Tillotson Construction’s classic elevator makes a good neighbor in Clifton, Kansas

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The north-central Kansas town of Clifton is dominated at each end by a massive elevator. At one end of the main drag is a huge metal-sided wood elevator rising prominently above the street, and at the other is a gleaming white concrete elevator with its annex. The two elevators, defining the town skyline, are the center of the town’s agricultural business. Clifton’s concrete elevator was very busy during a visit there in October.

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The Clifton elevator, built by Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, Neb., defines the town skyline.

The characteristic rounded headhouse epitomized the classic Tillotson Construction Company style. After sixty-odd years of continuous use, the durable elevator was still going full steam ahead during the harvest. Several trucks pulled through the driveway while I watched, and it looked like more were waiting.

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Its neighboring landmark, the wooden elevator, was deserted and may have been retired, but anyone entering the town would be immediately impressed by its size. The two elevators together represented a continuum of agricultural cooperation and success, beginning in the first half of the twentieth century and still going strong in the twenty-first.

The concrete elevator had a manhole cover on the exterior that identified the builder as Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Neb., but you could see that fact from a mile away by looking at the headhouse. The elevator was very representative of its type.

John B. Tillinghast, the location supervisor for United Farmers Co-op, cheerfully stood for a picture in front of his charge. He said the elevator was built in 1953.

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The familiar rounded headhouse atop a straight-up elevator was Tillotson Construction’s signature design.

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John B. Tillinghast, location supervisor for United Farmers Co-op.

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Clifton elevator with annex.

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Manhole cover names builder.

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11 comments on “Tillotson Construction’s classic elevator makes a good neighbor in Clifton, Kansas

  1. When I see your photos, I wonder what the rest of the town looks like. Is everything as classic-looking as the elevators or is there a contrast of modern buildings nearby? Though the buildings are so tall and impressive, I feel like I’m in a simpler world when I visit your blog.

    • kocart says:

      Elevators do harken back to an earlier time. Inside them you often see ropes and pulleys and simple mechanical devices to do the job. And the job is still the same after all these years since concrete elevators were first built. Even the farm trucks that drive up look at least twenty years old, most of them. I guess it is in the eye of the beholder, but the elevators transcend and dominate their surroundings so the local diner fades into the background.

      You don’t find many Walmart and McDonalds stores in the smaller towns where you find elevators–there aren’t enough local people around to make them profitable. So these smaller towns do have a vintage feel to them. A town with a big elevator usually has enough business to keep it alive, too, so you don’t get that empty store front, bombed-out look that you do in some towns. You’ll see activity and at least a diner and a bank, a gas station and the occasional auto repair place.

      Thanks for coming by. I do so enjoy your comments–you have a unique way of seeing things. Thank you for your kind words.

      Kristen

      • Vintage — that’s the perfect word. I still have one of your photos on my writing prompt board, and your description here will be helpful if I write a story using the photo. Thank you for such an interesting blog.

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