Dennis Russell reflects on his brother Jim’s tragic death on the Murphy, Neb., elevator

This photo, provided by Kurtis Glinn, shows Tillotson Construction's Murphy elevator in the early 1960s. Note the ground storage of grain sorghum on the right.

This photo, provided by Kurtis Glinn, shows Tillotson Construction’s Murphy, Neb., elevator in the early 1960s. Note the ground storage of grain sorghum on the right, and the old wooden elevator on the left.

By Ronald Ahrens  

A recent telephone conversation with Dennis Russell, who lives in Plano, Tex., revealed more details about the Russell family and his brother Jim, who died in an accident during construction of the Murphy, Neb., elevator. Dennis was the youngest of eight brothers: Bob, Roger, Jim, Jack, Byron, Bill, and Mark.

Their father William, born in 1900, had done construction on ammunition depots during World War Two, Dennis recalled. William, known as Bill, went to work for Tillotson Construction Company at an unknown date after the War.

“He worked for them a long time,” Dennis said. “He left Tillotson’s and started Mid States Construction Company with Gordon Erickson and another individual. I think he was a partner for a brief period and then ran jobs for them as a superintendent until his retirement.”

The name was changed to Mid States Equipment Company. Grain elevators and feed mills were the main specialties. Bill Russell retired in 1972, but he “always had fond memories working for Tillotson, I know that,” Dennis said. “I remember he was awful fond of Mary.”

Jim Russell’s promising future cut short 

Dennis was born in 1949. “My whole life was elevators. We moved every year from ’59 till I graduated high school.”

All the Russell brothers worked on elevators, Dennis recalled. “I worked on those quite a bit myself every summer.”

“Jim, he was third-oldest, he died in, like, ’58 in Murphy, Neb., right outside of Aurora. There was an article about that in the Aurora paper at the time. We lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, but that summer I was in Aurora, we were staying with Dad. I remember Mom taking that phone call.”

At the time of his death in a freak accident (the links below tell the story), Jim was married to Shirley, a nurse, and had one year of law school remaining at the University of South Dakota.

11 comments on “Dennis Russell reflects on his brother Jim’s tragic death on the Murphy, Neb., elevator

  1. I remember Bill Russell as being a key member of the Tillotson organization as well as a fine superintendent. I know I must have worked for him during the summers and off-school days but I can’t say specifically what job or jobs were involved. I don’t think I ever met any of the boys but they too must have been good workmen to have worked for Dad. — Charles J. Tillotson

  2. Neil A. Lieb says:

    My name is Neil A. Lieb. I worked for Jim Russell in Alta and West Bend Iowa. I also work for Francis Dawson in Pocahontas and Clare, Iowa and in Bushland and Canyon, Texas. I work an a job in Marshall Missouri but I do not remember who the superintendent was. I worked for Tillotson from June of 1949 until August of 1951. I would like some information on the elevators I worked on such as capacity and specifications.

  3. kocart says:

    We have specifications for projects built in West Bend (storage 283,060 bushels) and Alta (241,00 bushels), both built in Iowa in 1950, Pocahontas (252,000 bushels) and Clare (88,800 bushels), built in Iowa in 1949, and we also have specifications for the Bushland (252,000 bushels) and Canyon (320,000 bushels) projects built in Texas in 1950. We can include the details in upcoming posts. Can you share some of your experiences on the jobs? We would like to include some stories about the construction or photos, if possible, when we post the specs. Thanks for contacting us.

  4. Neil A. Lieb says:

    Thanks for the information. I have several pictures of the Alta Iowa job. Will send them when I get them scanned. Will also try to remember some of the things that happened during construction. Will send this as soon I as can but I am 83 so sometimes I am not to fast.

  5. kocart says:

    Thank you so much. In the meantime, we have written about Pocahontas before, and these posts furnish more detail.

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