Excavating with explosives led to trouble on Tillotson’s Alta, Iowa, elevator



Story by Neil A. Lieb and photos from the Neil A. Lieb Collection

I do not know exactly when the Alta job started, but I think it was in March or early April of 1950. At that time of the year the ground in Iowa is frozen two to three feet deep. Since the ground was frozen, the bulldozer could not dig the hole needed for the slab. So it was decided they would use dynamite to loosen the soil. I guess Superintendent Bill Russell had this approved by the town fathers and the police and fire chef. 

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Now, remember, Alta is a very small town, maybe 900 to 1000 residents then.

It was decided to use one-quarter stick of dynamite at a depth of 18 to 24 inches. The first charge was set off and it loosened about six to seven feet of dirt so they repeated this procedure every six to eight feet.

After setting off several charges, someone decided that if one-quarter stick worked so well, one-half stick would loosen a bigger area. So they used one-half  stick for the next charge. When it was set off, the explosion was so loud that Bill came charging out of his office to find why at about the same time as the woman across the street came out of her house screaming that her china cabinet had fallen over and all her good china had been broken. 

Within a few minutes the mayor, fire and police chiefs, and most of the town council members showed up. I guess Bill was very busy trying explain. Once he’d calmed everyone down, they all left.

That was the end of the dynamiting. The next day everyone was swinging a pick.







4 comments on “Excavating with explosives led to trouble on Tillotson’s Alta, Iowa, elevator

  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    Now that was a good story! Can you imagine that happening now? So many attorneys would be circling like vultures to the point of blocking out the sun. 🙂 How times have changed. Truthfully, I have never witnessed an explosion of any kind – except one that my friend and I put together when we were I think 15. His father (who had died) had worked at Monsanto, I think…and he had a bottle in his garage…of potassium nitrate. And being “A” students that we were, we took a bottle from a Gilbert chemistry set (that contained redwood chips so it was a larger bottle!), packed it with layers of sulfur and crumbled charcoal… then filled it to the brim with the potassium nitrate. We kinda guessed at the amounts. lol Needless to say, we got a whippin’ the old fashioned way from his mom as we blew out the garage window. True story. 🙂

  2. kocart says:

    Oh my! It is a bit of a miracle that people of our vintage managed to survive our teens. But what stories can be told. The carbide used to blacken rifle sights had some part to play in the complete leveling of a garage in Kentucky and the subsequent licking the young teen who did it (just to see what would happen) had to endure. I marveled at the time how any teenaged boy could survive his youth.

    Good story–thanks for sharing it.

Leave a Reply to Mustang.Koji Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s