Story by Charles J. Tillotson and photos by Gary Rich
Editor’s note: Chuck Tillotson had just finished high school in Omaha when he and his two younger brothers, Tim, 16, and Mike, 13, were dispatched by their father, Reginald, to work on the family construction company’s grain elevator project in Flagler, Colo. Chuck had drawn up the plans himself in the preceding months during breaks from school. They drove out together in a 1953 Ford, towing the twenty-eight-foot travel trailer in which they would live for the duration. To the best of Uncle Chuck’s recollection, they subsisted on beans and wieners when they weren’t dining in the Flagler cafe. “That was when Tim and I weren’t screaming over to Elitches Park outdoor pavilion, in Denver, some 120 miles to the west, to squeeze in a night of dancing and return at daybreak to assume our work shift—no sleep of course.” Uncle Mike fended for himself, alone, in Flagler.
When we were building the Flagler job in 1953, Tillotson also commenced the construction of a new elevator in Burlington, Colo. The thing I remember about that job is a story regarding a cement mixer.
We had contracted with a local hauler with a pickup truck to relocate one of our mixers to the Burlington job, which was about forty-five miles to the east on US-24.
He came one day, hitched it up to the back end of his pickup, and started off down the road. Just about where the Flagler town sign is, the road made a ninety-degree turn, and then it crossed the tracks to the south.
The hauler made the turn and started southward. Just as he crossed the tracks, his truck ran out of gas.
He ended up stalled—with the mixer straddling the tracks.
Every afternoon about 3:00 p.m., the eastbound passenger train came roaring along toward Kansas.
Well, the hauler jumped out of his truck and started running, ’cause he heard the train a-comin’, comin’ down the track, clickety-clack, like Johnny Cash sings.
The train barely slowed down as it passed through town, and it ended up smashing the mixer to smithereens.
The engine, and, as I recall at least, one of the first cars behind, were derailed.
It was a mess, but no one was injured.
That’s how I know we built Burlington.
- Tillotson Construction’s classic elevator makes a good neighbor in Clifton, Kansas (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- Unsolved mysteries abound at Tillotson Construction’s Elkhart, Kansas, elevator (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)