The Alta, Iowa, grain elevator’s unique layout was ‘a different kind of job’

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb and photos from the Neil A. Lieb Archive

This post’s two photos show early stages of work on Tillotson Construction Company’s grain elevator at Alta, Iowa, in the spring of 1950. In a July 22 phone conversation, Neil Lieb, who worked on this elevator as a Tillotson employee (1949 to 1951) described details:

Three tanks on right, two on left, a square tank on left … The little tanks were a lot more trouble to make. Alta was not designed by Tillotson. It was designed by some outfit out of Kansas City. So it was a different kind of a job, and it was specifically designed—they had some kind of a grain-drying system that was relatively new. When these [elevators] were built, they didn’t dry the grain. It had to be dry before you put it in. Alta had some kind of a drying system. These bins were all designed—the whole idea was you could have smaller quantities of grain stored that was wet, and you’d run it out of these bins and through the dryer into the bins below. Half full of wet grain, the other half full of dry. The dry was taken back and dumped in the major silos.

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The co-ops in Iowa were very large in those days, with hundreds of members signed up. They would take a sample out of the load and do a moisture content test. So they would test each load and put it in one of these tanks based on how much moisture it had. When they went to dry it, it would take out the required amount of moisture. I know we had a lot of extra electrical work.

The plans for the elevator are inscribed on the elevator [slab], so you could set the forms where they belonged. The scribing was done a couple of days after the slab was poured. So when you build forms and moved them in, you knew exactly where to put them. It looked like it was all hit and miss, but it wasn’t.

Sixteenpenny nails were used in nailing together the forms. When you’re doing this, the foreman will count heads. You make all these interior pieces before you do anything else. When you make these, the foreman counts out heads, and he opens that many kegs of sixteenpenny nails, and they’re all supposed to be empty when you go home at night. Fifty-pound kegs and twenty-ounce hammer, and you start the nail and drive it with three strokes. The nail is a little over seven inches long. When you do that all day long for several days, you develop a real good right arm.

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