By making tricky distinctions, it’s possible to discern the builder of an elevator

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The question whether each elevator construction company had a signature style has become a topic of intense discussion and research here, and we don’t have all of the answers yet.

Johnson-Sampson Construction Company, of Salina, Kan., built elevators that were very similar to those of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver and Mayer-Osborn Construction, also of Denver, prompting a great deal of debate about how that came to be.

Our pages for McCook, Neb., and Blencoe, Iowa, show elevators each with a stepped, rounded headhouse and about a quarter-million-bushel capacity. It was a standard elevator style for Mayer-Osborn, even appearing in their ads, until they closed their doors in 1954.

After that date, Johnson-Sampson was building a nearly identical elevator. We don’t know whether the architect moved on to work for Johnson-Sampson or the design was sold. The elevator at Limon, Colo., is in the same style, but there is no indication who built it—no paperwork, and no name on the manhole covers or the interior of the elevator.

Mayer-Osborn’s elevator at Kanorado, Kan., shows the company’s typical grooved vertical style.

So the question becomes: was the style proprietary to one company or to one designer who sold his design to all comers?

The Kanorado, Kan., elevator was built by Mayer-Osborn, in a design adopted from J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, after Joe Tillotson died in 1948. The same company essentially carried on under the new partnership of William Osborn and Eugene Mayer, and some of the earlier designs remained unchanged. The grooved vertical lines are only found on elevators made by those two companies.

Identical detailing can be found on elevators in Lodgepole and Wauneta, Neb., and Monument, Traer, and Goodland, Kan., among others—all of which were built by J. H Tillotson.

Another example, at Page City, Kan., comes from Johnson-Sampson, as proven by the manhole covers. The operator says it was built in the late 1950s. It looks very similar to the elevators in Wauneta, Neb., and Traer, Kan., built by J. H. Tillotson before his death in 1948. A few details and dimensions differ, and in this case the changes appear to be distinctive for Johnson-Sampson elevators. I feel fairly confident that the Page City elevator is an example of an identifiable Johnson-Sampson design.

Johnson-Sampson’s elevators in Brandon, Colo., and Page City, Kan., are clones to each other. They look very much like the Mayer-Osborn design but have slightly different dimensions and lack the vertical grooves.

Arriba, Colo., is another of the same type.

Johnson-Sampson’s Page City elevator lacks the vertical grooves.

My best guess is the larger, successful companies had a few standard designs for their customers. If a customer wanted to request a proposal, they would give specifications, and the company would customize to meet the described needs, presenting the plans in their contract bid. Upon acceptance, the elevator would rise, with enough differences from the basic design to make it unique.

A few telltale details suggest the builder’s identity, but you can’t be absolutely sure until you see a document or a manhole cover to confirm your suspicion.

Unsolved mysteries abound at Tillotson Construction’s Elkhart, Kansas, elevator

Story and photos by Gary Rich

Elkhart is located in extreme southwestern Kansas. This is Morton County. The 2000 census showed Morton County had 3,196 people, of which 2,036 live in Elkhart. The town sits just north of the Oklahoma border and is about 8 miles east of the Colorado border. The area has been known for wheat production. However, this has changed in the past few decades. Corn and milo are now grown as spring crops.

Tillotson Construction Company received the contract from the Elkhart Equity Co-op for the first concrete elevator built in Elkhart. Construction started in late 1945 and finished in late spring 1946. The elevator had a 225,000-bushel capacity.

I was totally shocked when I first viewed this elevator. The Elkart Co-op had three different elevators built over the years. Plus they added five different annexes. Tillotson built what is now known as Elevator Number One.

Elevators Number Two and Three were built by Chalmers & Borton, as well as all annexes.

Was the Elkhart elevator Tillotson’s first? Elkhart was started 1945.

Once I realized which elevator in Elkhart was the Number One, I noticed that it had a rectilinear headhouse. This is quite different from Tillotson’s other elevators. It has been thought that one Tillotson signature was the curved headhouse. Is the Elkhart elevator a one-of-a-kind?

Tillotson did one other thing different on their headhouses from other construction companies.

The long side of the headhouse had two different rows of windows. (You can view the window arrangements of other elevators on this blog, such as those in Rolla and Satanta, Kansas, as well as Ensign, Kansas.)

Could the Elkhart elevator actually have been the first line-elevator that they built. Why did they change to the curved headhouse in their future construction? Was it more cost effective, more efficient, or was it designed to distinguish their elevators from those of their competitors?

I wish to thank Morgan Walls, operations manager-Elkart Equity Co-op for much of their history.

Tillotson Construction’s grain elevators often varied in capacity

The allotment of grain to bins is shown in this chart inside the Satanta, Kansas, elevator.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

Tillotson Construction Company erected grain elevators of different capacities that could meet the unique demands of Midwestern and Plains farmers’ co-ops. Such was the case in southwestern Kansas.

Satanta, Kansas

Satanta and Rolla are towns located along U.S. Route 56. Satanta, named for the Kiowa chief, is in Haskell County and Rolla is in Morton County. The two towns are 42 miles apart.

As noticed in towns in Colorado, Iowa, and Nebraska, the Satanta elevator is of larger capacity. This elevator is now part of United Prairie Ag.

The elevator in Rolla, however, has a much smaller capacity. This was probably due to the Co-op not having the funds to build one larger. Rolla was constructed around 1954, maybe a little earlier, and is now owned by the Elkhart Co-op Equity Exchange.

While it’s a smaller elevator, there was no stinting on style. Tillotson’s signature curved headhouse graces the top of the structure.

Once again, Tillotson met the demands of the local community and the Co-ops.

The annex to Tillotson’s Rolla elevator was built by Hamilton. We don’t know much about this company.

The other elevator at the site was done by Borton Construction around 1964.

The beautifully curved headhouse distinguishes Tillotson’s smaller elevator in Rolla, Kansas. The annex, center, was built by Hamilton, and the newer elevator, right, by Borton Construction in 1964.

Photo tour reveals the Goodland, Kan., elevator’s symmetries and history

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

My dad, Jerry Osborn, always knew Grandpa built this elevator, and I remember pictures of it from long ago. It still rises gracefully above the Kansas plain, tucked in among its neighboring elevators, listing slightly in its old age. It has always held a place of pride since its construction in the town of Goodland, Kan.

Contributor Gary Rich discovered, when he visited the site, that this elevator, built by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, is now used for sunflower seed. When I saw it, it was all buttoned up, presumably awaiting its summer crop. The slight tilt is obvious from some angles, but the elevator appears sound.

William Osborn photo of the Goodland, Kan. elevator, found among his papers.

The words “Goodland Equity” can be faintly discerned under the white paint.

You can still see, faintly outlined in white letters, the name Goodland Equity, long since painted over. At one time  the elevator sported a neon sign proclaiming “Goodland Equity” to the night sky. That sign has disappeared and now vultures adorn the top of the leg in a lofty roost.

This beautiful elevator will continue to attract photographers as long as it stands. Aside from building useful, well-engineered, long-lasting structures, my grandpa, Bill Osborn, built beauty into the flat Kansas landscape.

For that, I am grateful.

A convenient roost for vultures.

Mid Kansas and Farmers Co-op employees enjoy their jobs

The Mid Kansas Cooperative elevator at Walton, Kan., produced a new acquaintance and the offer to return.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

An elevator trip sometimes begs for a detour. While driving along the secondary roads that follow the rail lines connecting our grandfathers’ elevators, sometimes I see an intriguing elevator that doesn’t quite look like a Tillotson or Mayer-Osborn structure, but needs to be investigated anyway. Curiosity always wins the day.

Quad-States Construction’s elevator at Waverly, Neb.

Both Waverly, Neb., and Walton, Kan., have elevators unlike those our grandfathers built. I met with employees at both elevators and came away impressed. The people working at these co-ops come from the countryside, where generations of my family farmed, so their stories resonate with a deep familiarity.

Waverly, Neb., has two elevator complexes. The first includes an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, Neb., in their trademark style with a curved headhouse. A little further north is an elevator with a partially rounded headhouse which caught my eye. It seemed an oddity, so my mother and I stopped to visit.

Mike Aufenkamp of Farmers Cooperative Company

Mike Aufenkamp greeted us at the fence as I peered over the gate with my camera. He said the Farmers Cooperative elevator manager was not there, but he was eager to tell us what he knew about the construction of the elevator.

No manhole covers on the outside of the elevator identified the builder, but a single steel plate covering the entry into the pit was embossed “Quad States Const. 1971, Des Moines, IA.” When Farmers Cooperative Company bought the elevator, Mike said they found a pile of discarded rebar in the field behind the elevator. Uh-oh. That could not be good. He said the cooperative had since reinforced the driveway with steel I-beams to prevent problems.

Mike wondered what sparked our interest in elevators, and I told him about my grandfather, William Osborn, and our interest in genealogy that got the whole elevator project going. He laughed and said he’d researched the Aufenkamp family once and found an old cousin in Alaska. Their kinship hadn’t been firmly established yet when the old man died and was flown back to Nebraska for burial, just down the road from Mike’s folks.

“I guess he was my cousin,” Mike said. “There aren’t many Aufenkamps around here.”

An elevator enthusiast and history buff, he directed us to a working wooden elevator in Cook, Neb. He said the Cook elevator was one of the few wooden elevators that kept up its certification. He also mentioned an intriguing set of elevator ledgers, dating from the 1940s, located at Pleasant Prairie, Neb.

Mike exemplifies the kind of sharp, hard working people who work for the co-op. He also likes his job.

Loading a farm truck with grain at Walton, Kan.

An initial visit and the offer to return 

On another trip I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Snyder, the location manager at Walton, Kan., for Mid Kansas Cooperative (MKC). The elevator was such a beauty I could not drive by it, so when I stopped to investigate which company built it, Jeff came out to meet me. He had a similar infectious enthusiasm for his job.

Jeff came from a military family. His grandfather fought in World War Two, in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was captured by the Germans, spending time in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Jeff’s father served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, flying F-105s, F-4s, and F-16s. Naturally, when it came his turn, Jeff also served his country. He joined the Navy and became a Navy swimmer. He mentioned that on September 11, 2001, he was aboard the USS Pearl Harbor, LSD-52, an amphibious warship.

Chalmers and Borton’s elevator at Walton, Kan.

When he left the service, he came home and worked for local law enforcement, a job he did not enjoy. So he changed careers, and has worked for Mid Kansas Cooperative ever since. It is a happy arrangement.

The Walton elevator was built in 1958 by Chalmers and Borton Construction Company, and Mel Jarvis Construction finished the first annex in 1961. Another annex was built later on. Jeff told me about MKC’s wooden elevator in Benton, Kan., and said I should visit. While on a layover in Wichita a few weeks later, I did just that. Jeff also said I should come back on a weekend and tour the Walton elevator.

That is an offer too good to refuse.

How Tillotson Construction made a good first impression with the Ensign Co-op

Story and photos by Gary Rich

During the late 1940s and early 1950s many Kansas co-ops were planning new elevators. Grain production was increasing; thus, the old wooden elevators were not large enough. Ensign Co-op, located in Gray County thirteen miles southwest of Dodge City on US-56, needed a new one.

Looking for a concrete elevator with a lot of capacity, the Co-op contacted Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, Nebr. I am guessing the elevator was built around 1950 or 1951. Ensign Co-op has since changed hands several times. There are no records or blueprints available.

The first annex, seen right, was of single bins and allowed a path for trucks.

The elevator Tillotson Construction built was of a very unique design. First of all, it did not have a curved headhouse like so many other elevators they were building.

Secondly, this elevator had a double driveway. Many elevators built at that time had a single driveway. The use of semis hauling grain to the elevator was many years away. The only vehicles bringing grain to the elevator were farm trucks and pickups.

When the Ensign Co-op needed further expansion, they contacted Tillotson, which built the first annex east of the elevator. This probably occurred in 1952 or 1953.

The double driveway created some engineering problems. The annex had to be built at an angle from the elevator. This would allow trucks using both driveways a path around the new annex. The first annex was set a distance from the elevator.  Tilloston solved the problem, making the annex with eleven bins. The first bin was a single bin, while the others were double bins.

About 1957, Ensign Co-op was looking at additional expansion. Tillotson was contacted again. They built the second annex, connected to the first, in 1958. Nine double bins increased the total capacity to twenty-nine bins.

Typical of the company’s later projects, the second annex’s manhole covers included the year of construction. All manhole covers inside the elevator and first annex have “Tillotson Construction, Omaha, Nebr.”–but no dates.

Tillotson built the elevator as well as the first and second annexes. The company produced a quality product as the Ensign Co-op kept contacting the company for additional capacity. The Ensign Co-op had to be very impressed with their work. 

This is a rare case where Tillotson built an elevator and then returned to the same town and built several annexes. Generally other construction companies built the expansions.