The elevator at McAllaster, Kansas, proved to be a missed opportunity

McAllaster, Kan., photo by Gary Rich

Story by Kristen Cart

Sometimes our elevator quest ends in a dead end, without definitive answers. In the case of McAllaster, Kan., we had only an old photo belonging to my grandfather, William Osborn, to go on, and Gary Rich and I never got any independent confirmation of the builder. When I went to visit the elevator two months ago, nothing was left and there was no sign it had ever existed.

William Osborn photo

Gary Rich tried hard to get information about the builder, after he had gone to McAllaster to photograph the elevator. Both of us made calls to the cooperative. But all we were able to confirm was that it was slated for destruction sometime this year. It was shut up tight, of course, when Gary went to see it, and, no man-hole covers were visible from the outside. The only clue we could find was an old photo of one of grandpa’s projects, which was probably built for J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, Colo., judging by the style. The caveat was that quite a few others similar to this one were also built, and some of them have long since disappeared.

Gary Rich photo

Elevators like those at Daykin, Fairbury, and Bradshaw, all in Nebraska, were built in a similar style, so the only clues to their builder are external to the main house: elements such as windows, driveways, office buildings, and loading chutes can be compared to details in my grandfather’s old photos. Of course, if we have independent verification, such as contemporary newspaper accounts or my dad’s memories, it makes our lives easier, since only one of grandpa’s photos has any caption. Daykin and Fairbury have both been verified in this way.

When the photo above is compared with the photos taken by Gary Rich of the McAllaster elevator, it shows just enough difference to dash our hopes for an identification. The building behind the driveway appears to be attached, and the windows don’t match our photos of McAllaster. So we are at a frustrating impasse. We still don’t know the identity of the elevator in grandpa’s photo, and we still don’t know the builder of the McAllaster elevator, though we suspect it was a J. H. Tillotson project. With no way to verify it, we are at the disappointing end of our quest.

In Monument, Kansas, the elevator is closed to visitors and its story sealed

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

I approach this post with a little bit of trepidation, since the Monument, Kan., elevator does not invite tourists–even those with family connections. It is operated by a large corporation which primarily supplies corn for ethanol. It seems that an overly inviting manager might be risking his job, so I contented myself with photos taken from off of the property. But I was able to cobble together some information about it, from a variety of sources. Suffice it to say, it would not be prudent to reveal all of them.

A view of the Monument, Kan., elevator, taken from off-property. Visitors weren’t permitted at the facility.

I was able to determine the builder for the stand-up elevator with its integral head house. The manhole covers are stamped with the company name of J. H. Tillotson, Denver, Colo. The annex on the left has unmarked ports, but the annex on the right has man-hole covers stamped with the company name Mayer-Osborn. I did not see any of the ports for myself, so I am relying on secondhand information. But my grandfather apparently made a return trip after building the original house.

The original elevator was built for a Mr. Bertrand, whose son is still living. The elevator once had a brass plaque installed, which has since been removed and may still be with the Bertrand family. There were also early photographs of the elevator, and it is believed that they went with the plaque.

I spoke with a gentleman named Fred Wassemiller, who said, “These elevators were the best thing going–they should have kept building them.” He also said it was too bad that the “old-timers around here are gone.”

Apparently, they could have told me a lot.

Flat storage for corn extends capacity at locations like Mitchellville, Iowa and Traer, Kansas

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Flat storage at Traer, Kan., for farm equipment, and an unused elevator.

During the heyday of elevator building, no sooner did an elevator go up, than it filled up, and left a town wanting for storage. The first option was to add an annex. But where economics dictated, cooperatives resorted to the simple expedient of horizontal storage. In the Farmers Elevator Guide during the 1940s and 1950s, between the slick ads for elevator builders, companies advertized Quonset-style buildings for flat storage.

A common sight in Nebraska and Kansas are long, flat piles of corn covered in tarps held down with old tires. At one grain facility, I saw a front-end loader filling grain trucks from one end of one of these great corn piles. At another, workmen were hurriedly applying tarp and tires in advance of a rainstorm. It seems the demand for ethanol has once again ramped up corn demand beyond the capacity of vertical storage facilities, or at least the ability to pay for them.

Mitchellville, Iowa: the Heartland Co-op elevator with the former feed mill and dryer. One of the two old flat-storage buildings for corn is in the foreground.

At two of the sites I recently visited, where the Tillotson-built elevators became insufficient for their purpose within a few years, I saw examples of  corrugated-style flat-storage buildings that were added after the original elevators were filled to capacity. These  served during a brief stretch of time until replaced by more modern, efficient bins, when the buildings found other uses. They were well suited for many farm needs since they could house virtually anything and were built to endure, once their corn storage days ended.

Mitchellville, Iowa, a site where an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha operates, has two such buildings.  They look like ordinary metal buildings, but the tip-off to their special use is the ladder leading to an opening in the roof where the auger operates. Both buildings have new jobs since the large annex additions were built beside the old elevator–one is a machine tool shed, and the other handles seed.

Idaho corn stored under a tarp is loaded onto grain truck.


Gary Rich’s analysis reveals subtle aspects of Mitchellville, Iowa, elevator operation

Story by Gary Rich
Photos by Kristen Cart

There are several possibilities as to why Heartland Co-op’s Mitchellville, Iowa, elevator would only use rail service for shipping out its grain. The most obvious one is that this might be a shuttle operation. Whether corn or soybeans, the company that receives the grain might have a contract with the elevator specifying shipment of a certain number of carloads per week. It is probably a larger-name company, and they could be paying for the shipping charges. This would keep their operation from having to shut down for lack of grain.

The photos appear to show nine or ten covered hopper cars at the elevator’s far right. In the view at top, we see yellow markings on the rail on the elevator track. This is known as the “clearance point.” You can’t have cars sitting beyond these markings without “fouling” the main line. The following links to lexicons of railroad terminology will explain both terms:

Here’s an illustration why it’s cheaper to move grain by rail. The amount of grain in one covered hopper car leaving the elevator equals three semi-trailer loads. If you load ten hopper cars, you’re probably looking at an equivalent of around thirty-three or thirty-four semi-trailers. If the plant that receives the grain is over 200 miles from Mitchellville, it would take more than a week to move all that grain over the highway.

Indeed, if the plant is 200 miles away, you also have to consider the amount of time a trucker can work. He wouldn’t be able to cover two round-trips per day. And besides, the trucker’s charge of something over $4.00 per mile might erode all profit for the grain operation.