames in the fire last fall, will be utilized in conjunction with the new building. The new elevator is to cost in the neighborhood of $6,000.

The contractors hope to begin work on the project in about two weeks and they will utilize as much local labor as possible in its construction. The contract calls for completion of the building by May 1st.

Hawarden (Sioux County, Iowa) Independent

Thursday, February 1, 1940

* Yet another fire struck the Hawarden elevator in 2006.

Tillotson Construction partners announced September 9, 1938

In the business pages of the Evening State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), on September 9, 1938, the new corporation of Tillotson Construction of Omaha, Nebraska, was announced, listing Joseph H. Tillotson, Reginald O. Tillotson, and Rose A. Tillotson as partners.  The firm would specialize in the construction, reconstruction, and repair of grain elevators, warehouses, and similar buildings.

Rose A. Tillotson was the mother of Joe and Reginald. Her husband and their father, Charles (b. 1880, Brunswick, Missouri), had died in June of 1938 in Concordia, Kansas. She was born Rose Brennan on March 4, unknown year, in Ireland and died in the 1950s in Omaha while in her late-80s.

Virginia Engel Slusher recalls working at Tillotson Construction

I worked at Tillotson when the office was in the boondocks, I worked with Ted, Bob and can’t remember the other one’s name. I was receptionist, helped with bookkeeping and just stuff. I remember when Mary brought her boxer to work with her. What ever happened to Johnny? I went from there to OPPD Credit Union, then quit working to raise a family. Now I live in Kansas.

Virginia Engel Slusher

October 31, 2011

John Hassman’s recollections of Tillotson Construction

Back Alley, Paullina, Iowa, by Jim Hamann on January 21, 2010

I worked for [Reginald] (my uncle) from Sept 1948 to Jan 1951. My first job was Paullina, Iowa, where I did the timekeeping and a lot of other odd jobs needed at the time. After that I moved to Montevideo, Minn., doing the same work thru Nov 1949. I had an appendix removed in Nov and went to work in the Omaha office in December 1949. Your Dad paid for flying lessons which I used flying the different construction jobs in Nebraska, Kansas and Okla. I flew the Stinson Voyager and the Station Wagon. My dad Ralph went to work as a salesman in 1947 and sold many of the elevators sold during that [period] until 1952. I also was the pilot that flew for my dad to several of his jobs. While in the office I [was] trained by the office engineer to design buildings and was the major designer with R.O. to build his new home in Florence, Neb. Many mornings he would arrive with new ideas of what he wanted changed in the house, and we would start all over. Starting in Nov. 1950 we began construction on the new house. The foremen were kept busy in the winter doing that work. All using a concrete house with the ideas we used in Elevator Const. That was the coldest, windiest place to work in December. I left to go the the Air Force because I was about to be drafted in the middle of the Korean War. That was the end. The company closed before I returned. It was an exciting learning business that helped me for the rest of my working days as I have always been involved in some form of construction.

John Hassman

April 24, 2009

The Tillotson Construction Story, by Charles J. Tillotson

Speaking to my Uncle Tim about the airplanes used for business travel in the years after World War Two by my grandfather, Reginald Oscar Tillotson, led me to make a cartoon of one of them, called a Stinson Station Wagon. Then my Uncle Chuck wrote the following narrative in response to some questions I had about the airplanes operated by the business and the nature of the company itself. With his response comes the proviso that his recollections may or may not be entirely accurate!

Looking back, Dad was really an adventurous contractor. Way ahead of his time but I guess he was driven to flight because he was worn out from driving. During the early years of his business, driving 100,000 miles a year was the norm.

Reginald O. Tillotson in his mid-20s

Although Dad took a few flying lessons and probably took the controls while in the air sometimes, he never actually piloted the plane. He had a couple of engineers/salesmen working in the office that got him into flying—both were ex-Air Force pilots. They flew for Dad from time to time but eventually one of them, Marvin Melia, became his full-time pilot. When he wasn’t flying, he was a general overall maintenance/handyman for the business. Dad had double hernias, which I think also prevented him from getting a license. And of course we were glad he couldn’t because of his drinking.

My Grandpa Charles was in the business of constructing wooden grain elevators back in ’20’s thru the late ’30’s. He passed away in 1938 and left the business to his two sons and daughter Mary. The boys, Joe and Mike, (nickname for R.O.) were already working in the business, and shortly before Grandpa Charles died the company started experimenting with constructing grain elevators using reinforced concrete via a method called slip-forming. This method allowed a contractor to build a concrete storage building very fast, which not only provided a more substantial structure but also far more grain storage capacity than the smaller wooden elevators.

After the war, the increase in production of corn, wheat, sorghum, rice, etc., caused the NEED for huge amounts of grain storage, which was virtually non-existent save the old wooden ones. So Dad, Joe, and Mary took off building concrete grain storage, and their business exploded. Many of the grain elevators that you see as you travel the grain belt—from Calgary, Alberta, to Brownsville, Texas, and from Colorado to Illinois, and even some southern states as far east as South Carolina (rice storage)—were built by Tillotson Construction & Development.

Ashland, Neb.

Shortly after the war, my Dad and Joe decided they couldn’t see eye to eye, so they split. Joe moved to Denver to form his own company and Mary remained with Dad in Omaha. As the business grew, the company took on a few employees, including the pilot types, and developed a cadre of field superintendents to handle the construction work. Dad was the initiator of the contracts. His job was to sell, sell, sell. Hence, the 100,000 miles per year of road travel. During the war years, synthetic tires were all you could obtain and of course they weren’t as good as rubber, so Dad went through many tires in those days. He used to come home with a trunk full of casings for retreading and at least one dog, which kept him company during the long hours of driving. He also came home with turtles, tarantulas, cats, shrimp on dry ice, and other sundry items that we got to consume or take care of!

Anyway, between 1940 and 1957, Dad built out hundreds, maybe thousands of elevators. I have no way of knowing how many nor exactly their locations other than to point you to the Midwestern Plains and look for the tall concrete storage tanks. Acquiring a plane was an obvious step. It provided him with faster travel, exacted less wear and tear on his body, and enabled him to spend more time at home.

stinsonstationwagon01When I went back for my 55th high school class reunion, we were invited out to some friends’ home in Gretna, and we drove from Omaha out the old highway, U.S. Route 6, to get there. On the way, I stopped and paid homage to Dad and my aunt in three little towns (spots in the road) where they had built. They didn’t build much in Nebraska, but in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas they built one in every little farm town where a grain crop was produced. Of course, as the years passed, they had competition, some of which came from men who spun off from Dad—so he wasn’t the only company out there building these units.

By the late ’50s, the need to build more capacity began to diminish and his business started to decline, and it was the end of an era for Tillotson Construction & Development. Dad passed away in 1960 at the early age of 51. He had literally worked and drank and smoked himself to death. I didn’t appreciate all that he did for us kids until much later in life, but to do today what Dad did would be next to impossible with all the government/environmental/safety controls and taxation that now exist.

Tillotson Construction, Omaha, Nebraska, remains legible after 60 years or so. Photo by Charles Tillotson.

About Margaret Tillotson: http://baggyparagraphs.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/things-beyond-control/

“Prairie Cathedrals” article about photographers Bruce and Barbara Selyem, who document grain elevators:  http://www.americanprofile.com/article/31661.html

History of concrete:


Recommended book: