A chance encounter with a Tillotson elevator in Jamestown, Kansas


Sporting a fresh coat of paint, the trademark Tillotson elevator with its curved headhouse still operates. 

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

On our last elevator road trip, which our family embarked upon in October 2012, we visited many of our grandfathers’ elevator projects from the 1940s and 50s. But we also amassed a photo collection of elevators we could not place. Either the grain cooperatives were closed for business on a Sunday, or the elevators were retired, or we didn’t have time to stop for an interview. So the photos languished for most of a year, until Ronald Ahrens and I could identify them, even though we strongly suspected that the structures were the works of one of our grandfathers.

One of the mystery elevators was a pure white example, located in the north-central Kansas town of Jamestown. Ronald’s uncle, Tim Tillotson, recently handed us the Omaha builder’s construction specifications, which finally identified this handsome elevator as a project built in 1953 by the Tillotson Construction Company.

A smaller elevator stands on a branch of the rail line. It's builder is unknown.

A smaller elevator stands on a branch of the rail line. It’s builder is unknown.

The Jamestown elevator stands not far from a companion elevator, rising alone on a fork of the railroad track. The smaller elevator was built in a straight-up style that predates the more common Tillotson style, and it’s provenance is unknown. It is reminiscent of the style of the elevator built by Tillotson Construction in Greenwood, Neb., but without the curved headhouse. But it also recalls several Chalmers and Borton examples.

It is our good fortune to have the detailed specifications for the Jamestown elevator. Thanks to the Tillotson Company’s meticulous record keeping and the decades-long survival of the records, we can share the construction details of this remarkable structure. The specifications, for the engineering-minded among our readers, are presented below.

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 155,320 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 1581 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 1530 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers & liner) 17 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 69.38 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 90.6 pounds

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 4260 lb/52 cu yd

Main slab 19,427 lb/160 cu yd

Drawform walls 89,400 lb/1107 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1997 lb/18.5 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 5236 lb/28.5 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 3175 lb/24 cu yd

Bin roof & extended roofs (or corner) 5139 lb/37.4 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) 292 lb/4.8 cu yd

Cupola walls 4897 lb/52.5 cu yd

Distributor floor 1530 lb/11 cu yd

Cupola roof 2207 lb/14 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.) 1205 lb/20.3 cu yd (excluding track scale)

(At the head of the column on the next page, the Jamestown elevator was described thus: “Clifton Imo plan; Like Meno but split dust bin for Bin #17”)

Construction details

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 54 x 51 feet

Main slab area (actual outside on ground) 2625 square feet

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4000#/cu yd + steel) 3130 tons

Weight of plain concrete (4000#/cu yd) 34 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000#/cu yd) 684 tons

Weight of grain (at 60# per bushel) 4660 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 18 tons

Gross weight loaded 8526 tons

Bearing pressure 3.25 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 21 inches

Main slab steel (bent) 1 in diameter at 7 inch o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) 0.5 inch diameter at 12 inch o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls 514 feet including exterior

Height of drawform walls 120 feet

Pit depth below main slab 15 feet 9 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside W x L x Ht.) 22.25 x 42.5 x 26 feet

Pulley centers 152.66 feet

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 feet

Dump grate size 2 @ 9 feet wide

Columns under tanks size 16 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

(The remaining specs were noted “same as Meno.” The Meno specifications are given below.)

Machinery Details

Head pulley 72 x 14 x 4 7/16 inches

Boot pulley 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches

R.P.M. head pulley 42 rpm

Belt 14 inch 6 ply Calumet

Cups 12 x 6 inch at 9 inch o.c. Howell

Head drive 40 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 7500 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 6000 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 27.75 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower Ehr

Load out scale 10 bushel Rich

Load out spout 10 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr.

Cupola spouting 8.25 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Bin

Cupola Spouting 10 inch W.C.

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor Not required

(Items below were listed for Meno; it is not clear whether these were also built at Jamestown)

Also Built

60 foot 50 ton scale: 40 cu yd

2 sk’ing spts (scaffolding supports?)

6 comments on “A chance encounter with a Tillotson elevator in Jamestown, Kansas

  1. Nate says:

    By chance did one of your grandfathers companies built the grain elevator in Blue Rapids, Kansas? It looks just like the Jamestown photos with the rounded head house. Also, thank you for posting the measurements of the Jamestown elevator. I plan to build scale models of the grain elevators in Blue Rapids, Waterville, Greenleaf, and Washington, Kansas.

    • Hi Nate. Blue Rapids doesn’t sound familiar, but we will let you know if we turn up anything. Meantime, we would love to see photos of the finished models. Please stay in touch: maybe we could post them on Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators.

      • Nate says:

        If you will send me an email I’ll send you some photos of the Blue Rapids elevator and a few photos of the Clifton, Kansas, elevator a fellow modeler built. I saw the Dec 3rd entry on that elevator. My email is obermeyern AT yahoo DOT com. Thanks.

  2. Nate Obermeyer says:

    Maybe I missed it, but what are the diameters of the silos for the Jamestown elevator? I can provide photos of Blue Rapids if you’re interested in seeing them.

  3. kocart says:

    In the description of the Jamestown elevator, at the head of the data column, the specifications said “Like Meno, but split dust bin for bin #17.” So we go to the description of the 1953 Meno elevator to find: “5-16′ diameter Tanks-120′ [Height]; 13′ x 17′ driveway; 15 Bins & ov’flow; Dust bin over Ext.; 25 Bu. scale.” So with the exception of the dust bin arrangement, the two were the same. I hope this answers your question.

    We would be very interested in your photos! The model of the Clifton elevator would be very neat to see, also. Thank you.

  4. Nathan Obermeyer says:

    Here are the links to the photo of Blue Rapids, KS, elevator and a photo of Ken Jenkins model of Clifton’s elevator.


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