The 1945 vintage elevator at Lodgepole, Nebraska, and the death of Bill Morris

DSC_0446Story and photo by Kristen Cart

A newspaper article recently came to light that upended our elevator construction timeline, causing us to reconsider the story of the Lodgepole, Neb., elevator and the careers of Joseph H. Tillotson and my grandfather William Arthur Osborn.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, said that the death of Bill Morris, the superintendent on the Lodgepole job, and that of Joe Tillotson, the owner of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, came within a month or so of each other. Now it appears likely that the season was the same, but both fatal car accidents occurred in different years–1945 and 1947–a fact easily misunderstood by the young boy my father was at the time, as he listened to the adults talk about business.


We believe this photo by William Osborn is from Lodgepole, Neb.

The article appeared in the Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 8, 1945:

Omahan dies after car accident

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP). W. B. Morris, 36, an employee of the Tillotson Construction company, of Omaha, was fatally injured Saturday night when struck by a car driven by Howard B. Kirk, 48, of Lodgepole, Neb., Deputy Sheriff Arnold Braasch said Sunday.

The deputy sheriff reported Morris was changing a tire on his car about ten miles east of here when the accident occurred. He died in a hospital about five hours later.

Braasch said Morris’ home was in Texas, but that he was living in Lodgepole while working on the construction of a new grain elevator.

County Attorney R. P. Kepler said he will decide on Monday whether an inquest is to be held.

We attributed the Lodgepole elevator’s construction to J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, the independent company Joe Tillotson started after his parting of the ways with Tillotson Construction of Omaha. We wrongly believed that both Bill Morris and Joe Tillotson had died in 1947 while working on the Lodgepole job. Now we know that Bill Morris died in 1945 while working for Joe Tillotson. The new fact pins down the date of Joe’s departure from the Omaha company–a move my grandfather made at the same time.

When interviewed in 1949 about his first, independent, Mayer-Osborn Construction venture in McCook, Neb., William Osborn named a number of elevators he had built before. We still believe all of the elevators Bill Osborn listed were J.H. Tillotson elevators.

According to the McCook article, Bill Osborn said the elevators in Maywood, Traer, Wauneta, and Lodgepole were built in 1945. If the reporter was right about Bill Morris’ employment, all of the 1945 elevators would be too early to be J. H. Tillotson elevators. However, none of them were recorded in the Tillotson Construction specifications and none built in the Omaha company’s style.

The reporter writing about Bill Morris’ death in 1945 was unaware of the freshly minted company Joe Tillotson had started, and wrongly identified Bill Morris as a Tillotson Construction of Omaha employee.


An early photo of the Lodgepole elevator was kept at the location.

The fact that in 1945, Bill Morris went from a superintendent job at a verified Tillotson Construction project in Giddings, Tex to a superintendent position at the Lodgepole elevator job, a project demonstrably not built by the Omaha company, precisely dates the time Joe Tillotson chose to go out on his own.

The 1945 construction date of the Lodgepole elevator gives us a much more accurate understanding of the birth of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, a venture that lasted about four years, until my grandfather built the McCook elevator for Mayer-Osborn Construction in 1949.

A tragedy took Morris in his prime, but my grandfather stepped into his place, gaining valuable experience as a builder. To this day, the graceful Lodgepole elevator serves as a fitting monument to Morris’ productive career.

Wrecking out details are provided in drawings from Tillotson records

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

The papers we received from my Uncle Tim Tillotson included not only the record of Tillotson Construction Company’s building activities, but also these pages showing details of building a wrecking-out platform as well as jack rod assemblies and formwork details. Page two is dated November 12, 1954.

A wrecking-out platform was needed as workers disassembled the formwork on the inside of the completed elevator.

Charles H. Tillotson 1

Uncle Charles Tillotson has previously written about his close call when cable clamps failed.

In that post he described a wrecking-out platform this way:

The final scaffold then becomes a square platform suspended in a round tank.

The void on each side of the scaffold is used for lowering or throwing the wood material into the tank’s dark abyss. After all the overhead wrecking has been accomplished, another team gains access to the tank’s bottom via a manhole in the side of the tank at or near ground level.

Charles H. Tillotson 3

The drawings and details presented in the notes included here are invaluable. For example: The hole in the roof is formed with a one-quart motor oil can. (“Remove can & plug hole,” the addendum reminds.)

Charles H. Tillotson 5

The handwritten note in the upper right corner of the first page says, “I put my center needle beam under the manhole then it is easy to get plank on and easy to get on scaffold. If you think this helps O.K. other wise [illegible] to a goose going south.”

“I’ll pick it up when I catch him down about Galveston,” this section concludes.

Charles H. Tillotson 4

Another note is on the quality of timbers: “I’ve been using these for 20 years if you use 3 good 2 x 6 they work fine and save over the 3 x 6 & all that steel and all you have to do is cut the ones you use in the tanks and they will work in small bins.”

We look forward to readers’ comments on the pages.

Charles H. Tillotson 7

A search for Van Ness elevator images yields surprising results

Story by Kristen Cart

When hunting for ancient elevators–and by ancient, I mean hundred-year-old, steel-sheathed, wooden construction–you run into a serious problem: most of them no longer exist.


A 1936 Omaha directory

The elevator you are looking for may have burned down years ago, followed by a replacement that also burned down. The things liked to catch fire, as a search of old newspapers will show.

Concrete construction was meant to reduce the problem, but the new elevators would burn in spectacular fashion when grain dust ignited, throwing debris and victims sky high.

The fertile ground for old elevator hunting remains the Internet, thanks to bloggers, satellite imagery, photographers, and the odd stuff that accumulates online.

Recently, we turned up some truly fascinating finds. We had discovered Charles H. Tillotson was president of Van Ness Construction Company, of Omaha, in the 1930s. He was the original founder of the construction business (and its progeny) that his children and their associates operated into the 1950s, as documented in this blog.

Charles H. Tillotson

Charles H. Tillotson

Now that we had a company name for his earlier efforts, the hunt for Van Ness elevators was on.

Rydal, Kan., was home to an early Van Ness elevator. The town was profiled in the blog Dead Towns of Kansas, a project by the Hutchinson, Kan., journalist Amy Bickel. On her page is a marvelous 1950s vintage aerial photograph of bridge construction showing two 1888- to 1907-vintage elevators, one of which was built by Van Ness. One of the two pictured elevators burned in 1952. We do not know if the fire consumed them both.

Luckily, a Van Ness mill and elevator in Grenola, Kan., was deemed historical, and the Kansas State Historical Society successfully nominated it for the National Register of Historic Places. Since grain was no longer stored there, the greatest threat to its survival was gone.

It is the only example we have found that still stands.

The architect of this elevator, designed and built in 1909, was P. H. Pelkey Company, with the construction completed by the R. M. Van Ness Construction, of Fairbury, Neb.

This company could have been the predecessor to the Van Ness Construction Company that Charles H. Tillotson led, and it may have been his earlier employer. A little more research could tease out the history of the Van Ness building enterprises in Nebraska.

But the elevator is representative of the typical construction of the time, when Charles would have been working in the business.

This old elevator is located in Grenola, Elk County, Kan., on a railroad siding which was formerly on a mainline of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Southern Kansas Division.

A gleaming elevator and annex with distinctive headhouses in Glidden, Iowa

Glidden, Iowa

Tillotson’s 122-foot-tall elevator, center, was built at Glidden, Iowa, in 1949. The company added the 112-foot, 331,000-bushel storage annex in 1954. Photo: Tillotson Construction Company archive.

By Ronald Ahrens

On April 11, 1949, the Daily Times Herald, of Carroll, Iowa, reported a new elevator  under construction in Glidden for the Farmers Co-operative Company.

“About 20 feet higher than the present buildings, the new elevator will be situated east of them,” the newspaper reported. “With the additional storage space the company, for several years the largest co-operative elevator owned and operated in Iowa, will be able to take care of a large amount of corn and beans grown extensively in the Glidden area.”

The bins had quickly risen to 100 feet in height.

Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, was using a crew of about 35 men, who worked 10 hours per day, the report continued, perhaps leaving out at this late stage that a continuous pour would have require successive shifts in order to reach 100 feet.

Completion of the 100,000-bushel elevator was expected by July or August, the report said.

Through the company’s construction record, we now know more about the elevator. It is the twin of another elevator built that year in Churdan, about 22 miles away on county and main highways.

Those elevators had an exact capacity of 102,000 bushels. They used 1083 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 57.72 tons of steel, including jack rods. The 24-inch-thick main slabs were 48×48 feet in area. The overall weight of the reinforced concrete, rated at 4000 pounds per cubic yard plus the steel, was 2224 tons.

Each elevator could hold 3060 tons of grain, averaging 60 pounds per bushel. Including all machinery and the hoppers, the gross loaded weight was 5709 tons, for a bearing pressure of 2.52 tons per square foot.

The curved cupola, or headhouse, which was the important signature of a Tillotson elevator, stood 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

These were single-leg elevators, each with a full basement and an electrical room. Pulley centers were at 125.67 feet.

Each boot pulley was 60 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches while each head pulley differed only by having an axle shaft 1 3/4 inches greater in diameter.

The six-ply Calumet belt supplied for each leg was, of course, 14 inches wide. Cups of 12 x 6 inches were to be set nine inches apart, although a note under “Remarks” somewhat ominously says, “Cups @ 12″ O.C. @ Glidden” and adds “Job Error.”

A 30-horsepower Howell electric motor drove the head pulley. The theoretical leg capacity according to manufacturer ratings was 6540 bushels per hour, but running at a conservative 80-percent of capacity meant a more realistic take-up of 5230 bushels per hour.

The remarks make one distinction between Churdan and Glidden, saying the former had a split bin for the drier while no bin was fitted at the latter.

The driveway was 13 feet wide. There were two dump grates of 9 x 5 1/2 feet and 9 x 15 feet.

Later entries show a 331,000-bushel storage with flat-bottom tanks was added at Glidden in 1954. The next year, Churdan was expanded with 198,960 bushels of new capacity. They used 2318 and 1351 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, respectively, and 116.5 and 79.5 tons of steel.

Other specs for Glidden’s storage:

Main slab: 33 1/2 to 49 x 127 feet for 5481 square feet in total

Weight of reinforced concrete: 4752.5 tons

Weight of grain: 9930 tons

Gross weight loaded: 15,007.5 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.97 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24 inches

Height of drawform walls: 104 feet

Cupola (headhouse) dimensions (W x L x H): 14 x 98 1/4 x 8 1/3 feet

Top and bottom belts: 24 inches @ 600 feet per minute

Cross belts: 24 inches @ 600 feet per minute