Conversation with Sherman Johnson, scion of Johnson Construction, of Salina, Kansas

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.


Brad Perry took this photo in Atlanta, Kansas. “I think it’s a Johnson house,” he said. The rounded and stepped headhouse suggests Mayer-Osborn and Tillotson design influences.

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? 

SJ: Superintendent.

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.

11 comments on “Conversation with Sherman Johnson, scion of Johnson Construction, of Salina, Kansas

  1. Marc McClure says:

    very interesting!

  2. Linda Laird says:

    Here’s a couple links to Wyatt Mfg.

    Scroll down to find Wyatt.

    This article mentions making molded manhole covers. Suggest you go to original article since the robot translation to print is hard to read.

  3. Emily Frank says:

    My grandfather worked for Virgil Johnson out of Salina KS, and my grandmother had some good Virgil stories! My grandparents and my mom and her sisters traveled on his jobs but they would move back to Salina between jobs or doing repair work on elevators. Kristen, you and I have e-mailed quite a bit in the past and you even did a small blog on some info I sent about my grandparents. It is so neat for you to speak to one of Virgil’s sons. I will have to share this with my aunts!

  4. Emily Frank says:

    Oh, oh I just read the entire thing and you mentioned my grandparents!!! Love this, love this.

  5. Emily Frank says:

    Sadly my grandma passed away a couple if years ago, but i still have relatives in the area and I will share this with them. This blog made my day!

  6. Teresa Toland says:

    Sherman thanks for thed good words about Dad Darrell Greenlee. He loved working for your Dad. We had great memories of all of us as kids. We need to get together. Brad has my number and email. Your mom and dad were very special to us.

  7. Karen GREENLEE McCombs says:

    My dad was DARRELL GREENLEE and he was a great dad and knew his elevators. Sorry to say both my dad and my mom, Rosina, have passed to that great elevator in the sky. My sisters and I have visited many elevators my dad built. It was exciting to see and talk to people. In Algona, Iowa, one of the guys working at the elevator said his grandpa worked for my dad. My biggest treasure would be a manhole from one of the elevators my dad built. Sadly all the elevators we visited needed them. We visited Ipswich, South Dakota, Algona, Iowa, Ackle, Iowa, Lincoln, Nebraska, Charleston, South Carolina (which has been torn down). And a few others which the names escape me. So exciting to hear things about my dad after all these years.

  8. virgbill55 says:

    I dont remember any of the men that worked on construction. The only thing is typing up over 2000 W2s or W4s

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