By Ronald Ahrens
I have to say it was something of a thrill to see the Tillotson elevator at work in Booker, Tex. My grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson, was 37 years old when his company built it. He would be so pleased about its continued operation, and the modifications and markings, in the crazy far-off future of 2018.
Long ago, most people stopped staring in wonder at these towering grain elevators. As they proliferated, elevators became almost invisible. We stare at our phones now, even while driving. On roads as straight as Route 15 leading into Booker, that’s not much of a trick.
If anything, people use the elevators as navigational points and hardly give them another thought.
It should be remarked that a crew from Tillotson Construction Co. strove mightily, risking their lives, to put up this elevator in 1945. We wish we knew the names of those men. We hope to find more records.
When this single-leg, 216,000-bushel elevator went up over a period of about 10 weeks, it enhanced the skyline of the northeast Texas Panhandle, being one of the first of its type. We don’t know the dates into which that 10-week period fell, but all this happened as the United States was wrapping up the war in the Pacific. Labor was scarce; materials–especially steel–were just becoming available.
Booker followed the plan established for Medford, Okla., in 1941. This entailed a 21-inch-thick slab over a pit 13 feet 9 inches deep.
The tanks, or silos, rose 120 feet. Unlike elevators soon to come, they were 15.5 feet in diameter (if indeed they followed the Medford plan). Elevators to come would have silos of 20 feet in diameter.
This behemoth consumed 1,875 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, another 20 cubic yards of plain concrete for the hoppers, and 83.25 tons of reinforcing steel.
It’s interesting to note the company records include costs for 10 of the first 16 elevators that Tillotson built. Alas, Booker, which is among them, is in a group of five elevators for which these figures are omitted. A note in that space says “Not Completed 10-10-46.”
What we can say is that in ’45 Tillotson completed similar elevators in Burlington and Cherokee, Okla. Burlington’s total cost, less commission, was $69,819.15. Cherokee was slightly more expensive: $73,973.90.
In that year, the difference between them of $4,154.75 represented a lot of dough.
Before the auto industry suspended production of passenger cars, switching to war production, a ’42 Chrysler New Yorker eight-passenger limousine set you back all of $3,065. The U.S. Census Bureau says in 1940 the average price of a house in Texas was $17,600. One can imagine a lower figure for the Panhandle with its one-dimensional economy and sparse population.
Labor rates of 75 cents per hour and $1.25 for overtime at Cherokee more than doubled the 30 to 35 cents per hour Tillotson was paying on jobs undertaken from 1939 to through 1941. Overtime rates reached a lofty 60 cents per hour.
Alas, even though a line item for costs appears on subsequent pages of the records, the totals are only recorded through 1946.
I was a concrete elevator, coal silo, feed mill, petfood plant, etc., builder for 28 years with over 200 slips in my portfolio. Your comment about a 10 week build cycle catches me by surprise. How do you know the cycle was 10 weeks. Is that period from start to completion? If yes, the industry has lost some key efficiencies over time. I look forward to a detailed discussion about Tillotson build schedules and task durations.
I was just talking to one of my Tillotson uncles about this last week and he thought 10 weeks was about right. It would be great if we could come up with more documentation about this question.
Mr. Ahrens, I have enjoyed your articles of Booker’s Elevator, sent to us through a Farmer’s Daughter, Cindy Fluitt. I regret that you did not come through the office so I could meet you in person when you visited the elevator. I have been employed by this company for 35 years and have loved getting to know all the farmers that own this local Co-op. Thank you for the history lessons.