The J. H. Tillotson elevator at Linn, Kansas, stands unused, idled by regulatory changes

The elevator built by J. H. Tillotson is flanked by later additions.

This handsome elevator built by J. H. Tillotson is flanked by later additions.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

While the concrete elevator at Fairbury, Neb., was being built, rising by nine feet every twenty-hour workday, the elevators no more than thirty miles away at Hanover and Linn, Kan., were also nearing completion, according to a newspaper clipping found in my grandfather’s papers. J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, based in Denver, had all three projects going for the 1947 harvest.

Though we knew my grandfather, William Osborn, worked as superintendent at Fairbury, my dad didn’t remember his father working on the two Kansas elevators, so in October  2012, I took a swing through Kansas to investigate them.

The Chalmers and Borton elevator at Linn is still in use.

The Chalmers & Borton elevator at Linn is still in use.

The first elevator that came into view in Linn was a 1950s-vintage Chalmers & Borton structure of about 250,000-bushel capacity, judging from its appearance. Across the town square, a couple blocks away along an extinct railroad bed, was another elevator that did not fit my notion of any J. H. Tillotson design, since it sported a rectangular head house. I peered at it from all angles, straining to see any lettering on the manhole cover about halfway up, without much success. I thought perhaps the old J. H. Tillotson elevator hadn’t survived and that I was too late, as had happened at Maywood, Neb.

Finally, I drove over to the co-op office to learn more. Jeff Wiese, the location manager for the York-based United Farmers Cooperative, kindly agreed to answer questions about the old elevator. Jeff said he had worked for the local elevator cooperative since 1994, first in petroleum, then as an implement dealer, and finally as manager in 2000. In 2005, UFC took over from the Farmers Cooperative Equity Association, which, in turn, was formed when the Linn Cooperative Exchange joined with Greenleaf.

Jeff said that when the old elevator was first built, farmers thought they would never fill it, but new capacity was needed almost immediately. To my surprise, he said the manhole covers on the interior of the elevator were embossed with “J. H. Tillotson, Denver, Colo.,” though I was not able to go inside and see them. The old elevator was still there, graceful and sturdy, but locked up and no longer used.

The unusual square head house incorporates stylish details.

The unusual square headhouse incorporates stylish details.

The Tillotson elevator fell victim to economic realities after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered safety upgrades under new federal rules. The agency had taken a keen interest in elevator operations since the 1998 DeBruce elevator explosion in Wichita, Kan., and many safety regulations stemmed from the analysis of that accident. Dust management and cleanliness became paramount. The Linn elevator’s older, lower-capacity design meant it could no longer earn its keep after the cost of improvements, so it retired after the 2011 growing season, now finally empty of its last harvest of wheat.

This type of elevator also commonly required a safety upgrade for its man lift. Everywhere the old elevators are still operating, new OSHA-mandated safety cages enclose the man lifts, ostensibly to prevent certain types of injuries or death.

It is fair to say that the old Linn elevator is endangered, and will be torn down as soon as it is convenient.

A nearby house with painted mural.

It seems a shame that another Kansas landmark, nestled and quite at home amid tidy houses and bustling businesses, should soon disappear. Beside it is a home painted with a mural depicting gaily flapping laundry on a clothesline, and across the street stands a grocery. A neatly mowed park occupies the old railroad right-of-way.

The elevator has been there as long as most people can remember. Luckily, I was able to pay my respects, and tip my hat to my grandfather’s stately work of long ago, before it passes into memory.


An old aerial view of the Linn, Kan., elevator after the annexes were added. Note the old vehicles in the photo.

Our grandfathers’ construction companies managed to escape the dreaded ‘blowout’

Written on the back of this photo: "This is the Bird City elevator that busted. This is the one Parrish built."

Written on the back of this photo from the Linda Laird Collection: “This is the Bird City elevator that busted. This is the one Parrish built.”

Story by Gary Rich

Vickroy-Mong built the Bird City, Kan., elevator in 1950. It was ready for that year’s wheat harvest. But sometime afterward, the elevator had a blowout.

A nightmare for any elevator builder, a blowout can happen if too little rebar is used when pouring the concrete. There is a lot of pressure on the bins once you put grain in them. And the weakest point is on the outside.

As you see in the photo, part of the outside section fell to the ground. The grain would have spilled out, too. Note that some grain remains inside the bin.

Chalmers & Borton received the contract for the repair work here. It is unknown if they fixed only the damaged bin or found others were flawed.

The Chalmers & Borton superintendent was W. Grammer. The job number was 50-K-62. Work began later in 1950, probably by fall.

The Bird City elevator wouldn’t have been good advertising for Vickroy-Mong. It’s not known if they built any other elevators.

A house of slip-formed concrete was Reginald Tillotson’s pet project in 1950

Tillotson Home

By Ronald Ahrens

An early post on this blog included John Hassman’s recollection of design and construction of the house Reginald Tillotson built on a hilltop north of Omaha’s Florence neighborhood:

“While in the office I [was] trained by the office engineer to design buildings and was the major designer with R.O. to build his new home in Florence, Neb. Many mornings he would arrive with new ideas of what he wanted changed in the house, and we would start all over. Starting in Nov. 1950 we began construction on the new house. The foremen were kept busy in the winter doing that work. All using a concrete house with the ideas we used in Elevator Const. That was the coldest, windiest place to work in December. I left to go the the Air Force because I was about to be drafted in the middle of the Korean War.” 

The house, of course, still stands, and is the home of Michael Tillotson, youngest son of Reginald and Margaret.

It did not incorporate Tillotson Construction’s signature rounded headhouse!

As a grandchild who spent a lot of time there, I always though it was remarkable because of the use of glass blocks as a design feature. The entire second floor was reserved as a music and game area. And despite the single garage door, there was a second “lane” to the right when you drove in.

But Uncle Mike always had it blocked with his relics.