The vanished Glidden elevator, a concrete giant, has gone the way of the wood

Story by Kristen Cart

It is tremendously disappointing when you realize an elevator should be there, and isn’t. I recently passed through the north-central Iowa town of Glidden, a small place mostly on the south side of Highway 30. I knew from Tillotson construction records that an elevator and an annex were built in Glidden back during the elevator boom. But though I leaned over to that side of the car to peer at the skyline, hoping to see the familiar white Tillotson elevator outline, all I saw were two hulking bins of another more modern sort.

You learn to expect old wooden elevators to disappear. But the 1940s and ’50s vintage concrete elevators usually are not so quick to go.

Glidden, IA 51443 - Google MapsThis situation would require some investigation, but not on a day when I had to get home, with another 400 miles or so to go. I had at least one more stop planned to see an elevator, at Ralston, a town just a few miles further east, and my three kids tolerated the stops, hanging in there at the frazzled edges of their patience.

When I got home, I resorted to the Internet. Satellite images have become so good that you can virtually identify a builder from above. But in the case of Glidden, there was no sign of an old elevator, only a bulldozed area where the forms for two circular bins had been laid out. Apparently I had not overlooked the desired elevator–it was gone.

NEW Cooperative Inc - Google MapsI didn’t count on being able to date the demolition, but the map’s “street view” came to the rescue. An uploaded photo, watermarked 2013, showed a view of the site from an intersection down the street. From that perspective, the old elevator stood as it always had, since it was built. So the old elevator was probably retired after the last of its grain was out, in time for new bins to be built for the next harvest, sometime in 2013 before winter set in.

I missed my grandfather’s (alleged) McAllaster, Kan., elevator by a couple of months when it was torn down over a year ago. But in the satellite image that was available at the time, you could see where the destruction had begun. Several round bins were newly absent, and holes appeared in the top of the headhouse.

I don’t imagine that satellite engineers envisioned this use for their images.


8 comments on “The vanished Glidden elevator, a concrete giant, has gone the way of the wood

  1. kocart says:

    Paul Grange pointed out some of the pitfalls in concrete elevator maintenance:

    “If that was an FC Elevator I am sure I can find out why it was demolished. My brother is a grain superintendant with FC. But it likely is what I suspect happened to it…

    “If you notice, many new concrete elevators remain unpainted other than a logo. Many had had the paint half-assed sandblasted off. This is because, as many manufacturers and owners discovered, many times too late–this concrete needs to breathe. Many had their concrete rot and crumble or stress crack bad. My dad’s old elevator in Emmetsburg was painted, sandblasted and repainted again. It is stress cracked bad enough that they can only fill it to 70 percent.

    “Many of these weren’t worth the hassle to keep around. Blow-out was not the only thing to think of. There were many other risks such as falling through the bin deck when checking bins, costly damage to conveyor systems when chunks fell into the bin, and having an unsafe enviroment to even be in for cleaning out the bin.”

  2. Satellite Engineers loss is our gain. Thank you for this post & its addendum that gives great insight as to why paint could cause so much damage to concrete. I think the date for the Google Street image is earlier than the 2013 copyright watermark. Near the bottom of the screen on the right hand side Google sometimes gives an “Image Capture” date. This one for Colorado Street in Glidden is August 2009.

    • kocart says:

      I recall an interview with an elevator worker in Wichita, Kan. over a year ago, where some of these problems were highlighted. Apparently, at the time, a Cargill elevator was having problems with concrete cracking in one of their elevators, and chunks were falling off into the bins. It was a regulatory issue that was pending at the time. No doubt paint was a culprit. But it is interesting to see newer elevators slated for destruction as well. I think some of the corporate knowledge of proper elevator construction died with the first generation of builders, and some of the lessons have had to be relearned.

      • Paint is generally meant to be a sacrificial surface to protect the substrait, and for appearance. Elastomeric paints came into more frequent use during the 1980s and are still now the first word out of an architect or contractors mouth when a structure has moisture issues, even thought when not properly used they can cause more problems as they solve. I wouldn’t be surprised if elastomeric paints are what was causing old and new elevators to deteriorate.

        Older paints not formulated in an attempt to control moisture wouldn’t have caused this problem. Would this have been the case since nearly all of the historic photographs you’ve shared depict new elevators in sparkling white? Do you know if the original specs call for them to be painted?

        How droll that this paint discussion all started from an elevator in a town named Glidden.

  3. kocart says:

    Luckily, I have a contract proposal by Mayer-Osborn with specifications for an elevator to be built in Wauneta, Neb. They did not win that contract, but because their proposal was a standard form, it would have been common to their elevators. Perhaps they specified paint, and if we are lucky, they even said what kind. I will check.

    I have to chuckle about the town name. I would not have noticed until you pointed it out.

    • What luck to have that type of document. I am curious to know what you find.

      I am not sure what year you said the elevator was built but Glidden Paints debuted latex paint in 1948. Mid-century must have been the heyday for both the Cleveland company and the Iowa town.

  4. Thomas Rosell, that’s a very funny comment about Glidden. Talking with my Uncle Tim Tillotson, he refers to the paint as “whitewash.” I’ll have to seek elaboration.

    • It sounds like it might have been a water base non-latex paint. Please let me know what your uncle has to say. I would be curious also as to the application method that was used. Spray painting seems like the natural inclination, but I imagine some of the early elevators required the arduous task of having the paint brushed or rolled on.

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