We were happy to be able to give Sherman Johnson a call the other day. Sherman, a flooring contractor in Shawnee, Kansas, is one of Virgil Johnson’s six sons. Johnson Construction, Virgil’s contracting firm, operated out of Salina, Kansas, and built a whole lot of elevators. We have speculated about the existence of a strong link, perhaps a common architectural designer, between Johnson Construction and Mayer-Osborn Construction. Johnson Construction sometimes acted in partnership with Rex Bratcher, and we know something about Johnson & Sampson. The design themes spread through those channels.
Sherman was born in 1945 and went to elevator construction sites as a kid. “I remember going to Texas and Oklahoma. We lived in Salina, but most of the jobs were in Oklahoma and Texas, in the Panhandle of Nebraska, and in Iowa.”
We had many other questions for Sherman, and he tried to help as much as possible. One thing he seemed pretty certain of was that Virgil talked about Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha. “I heard my dad talking about them!” he said. “My father, he worked for Tillotson, I think. I don’t know for sure. I heard the name Tillotson, Chalmers and Borton, people like that.”
Kristen Cart: Do you remember being on any job sites when you were a kid?
Sherman Johnson: Oh, yeah.
KC: Are there any memories you’d like to share?
SJ: Oh, like I said, I was just a kid. I remember going to Texas and Oklahoma–Newkirk (Okla.) and Blackwell and Conlon, Texas.
Ronald Ahrens: How long was Johnson Construction active?
SJ: As near as I can tell, at first it was my father and my uncles. And then Rex Bratcher was his partner for a while.
KC: The Sampsons were your uncles?
SJ: My dad’s wife’s brothers, Darwin and Sherman. I’m named after one.
RA: Do you remember the name Darrell Greenlee?
SJ: Darrell and Rosina. They were very, very nice people, great people. They had six girls.
RA: He was a foreman for your dad’s construction company, right?
RA: Can you characterize him?
SJ: In the summertime I had to work for him, and he worked me pretty hard. He was a good guy: a hard worker, a smart guy. We’d go out in the summertime, I don’t remember what the jobs were, they had me doing all the grunt work. I guess that’s why I’m not a contractor.
KC: My dad described installing rebar.
SJ: Laying it and tying it. And it seemed like you always had a shovel in your hand doing something.
KC: We had comments from Emily Frank, whose grandparents were Darrell and Rosina.
SJ: He built an elevator in Rushville, Illinois, and he retired there. If she’s still alive, she’s there. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not.
Editors’ note: Here is the link to Rosina’s obituary.
KC: A couple of jobs, I’m going to ask if they’re familiar. Grand Island?
SJ: I don’t know.
KC: Atlanta, Kansas?
SJ: That rings a bell but I wouldn’t tell you that we did.
KC: One of the things we do is visit the elevators, and right on the manhole covers is the name of the company.
SJ: Oh, yeah. They used to make those at Wyatt Manufacturing in Salina. There was a foundry for a long time.