An inside look at the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Hanover, Kansas

The J. H. Tillotson straight-up elevator in Hanover, Kan. just after a rain

The J. H. Tillotson straight-up elevator in Hanover, Kan. just after a rain. 

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

One of the loveliest elevators J. H. Tillotson, Contractor ever built is still in use at Hanover, Kansas. Last October, during a visit to this small Washington County town just seven miles south of the Nebraska border, I photographed the elevator under moody skies and marveled at its clean, graceful lines. Then it was time to get to the business of finding out about it.


Ryan Riekenberg takes a moment to show me around the elevator.

Fortunately, Ryan Rieckenberg, a twenty-year employee of the Farmers Cooperative Association, was on hand to show me inside. He had previously worked for the grain department and currently worked as a crop sprayer. He said before the Hanover location joined the Worchester-based Farmers Cooperative, it operated its own association called the Farmers Union of Hanover. He said the elevator was currently used for milo.

The manhole cover identified the builder

Manhole cover

He pulled up in his truck, fished out his keys, and took me into the elevator to look at its interior, including the manhole covers that positively identified the elevator as a J. H. Tillotson project.

As he unlocked the door, Ryan supplied some historical details. The elevator had been built beside an old wooden elevator, which was used as a feed mill until it was demolished about eight years ago. We entered the doorway a couple of steps up from the gravel drive where the old wooden edifice used to stand.


The elevator leg

Once inside, we could see the leg in the center of the elevator. A grate covered the pit, and Ryan opened the grate to display the sloped bottom where the grain would funnel toward the base of the leg, to be scooped up and carried to the top of the elevator for distribution to the bins. The leg extended all the way to the bottom of the pit. A ladder went into the pit from another opening, providing access for cleaning and maintenance.

Nearby, a cage-enclosed man-lift gave access to the integral head-house at the top of the elevator. The cage was almost certainly a later modification, since the old man lifts didn’t have them.


The distribution diagram

Prominently displayed on one of the bins was a diagram of the elevator and its annex. Here the storage assignments for each of the bins were noted, including the neighboring steel bin, which was served by the same integral head-house with a chute from the top of the elevator. Presumably, “M” stood for milo, and a note indicated that the steel bin held corn. Perhaps “F’ indicated feed, but that is just a guess.

I’m not sure why someone wrote “I love #1 house,” but if they meant this lovely elevator that my grandfather, William Osborn, built for Joe Tillotson’s company in 1947, I must share the sentiment. It was a dandy, and it appeared to have a long, useful life ahead of it.


A view from the west side where the feed mill used to stand. 

13 comments on “An inside look at the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Hanover, Kansas

  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    Not ever having been near one, the importance of these elevators to America is becoming clear. Such a structure so simple in concept yet so vital.

  2. Chandler Thomas says:

    Great articles. I look forward to each. As a former designer and builder of slipform elevators and the son of a designer and builder, I share your attachment to these structures and the people who were a part of their creation.

  3. These structures never cease to amaze me each time I read a post. The “leg” description and its function — all of this is just fascinating to me.

  4. Hi, many thanks for the follow on postsofhypnoticsuggestion. Love the blog, these structures are great. It reminds me of my chemical engineering training back in the day.
    Have a great 2013

  5. […] An inside look at the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Hanover, Kansas ( […]

  6. Gary Rich says:

    Here is my guess. MF probably stands for “milo for feed”. I notice that one bin has just a “M”. I would say that this could be milo for commerical use, such as human consumption. I am really surprised at the amount of MF they have. The whole complex with the elevator shows MF. It surprises me that they grow that much milo in that section of Kansas.

  7. kocart says:

    Thanks for your input, Gary. I’ll bet you are right.

  8. […] An inside look at the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Hanover, Kansas ( […]

  9. […] An inside look at the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Hanover, Kansas ( […]

  10. […] of the earlier J. H. Tillotson elevators, the Byers elevator recalls those at Traer and Hanover, Kan. The Byers elevator is bigger than the Hanover elevator, and you can see where design adjustments […]

  11. Bob Bender says:

    I worked at this elevator at Hanover for 17 years from 1974 until 1991, starting at the entry level and finishing up my stint there as manager. The correct and legal name of the cooperative back then was the Farmers Cooperative Association of Hanover. I distinctly remember helping to make the bin chart you show in your picture, and mounting it on the wall. The initials stood for M for milo, C for Corn, and S for soybeans. The F stood for full, letting the operator know that this particular bin was full. This article brought back some great memories from my early career.

  12. Roger Lee says:

    In 1966 I was involved in building a slip form elevator next to an existing elevator in Hanover Kansas. It had an outside leg next to the rail road tracks. It was built on sandy ground and would swing back and forth when loading the bins. I looked om Google satellite maps and it didn’t show any concrete elevators. What happen to them?

    • kocart says:

      I looked on the Google Earth app and it looks like the elevators are still there, but some large metal bins may have been recently added. The concrete elevators look quite small next to their larger, more recent neighbors, so if you are unable to zoom in quite a bit they may be hard to see. But happily, they appear to be in good working order.

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