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.

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

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] Odebolt elevator to the spring and summer of 1954. At the same time, the Mayer-Osborn elevator at Blencoe, Iowa, was built under supervision of my dad’s brother, Dick. The concrete there was improperly […]

  3. […] when he worked for his father, he was paid the same as everyone else–a dollar an hour for back-breaking labor. Not a few times, laborers walked off the job after the first paycheck. It wasn’t […]

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