By Ronald Ahrens
In 1953, my grandfather Reginald Tillotson decided to send his three sons, Charles, 18, Tim, 16, and Mike, 13, to work on an annex to the Flagler, Colo., elevator Tillotson Construction Company had built three years earlier.
My grandmother Margaret didn’t like the idea.”You can’t send those kids out there,” she protested.
“It’s about time they grew up,” Reginald said.
Indeed, my uncles were sent, leaving Omaha in a new Ford and pulling the travel trailer that would be their home for the next few weeks.
“I don’t remember that he even came out,” Uncle Tim said recently of Reginald.
While Charles and Tim labored on the formwork that rose toward the sky, Mike stayed in the trailer, which doubled as their bunkhouse and the job office. His task was that of timekeeper.
“I don’t recall him bein’ out there when we was jackin’ and pourin’, jackin’ and pourin,'” Tim said, although he did recall him reading hot rod magazines.
Once the pouring started, it couldn’t stop. A cold joint between concrete that had already set and a new pour wasn’t at all desirable, for it would leak.
“You had to treat that damn good when you started over,” Tim said.
Work went on in twelve-hour shifts. As the concrete was dumped out of a Georgia buggy–a V-shaped tub riding on large wheels behind a U-shaped handle–someone with a spud hoe would follow the pour and work the concrete, releasing the air from around the rebar. “The only way you shut down was an emergency,” Tim said. Lightning, for example, was an emergency because it was attracted to the rebar being used to bolster the concrete.
He remembers the local sheriff asking himself why he should put up anyone in the jail when they could work and earn their keep. One of the convicts toiling alongside Tim had a funny thought. “You think you can hang onto that hoist handle hard enough if I push you off?” he said.
Any number of mishaps could occur. “You ought to see one of them Georgia buggies go off the top,” Tim said. “Or the cotter pin come off the wheel and the wheel go off.”
At ground level the pour was made in six-inch increments, but the speed increased as the elevator rose.
To keep the screw jacks on the same plane and maintain plumb, the crew used a water-level system on the deck. A clear hose was fed by water from a 55-gallon drum. Tim said the hose had a level “that you marked before you ever pulled off the ground. And believe it or not, you’d get one hundred and some feet up, and you’d be plumb!”
- How we know Tillotson Construction built the Burlington, Colorado, grain elevator (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- In 1946, Tillotson Construction built a mighty elevator in Kingfisher, Oklahoma (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)