A photography outing reveals beauty at the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Byers, Colorado


A documentary photograph of the Byers, Colo. elevator.

In the fall of 2012, Gary Rich, contributor to this blog, treated me to a photo tour of western Colorado elevators. I made a special stop to meet Gary and his wife Sandy. The last few years Gary has specialized in elevator photography, capturing the beauty and spare elegance of grain elevators, identifying their builders as he went. The Byers, Colo., elevator is one of the loveliest.


Gary Rich, camera in hand, looks for a better shot.

Sandy Rich is a very good photographer in her own right, and she has challenged Gary to greater creativity in his compositions.  He explained how her inspiration led him away from “documentary” shots and toward more artistic photography. When we stopped at Byers, Colo., we took some of her ideas to heart, and we were very pleased with the results.

Mayer-Osborn construction built the Byers elevator in 1950, as noted in a contemporary newspaper account. My father Jerry Osborn remembers his dad William Osborn working on it.


Using the foreground to frame the subject adds interest to the photograph. Gary shot this composition first as can be seen on his photo site.

Retaining some of the characteristics 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 accommodate the greater volume. The windows are very similar to those at Traer. The manhole covers on the exterior at Byers represent an innovation to fulfill local needs.

Since elevator designs continued to improve over time, an elevator design genealogy becomes apparent. The innovations cross company boundaries and are seen by looking at elevators chronologically, especially where the same builders and architects continued working in the business, bringing their ideas to one company after another. This is a chronology we are still trying to understand.

As we strive to understand elevator history, we take pictures. Elevators are worthy of our understanding and preservation for their beauty, not just their utility. Beautiful photos convey that message in a way that words can never express.


The manhole covers on the exterior of the Byers elevator identify Mayer-Osborn as the builder.


Despite ADM’s ‘No Admittance,’ the mystery of Moscow is solved

Elkhart 189 copy

Story and photos by Gary Rich

I spent a couple days during October 2012 photographing grain elevators in southwestern Kansas. Arriving in tiny Moscow, Kan., I saw a concrete elevator with a curved headhouse and had a hunch it was built by Tillotson Construction Company.

My problem was that it was operated by Archer Daniels Midland. ADM has a strict policy of not allowing anyone on their property. I went inside and had a conservation with the elevator manager. I didn’t have any hope getting into the elevator. He told me that it was built by Chalmers & Borton. I knew this was not the case, since Chalmers & Borton never built an elevator with a curved headhouse. He told me I could take all the photos I wanted. However, it would be across the street from the elevator.

I have wondered since this trip how I would ever find the true builder for this Moscow elevator.

Elkhart 207 copy copyabThe recently discovered records of Tillotson Construction Company show that Tillotson indeed built this elevator in 1948. Capacity was 100,000 bushels with 14 tanks and a 13-foot-wide center driveway. Six bins were over the driveway.

The Moscow elevator was a very small one for anything made of slip-formed concrete. Tillotson built another relatively small elevator in Rolla, Kan., that had a 140,000-bushel capacity. Most that Tillotson was building in this time frame were of 200,000-bushel capacity or even larger.

The Santa Fe Railroad had a branch line from Dodge City, Kan., to Boise City, Okla. It was about 140 miles in length. Tillotson Construction built elevators in Ensign, Montezuma, Satanta, Moscow, Rolla and Elkhart, Kan.

It’s  quite an accomplishment that Tillotson built six elevators along this line.

Elkhart 204 copy

Did shacks temporarily shelter workers at Tillotson’s Vinton Street site?

Vinton Street Shacks

By Ronald Ahrens

This photo from Tillotson Construction Company’s archives looks south from the site of the Vinton Street elevator, completed in 1950. On the far right you see the main house, which is finished but for windows. The driveway is formed up. Leftover rebar is in the lower left and scrap is heaped in the center.

It’s unknown whether the silver trailer was being used in connection with the job, perhaps as an office. The black car, which could be a 1938 Buick, and the ugly-duckling blue-gray car, which could be a Plymouth (or maybe a Hudson?)–did they belong to employees?

What especially intrigues us are the shacks along the street. Were they part of the job–again, as office space, or to accommodate  workers? Two of my Tillotson uncles have strained their memories but aren’t able to put together this part of the story, explaining why the photo was taken.

The Big Springs, Nebraska, elevator proved to be a Mayer-Osborn Construction job

The Cheppell, Nebraska elevator built by Chalmers & Borton

The Chappell, Nebraska elevator built by Chalmers & Borton. 

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

My grandfather William Osborn built an elevator in the western Nebraska town of Chappell, according to my dad Jerry Osborn. Dad’s recollections have guided our search thus far, for Mayer-Osborn elevators. Surely over the kitchen table he heard the names of towns where his absent father had construction jobs. Or perhaps he saw the postmarks of letters sent home.

Chappell was probably stamped on one of those postmarked letters, or it was the nearest town with a motel, because when I went to visit in 2011, there was nary a Mayer-Osborn elevator in evidence. Impressive elevators there were, but I found out later that they all had the ubiquitous Chalmers & Borton nameplate, the trademark of Grandpa’s biggest competitor.

The Mayer-Osborn elevator lacked the annex when it was first built. It is the same plan as used in McCook, Neb. and Blencoe, Iowa.

The Mayer-Osborn elevator at Big Springs, Neb. lacked the annex when it was first built. It is the same style as used in McCook, Neb., and Blencoe, Iowa.

One stop east on the rail line, however, was a large, handsome elevator that looked like one of Mayer-Osborn’s jobs. It was the spitting image of the first elevator Grandpa built on his own at McCook, Neb. The first time I saw it, I was curious enough to snap a photo, but identification was going to wait for another year. My dad knew nothing about Big Springs.

When Gary Rich, a contributor to this blog, looked into the builders of the elevators he photographed, he solved the mystery. He identified the Big Springs elevator by its manhole covers inside the driveway, each embossed with “Mayer-Osborn Construction, Denver, Colo.” above the Hutchinson Foundry stamp.

The Big Springs, Neb. elevator in October, 2012

The Big Springs, Neb., elevator in October, 2012. 

I paid another visit to Big Springs last fall after our Wyoming elk hunt. We didn’t get any elk, but I did get some nice photographs of the elevator. It was a sleepy Sunday with no one around. Next time, perhaps I can see inside.

It is an honor to pay respects to my grandfather’s enduring work. It is living history of a kind that is rarely noticed or mentioned. Once gone, it is scarcely remembered except in dusty repositories of pictures, and in mostly forgotten stories.

At Big Springs, Neb., that day of fading away is still far off in the future.

The Vinton Street elevator’s driveway took special planning before construction


Vinton Street Drive way

By Ronald Ahrens

The Vinton Street elevator‘s driveway required the building of plenty of formwork before concrete could be poured. Here we see two men making final preparations. One is sweeping the deck, while the worker at the lower right is perhaps using a tool. The unknown photographer’s shadow intrudes into the lower left part of the frame.

Records show that 17 cubic yards of concrete were allotted for the driveway and the elevator’s work floor. The amount of reinforcing steel was not recorded.

A truck shed was then built. Although we lack a photo of it after completion, the record does show that Johnson Overhead Doors were to be installed, one at each end of the shed. And of course a scale was part of the package.

The Vinton Street elevator was Tillotson Construction’s 1950 hometown showcase

Scan 4

Story by Ronald Ahrens 

The Vinton Street elevator in Omaha was a significant job for Tillotson Construction Company, being a technical challenge to the nine-year-old outfit and representing a major emphasis in its subsequent marketing effort.

Lucky for us, much attention was paid to taking good photos of the elevator, including some early color images that include views of the construction process. These photos were in the hands of Uncle Tim Tillotson, who passed them to us for scanning. The color ones came from a viewer that was presumably shown to prospective clients.

With its headhouse accommodating three legs to lift the grain, it was tall. Exactly how tall isn’t recorded, but it probably came within sniffing distance of 200 feet. Only a few of the city’s downtown office towers surpassed its height, although they weren’t necessarily better-looking.

This terminal elevator had capacity of 382,880 bushels, and the legs handled distribution of the grain inside the main house.

Scan 5It also was a showcase that family and friends could see for themselves. Until then, Tillotson Construction had been building elevators in Texas and Oklahoma as well as some less far-flung places.

The elevator was completed in 1950 on a South Omaha greenfield site at 34th and Vinton Streets. The company’s office at 12th and Jones was only three miles away.

Another reason for its significance is that Reginald and Margaret Tillotson’s oldest son Charles went to work as an apprentice carpenter and hod carrier on the job. He helped to build several other elevators over the next few years.

With the Tillotson construction record now in hand, we present the following technical specifications without yet having achieved a full understanding of all the abbreviations and lingo.

General specifications

Total capacity: 382,880 bushels

Capacity: 38,878 bushels per foot

Reinforced concrete: 4776 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 35.3 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (includes jack rods): 286.5 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 120 lb

Construction of the hoist very early in the process of building the Vinton Street elevator. Note the Georgia buggies near the formwork.

Construction of the hoist very early in the process of building the Vinton Street elevator. Note the Georgia buggies near the formwork.

Steel and Concrete

Below main slab: 20,932 lb/223 c.y.

Main slab: 66,579 lb/618 c.y.

Drawform walls: 233,927 lb/2100 c.y.

Driveway and work floor: no figure for steel/17 c.y.

Deep bin bottoms (including columns): no figure for steel/155 c.y.

O.H. bin bottoms: no figure for steel/40 c.y.

Bin root: no figure given for steel/90 c.y.

Scale floor (or garner, complete): no figure for steel/17 c.y.

Cupola (headhouse) walls: no figures

Distributor floor (cleaner floor): no figure for steel/8 c.y.

Cupola roof (gallery): no figure for steel/49 c.y.

Miscellaneous (headhouse): no figure for steel/640 c.y.

Attached driveway: driveway 416 c.y., track shed 403 c.y.

Construction Details

Main slab dimensions: 58 x 119.5 feet

Main slab area (outside on ground): 6690 sq ft

Weight reinforced (total) concrete  at 4000 lb per c.y., plus steel: 9838 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers, 4000 lb per c.y.): 70.6 tons

Weight hopper fill sand at 3000 lb per c.y.: 439.8 tons

Weight of grain at 60 lb per bushel: 11,490 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 100 tons

Gross weight loaded: 21,938 tons

This extreme view shows the elevator before painting. The individual pours can be seen in the drawform walls of the bins. Note the man leaning out of the window opening on the left.

This extreme view shows the elevator before painting. The individual pours can be seen in the drawform walls of the bins. Click on the photo to enlarge the image, and you’ll note the man leaning out of the window opening on the left.

Bearing pressure: 3.28 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness: 30 in

Main slab steel: 1 in □ at 7 in o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks): ⅝ in ⌀ at 8 in o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 975 ft

Height of drawform walls: 120 ft

Pit depth below main slab: 20 ft, 9 in

Cupola (headhouse) dimensions outside (length x width x height): 24 ft x 52 ft x no figure recorded

Machinery Details

Boot pulley: 72 in x 28 in x 3 7/16 in

Head pulley: 72 in x 28 in x 5 15/16 in

RPM head pulley 39 rpm

Belt: leg 26 in x 8-ply, conx 36 in x 4 ply

Cups: 21 x 7 in cal. at 9 in o.c. stag.

Head drive: Link belt, 100 hp

Theoretical leg capacity (Cub manufacturer rating): 17,400 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical): 13,900 bushels per hour

HP required for leg (based on above actual plus 15 percent for motor): 89.8 hp

My grandfather used one of the color images from Vinton Street on its business card.

My grandfather used one of the color images from Vinton Street on its business card.

Man lift: 2 – 1.5 hp

Load out scale: Two 2500-bushel hop.

Load out spout: 15-inch diameter

Truck lift: Ehr. semi fans w. col.

Dust collector system: on legs

Cupola spouting: Trolly spouts

Driveway doors: Johnson O.H. rolling

Conveyor: Two 36-in belts and two 30-in belts


Also Built

Track shed

Truck shed


Truck scale