Story and photos by Kristen Cart
The straight-up elevator at McCook, Nebraska, was built for a private owner in 1948. J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, Colorado, was tapped for the project, and it was completed just a year before the Mayer-Osborn Construction Company of Denver built the nearby Frenchman Valley Cooperative elevator. My grandfather, William Osborn, was a superintendent for Joe Tillotson at the time, just before going on to form the Mayer-Osborn Company with Gene Mayer, so both projects were his.
Kelly Clapp, a Frenchman Valley Co-op employee, opened up the elevator so I could look inside. A trapped pigeon stood in the doorway when it opened, blinking in the unaccustomed light. It fluttered off when we went in. What I saw was state of the art for 1948.
The elevator stands by itself and is unique since no renovation has ever been done to it. The elevator is original, right down to the light bulbs, Kelly said. It operates as it always has. It only takes corn when the other McCook elevators are full. The elevator is cleaned right before harvest, so the manhole covers, stamped “J. H. Tillotson, Denver,” were off and the bins were open.
The elevator has basic electrical functions such as lighting, and the conveyors and the leg are motor-operated, but all of the controls for it are manual. Levers and pulleys operate in the driveway to direct grain chutes to load corn into a waiting truck, and a similar arrangement at the top of the man-lift directs grain into the proper bin while loading the elevator.
This elevator is a completely intact example of our agricultural past–as fascinating as a water-driven grist mill from the century before. Structures of concrete and steel, built for industrial purposes, don’t merit a historical marker or national designation, but they are just as significant as an ancient town hall or a dignified farm house. I think I prefer the plain functionality of the grain elevator.
- The J. H. Tillotson-built farm elevator at Traer, Kan., is still standing, but idle (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- In Wahoo, Nebr., Tillotson’s elevator finds new life as a cell tower for AT&T (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)