Maywood, Nebraska: another Mayer-Osborn landmark meets its end

Photo by Kristen Cart

By Kristen Cart

The old Maywood, Nebraska, elevator with its annex built by Mayer-Osborn Contruction Company of Denver, Colorado, was demolished in March of this year. I had planned the trip to see the elevator before its scheduled demolition in 2013. When we arrived in town, I expected to see the familiar straight-up J. H. Tillotson, Contractor-designed elevator with its annex beside it, but it was nowhere to be found. But I saw bulldozers and a football field-sized area framed with rubble piles, with corn impacted into the flat scraped ground. Not good.

Inside the Ag Valley Co-op office, business was in full swing. A truck pulled up, and a corn sample was vacuumed up and tested inside the building as I watched. Newer elevators were handling all of the grain. Turena Ehlers and Charla Werkmeister, employees of the co-op, told me how it went.

Photo by Julie Cox Hazen

The old Mayer-Osborn annex had a pretty good lean and some leaking problems, so it had been slated for destruction first, with the status of the main elevator left in question. But the main elevator was losing chunks of concrete and was deemed a hazard, so it came down soon after the annex. Forest River Colonies, of Fordville, North Dakota, a Hutterite-owned company, tore down the elevator and its annex, with the scrap going to Columbus Metals in Kearney, Nebraska. My hopes were dashed for recovering an intact manhole cover with my grandfather’s Mayer-Osborn company name on it.

Photo by Julie Cox Hazen

The demolition was quite an event for the town. Carol Wood put together a photo montage and hung it at the Maywood town offices. Bill Schnase picked up pieces of the rubble for his daughter to paint, to preserve the image of the elevator on concrete. Everyone had photos of the demolition. Julie Cox Hazen, Bill Schnase’s niece, shared hers with me.

Luckily, Gary Rich visited the elevator last year, taking photos of it in its last year of useful service. It’s type had been surpassed for a long time by newer, faster grain storage facilities of all kinds.

Most of Grandpa’s smaller projects are reaching the end of their service lives. So we are capturing their last moments, mostly, but not always, in the nick of time.

Jerry McBride worked at Wauneta’s elevator in the ’60s before repairing cars

Jerry McBride at Bob’s Repair Service in Wauneta, Nebraska

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

On the way out of town after visiting the Wauneta, Nebr., elevator complex, we noticed a rather striking old building, which was an auto repair garage, currently owned by Robert Jones, and called Bob’s Auto Repair and Service, at 512 S. Tecumseh.

I stopped to take pictures. A man came out, introducing himself as Jerry McBride, and asked if I liked old buildings. I said I did, and that I had a particular interest in old elevators, having visited Wauneta’s that day. He invited me in to see the shop. It had been built in the 1920s, Jerry said, and mostly knocked down by a tornado sometime before the 1950s, when it was rebuilt and an extension added.

All of this happened before Jerry was employed there.

Wauneta’s original elevator

He said that he had been hired by Ivo Valentine Pennington in about 1962. Before that he was employed as a “broom man” at the Wauneta elevator for six months or so, making fifty cents an hour. Cleanliness was of utmost importance at the elevator. Wauneta gained the reputation for having the cleanest elevator in the state, Jerry said. Unclean elevators would catch fire, or worse, blow up. He kept the elevator clean, as dust free as possible, but it was nevertheless hard and dirty work and did not pay well, so he quit and looked into the possibility of going to school. Then I.V. Pennington offered him a job and all the training he would need to become a mechanic.

The shop today is an old-fashioned one that doesn’t take new cars. Parts could be machined there, and many of the tools had been manufactured by hand, to accommodate old cars.

Even the cash register was old–as Jerry pointed out, he did not have to close for a power outage, because the register still worked.

It struck me that Jerry McBride had first worked in this shop when the Wauneta elevator was less than ten or fifteen years old and the first annex was new. The repair shop was already old by then. Except for some modern tooling, the shop does not appear to be very different than in the 1960s.

The Waverly, Nebraska elevator is an example of clean lines, efficient design.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

During my last visit to Nebraska, I stopped by the Waverly, Nebraska elevator complex.  The elevator, built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, Nebraska, was brighter than the rest, gleaming whitely in the sunshine and standing separately from the others.  Tillotson Construction built this design in several cities, so it was instantly recognizable, even from a distance.  It is a beauty.

The Farmers Cooperative Company operates the elevator.  Colby Woods,  who has worked for the cooperative for four years, currently specializing in agronomy and marketing, showed me the manhole covers. They are stamped “Tillotson Construction Co., 1955, Omaha, Nebr.”   He was happy to share what he knew about the old building.

Colby Woods of Farmers Cooperative Company

As with most of the old concrete elevators I have visited, few employees were still around who could remember when the elevator was new.  But the people who helped me were very interested in the elevator’s history.  It made for a very pleasant visit.

How to build an elevator: Jerry Osborn’s firsthand account from Blencoe, Iowa

Story by Jerry Osborn and photos by Kristen Cart

The summer of 1954, before my senior year, I started working at the Hormel plant again, but after a few weeks my dad asked me to work on the elevator his company, Mayer-Osborn Company, was building at Blencoe, Iowa. This would be a different experience. Since I had no transportation of my own he took me to Blencoe and set me up in a motel near the site. He also took me to a shoe store to buy work shoes so I would be set to go to work. The wages weren’t great. They were $1 an hour just like all the other grunts on the job. No nepotism on this job. My job was to select the correct steel and see that it was laid properly as the slip forms were filled and jacked. Fortunately, I had enough engineering drawing work that I could read the blueprints. The slip operation had just begun when I arrived, so it was learn-on-the-run for me.

Things seemed to be progressing nicely until we were about twenty feet in the air. At that point it was noticed that some of the exposed concrete was crumbling and falling to the ground. This can’t be good. The operation was shut down immediately to determine what the problem was. It became obvious that the mix ratio of cement to sand and gravel was too low. The work to that point had to be torn down. The demolition was done over the weekend, and we were setting up to slip again on Monday. The concrete was mixed on the job and the appropriate mix weights were to be locked into the scales. Somehow the proper amount of cement was not designated. My brother, who had been on a lot of these jobs, was a supervisor on this job and should have checked the setting for the proper mix.

When operating properly, the concrete was mixed next to the elevator; each mix was dumped into a bucket hoist, which was lifted to the deck level. The mud was fed into two-wheel mud buggies. The buggies were then wheeled to and dumped at the place needing concrete. As this process took place another mix was in process, so when the hoist bucket was returned, it was once again filled and the whole process was repeated over and over until a height of more than 100 feet was reached. As the forms were filled, steel was laid and other features such as portholes were laid in place as the forms were jacked upward, exposing freshly set concrete at the bottom of the forms and providing more space at the top for more mud. A scaffold was built below but connected to the forms so men with trowels could smooth the fresh concrete as it was exposed below.

I had hoped to work until the slip was finished, but the restart didn’t leave enough time prior to football practice.