Elevator investigations move farther afield with a side trip to Alta, Iowa


The trademark rounded headhouse identifies the Tillotson elevator, shown here behind the office and truck scale.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

It is getting harder to visit our grandfathers’ elevators. All of the elevators within a half hour either side of the I-80 corridor have already been exhausted, so a stop for photography requires real planning and extra gas, time, and effort, even when piggybacked on our normal family visit to Nebraska.

The trip to Alta, Iowa, required just such an extra investment in driving time. The town and its Tillotson elevator is just north-west of Storm Lake in the northwestern corner of the state, and is not, quite frankly, on the way to anywhere.


The Tillotson elevator in Alta, Iowa, where the old structure is mostly obscured by later bins.

I wonder how our kids put up with it. This trip in particular required over an hour’s northward jaunt before angling generally east-northeast, with a 30-minute divot or two along the Nebraska-to-Illinois route. Each detour took in wayward sites, including Alta.


A look up the rail line opposite the Tillotson elevator revealed the historical trappings of town, with a backdrop of new grain bins.

It is normally a 10-hour drive to get home from visiting their grandparents, but this elevator excursion would tax my children’s patience for several more hours. To be fair, we got an extra early start. But that meant the serious backseat fidgeting would start sooner.

You would think that I would study Tillotson records first, and inject some discipline and efficiency into planning our route.

But no, that task was left for after the trip, so I could see how closely we approached several sites without seeing them.

I don’t think the kids minded the near misses–but they’ll get to see the countryside again when we go through to mop up the strays.


3 comments on “Elevator investigations move farther afield with a side trip to Alta, Iowa

  1. Virginia R Slusher says:

    Years ago, my husband and I left Meservey, Iowa (Mason City) to drive to Valentine, NE. I don’t think we passed one car on that dreary, something like 300 miles, trip. Never to repeat!!!!!

  2. Craig Neulieb says:

    I am Craig Neulieb from Alta, IA. in the 60s Tillotson built the local Cooperative elevator. It is still in operation as part of Farmers Cooperative in this area.

    My Father and I have a HO model Railroad and are going to build a model of the elevator on our layout. We are looking for any drawings that might be available so we can build our Elevator to proper scale and detail.

    • We hope you’ve been able to use our blog’s search window to find the many posts about the Alta elevator built in 1950. And look for a new post with drawings and a few specs.

Leave a 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