During the Alta, Iowa, elevator’s construction, temporary bins held the grain



In this 1950 photo from Neil Lieb’s archive, our contributor explains what we see in this view from atop the newly completed elevator in Alta, Iowa. “Those were storage bins for the excess before the elevator was built,” he says.


How a grain elevator works: Moving grain from the silo to a rail car


That pipe is used to run the grain down to the railroad cars when they’re shipping it. Inside of that tank, there’s a hole that connects to that pipe. The system works [this way], you open a tank at the bottom, and run the grain into the pit. You use a belt to take it to the top and into this pipe. Commentary by Neil Lieb, photo from his archive. 

Revisiting Greenwood, Nebraska, and its Tillotson grain elevator


The Tillotson elevator and annex alongside the railroad tracks in Greenwood, Neb.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Along U.S. 6 between Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., stands an early testament to the ingenuity of the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha. This early elevator, which rises alongside the highway next to its attached annex in the town of Greenwood, still holds grain. The original elevator was built with a capacity of 129,000 bushels. On the side facing the highway, stenciled in black, is a sign that says “Built by Tillotson Construction Co. Omaha Nebraska.” The lettering is partially obscured by paint and concrete patches.

Highway 6 is a very familiar stretch of road. I have driven it innumerable times between Ashland and Lincoln while visiting my family–on every run to Lincoln, the old Tillotson elevator and its annex come up on the right side of the road about a third of the way there. As a little girl, when traveling across Nebraska, I would see a white edifice on the horizon, and it meant a new town was coming up and we were closer to our destination. Now, living far away, I rarely see the elevators that have become so familiar. But last summer, I revisited this one.


A Burlington Northern train slows to pass through town on an early morning run.

The Greenwood elevator was built in 1951. Its annex was added in 1954, and although we do not have the construction record of the annex among our Tillotson company papers, the embossed manhole covers identify its provenance.

The pairing of a Tillotson elevator with a Tillotson annex is fairly unusual in the company records–usually another company would come along and build an annex. During the elevator boom, it seems very likely that the Tillotson company was too busy to meet the demand for annexes that were springing up everywhere, and it is very doubtful that they competed and lost the contract at each site. The company was too good at what they did, and it is almost certain that they had more work than they could accept.

DSC_0421We have the building specifications for the original elevator in the Tillotson Construction Company records.

Greenwood’s elevator was built following the Churdan Plan, with four 14 1/2-foot-diameter tanks, 120 feet high, and a 13 x 17-foot driveway. The spread was 13 feet, and eight bins were built over the driveway. The plan called for 17 total storage bins and a dust bin, with bin number 8 split to accommodate a dryer. The total capacity was 129,000 bushels.

Grain capacity per foot of height was 1318 bushels. For the project the company poured 1255 cubic feet of reinforced concrete, and 25 cubic feet of plain concrete for the hoppers. 60.23 tons of steel were used for construction (including jack rods). The average weight of steel per cubic yard of concrete was 96 pounds. The plans broke out the concrete and steel to be used for each line item:

Below main slab: 3,200 pounds of steel; 30 cubic yards of concrete;

Main slab: 15,870 pounds of steel; 118 cubic yards of concrete

Draw-form walls: 82,377 pounds of steel; 934 cubic yards of concrete

Driveway and work floor (including columns): 3,370 pounds of steel; 26 cubic yards of concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 3,491 pounds of steel; 19 cubic yards of concrete

Overhead bin bottoms: 3,752 pounds of steel; 23 cubic yards of concrete

Bin root: 3,060 pounds of steel; 30 cubic yards of concrete

Scale floor (or garner), complete: 186 pounds of steel; 3 cubic yards of concrete

Cupola walls: 2,789 pounds of steel; 35 cubic yards of concrete

Distributor floor: 886 pounds of steel; 7 cubic yards of concrete

Cupola roof: 1,129 pounds of steel; 9 cubic yards of concrete

Misc (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 360 pounds of steel; 20 cubic yards of concrete

Attached driveway: driveway extension included above


Concrete repairs are evident around the annex manhole cover.

Construction Details

The dimensions of the main slab were 49 x 49 feet, with a main slab area (actual outside on the ground) of 2,377 square feet. The total weight of reinforced concrete, at 4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel, was 2,570 tons. Also computed at 4000 pounds per cubic yard, the total plain concrete weight for the hoppers was 50 tons. The fill sand for the hoppers, at 3000 pounds per cubic yard, was 360 tons. The planned weight of grain was 60 pounds per bushel, and when filled, the elevator could hold 3,870 tons of grain. Fifteen tons of structural steel and machinery were added to complete the planned gross weight, loaded, of 6,865 tons. The elevator was designed to withstand 2.89 tons per square foot of bearing pressure.

Greenwood 01The dimensions of the elevator were planned as follows:

Main slab thickness: 18 inches

Main slab steel: 1 1/4-inch square at 10-inch o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom for the round tanks: 1/2-inch diameter at 12-inch spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 1,006 feet

Height of drawform walls: 120 feet

Pit depth below main slab: 12 feet 0 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 17 x 34 x 22 feet

Pulley Centers: 145.67 feet

The elevator was designed to operate with one leg. A distributor floor, track sink, full basement, and electrical room were included in the plans. Two dump grates, 5 1/2 x 9 and 15 x 9 feet, were built. The columns under the tanks were 16 x 16 inches square, and the boot-leg and head were built of concrete.

Machinery details

Boot pulley: 60 x 14  x 2 2/16 inches

Head pulley: 60 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches

R.P.M. Head pulley: 42 rpm

Belt: 310 feet of 14-inch 6-ply Calumet

Cups: 12 x 6 inches at 9-inch spacing

Head drive: Howell 30 hp.

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating): 6,250 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical): 5,000 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor): 22 hp.

Man lift: 1 1/2 horsepower electric

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 8 inch w.c.

Truck lift: 7 1/2 Ehr.

Dust collector system: fan to dust bin

Cupola spouting: 10-inch diameter

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: none

Also built

Inside steps

Dryer provided (split bin)








Collin Quiring delivers a load of corn to Tillotson’s Aurora South elevator


Collin Quiring, a 26-year-old reader of this blog who farms with his brother in Henderson, Nebr., made contact and offered to send some photos when he took a load of grain to the Aurora South elevator, which was built by Tillotson Construction Company in 1959.

Collin had first commented on one of Kristen’s posts.

A view of Tillotson Construction Company's Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

A portrait of Tillotson Construction Company’s Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

“It’s funny that you drove through Hampton,” he wrote. 

“I’ve been following this blog for a while now and started looking at all the manhole covers on elevators that I haul to, and sure enough there were a lot of Chalmers-Borton, Tillotson, and Mayer-Osborn elevators around.

Hampton has the manhole covers on the outside of the silos and they’re 10 feet or so off the ground, so I’ve been wondering who made it for a while now!

It looks like you just saw the one downtown elevator in Aurora though?

The other elevator is called Aurora South and is on the southwest edge of town. It used to be a Cargill elevator, but Aurora Coop purchased it.

I’m pretty sure that’s a Tillotson elevator, too.”

So Collin did some more reconnoitering and took pictures on his next run.


Collin’s view from the scale house.

“We’ve been alternating where we were taking corn, and I was planning to get back there for a few more pics.

But harvest will be over in an hour.

So I won’t be getting back there anytime soon.

Here’s what I did get while trying not to hold up the line.

End of this week or beginning of next I will be hauling to Hampton and will send you some from over there.”

Two days later, he made the run to Hampton but found it was not a Tillotson elevator; instead, it was built in 1959 by Grain Storage Construction Company, of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

A last farewell to a wooden elevator at Ryegate, Montana


Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The search for our grandfathers’ elevators has led us to many small towns and many grain operations. Among our discoveries have been ancient wooden elevators, now quaint relics among their larger concrete cousins. In some towns, wooden elevators still have jobs to do, but their time is short.

Charles H. Tillotson built wooden elevators long before his children took up the slip-formed concrete building technique, and at one time, every Midwestern town with a rail line had a row of them serving the local farmers. Now it is increasingly rare to find a town with more than one wooden elevator in service, or for that matter, still standing.


The Ryegate, Mont., elevator is flanked by its replacement fertilizer plant.

In the last year or two, in several towns, locals have told me that their wooden elevators were no longer used and would shortly be destroyed. I made an extra effort to document those elevators. This week, I almost missed one. In Ryegate, Mont., a new fertilizer plant was put into operation last year, and the elevator that had served the purpose was now slated for destruction.

When I stopped to photograph the pair of wooden elevators at Ryegate, a town on U.S. 12 in east-central Montana, I went into the local cafe for a burger. A fellow at the bar introduced himself as Ken. He wondered where my hometown was, and the purpose of my visit. When I told him I was a bit of an elevator tourist, he told me about the Ryegate elevators. DSC_5156

Ken worked at the Ryegate facility. He said that over the years, he had been employed as a grain hauler and in almost every other aspect of elevator work.

The smaller elevator was built in 1917. Ken said grain dropped 70 feet from the top of the grain spout to a truck below while loading. The elevator had been in use as recently as two years ago, then the new fertilizer plant was built nearby to replace it.

The larger elevator, built in 1914, was still used for storage—it had fresh siding and looked neat and clean on an immaculate lot. But the smaller elevator, equally handsome, would be razed next week. He hoped I would get out and take more pictures before it was gone.

Our discussion ranged from elevators to the military. Ken served in the U.S. Army, had great admiration for the old C-130 aircraft, and expounded with enthusiasm about the M-1 Abrams tank and the Tow missile. He got a kick out of talking with another veteran who shared his interest. He also spoke with reverence about serving under President Ronald Reagan.


The interior of the shed addition.

Our conversation was interrupted as a young lady burst into the cafe, exclaiming,

“I just got a deer!”

As two men moved to follow her out the door to see her trophy, she said,

“Come see. I got my mulie.”

Her announcement passed without any comment at the bar. Apparently, during deer season, such declarations are expected.

Before I departed to take a closer look at the doomed elevator, Ken introduced himself more formally as Sgt. Ken Davis, and shook my hand. It was an honor to meet this veteran who served back when we had a 600-ship Navy (in the good old days, about three wars ago).

As I took another circuit around the old elevator to shoot a few last pictures, the sun played on the high clouds, projecting light like a halo radiating about the old structure. I thought it a fitting farewell.

In honor of Veterans Day, I salute Sgt. Davis and his life’s work. I hope he enjoys the pictures. DSC_5231