Photo details of Tillotson’s 300,000-bushel elevator in Hartley, Tex.


However you express it, there’s no smoking at the Hartley elevator.


The metal-clad wooden elevator remains intact in Hartley.



A closer view of the metal-clad wooden elevator at Hartley. Note the modest eaves, which reduced the chance of catching sparks from a passing train.



Detail view of the run that surmounts silos, here bridging from the main house to the storage annex at the Tillotson elevator in Hartley, Tex.

Specs show how Tillotson’s Hartley elevator measured up in 1950

IMG_8944By Ronald Ahrens

The elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co. in Hartley, Tex., fulfilled a crying need for grain handling and storage there in 1950. More capacity would be added, but for the time being this 300,000-bushel elevator was the answer.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Although records say it followed the Bellwood, Neb., plan like Burlington, Colo., which was another of Tillotson’s bountiful 1950 crop of elevators, Bellwood was a single-leg elevator. Hartley and Burlington were twin-leg elevators. We wonder how difficult it was to adapt the standardized design to include two legs.

In the early days, Tillotson’s talented engineer, Wayne Skinner, did the calculations.

In its construction, the Hartley elevator used 2,436 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 20.3 yards of plain concrete for the hoppers.


Access points to the two legs inside the Hartley, Tex., elevator.

Some 131.71 tons of steel (including jack rods) were needed for the job. That translated to 108.14 pounds of steel per cubic yard of concrete.

The 24-inch-thick main slab occupied a space of 66 feet by 72.5 feet for an area of 4,806 square feet, according to Tillotson’s records. We get 4,785 feet from our arithmetic and don’t know how to account for the discrepancy unless the note saying “Act. outside on Ground” means something in this regard.

Below the main slab, the pit reached the depth of 19 feet 0 inches.

IMG_8958Weight of the reinforced concrete came to 5,004 tons. Plain concrete for the hoppers totaled 40.3 tons. Grain filling the tanks, or silos, weighed as much as 9,000 tons.

With another 28 tons of structural steel and machinery, the elevator weighed 14,299 tons. Again, we find a discrepancy, with our calculations showing 14,072 tons.

Bearing pressure on the drawform walls of the silos maxed out at 2.975 tons per square foot.

The Bellwood plan provided for 120-foot-tall silos, but those at Hartley (and Burlington) were 115 feet tall.

The outside of the cupola, or headhouse, was 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 44 feet tall. Like Canyon, with its five-foot-taller silos but lower headhouse, the Hartley elevator still reached 159 feet in overall height.

The legs’ pulley centers were separated by a distance of 168 feet. The boot pulleys were the standard size Tillotson used in 1950. That was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches. The head pulleys, also conforming to the standard of that year, were 72 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches.

The 40-hp Howell motor could turn the head at 42 rpm.IMG_8952

The multi-ply, 360-foot Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6 inches to carry grain from the pit. Like Burlington and Canyon, the cup manufacturer’s theoretical capacity was 7,920 bushels per hour. But of course the leg operated at 80 percent of theoretical, so the actual capacity was 6,350 bushels per hour, requiring 32 hp.

The man lift operated with a 1.5-hp motor. The truck lift in the 13-foot-wide driveway used a robust 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

No special notes attached to the Bellwood plan. Tillotson had a solid design that enabled construction of a mighty elevator in many locations by small crews working around the clock. The one in Hartley keeps doing its job.



In Hartley, Tex., the Tillotson elevator keeps good companions in a big operation


By Ronald Ahrens

The elevator at Bushland was the third of 10 Tillotson jobs I intended to visit in the Texas Panhandle. It was still midmorning when I hightailed it out of there, heading 58 miles north and a little west through the rolling scrub country of Potter, Oldham, and Hartley Counties.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The next destination was Hartley, a town of about 500 people where U.S. 385 meets U.S. 87. Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, built a twin-leg, 300,000-bushel elevator here in 1950.

Like several others that year–Rock Valley, Iowa; Burlington, Colo.; and Canyon, Tex., where I had been at sunrise–Hartley was built on the Bellwood, Neb., plan. This entailed eight tanks, or silos, measuring 20 feet in diameter and here reaching to 115 feet in height. (Bellwood itself had 120-foot silos.)

IMG_8972Schoolchildren were at recess as I drove through side streets looking for a good view of the elevator. 

Arriving on the scene, I found a big operation. Of course I had recognized the Tillotson elevator’s curved headhouse. This elevator, as it turned out, has a substantial storage annex that likely more than doubles capacity. And there is a second concrete elevator onsite.

A pleasant surprise was the metal-clad wooden elevator that pre-dated everything else. Wooden elevators often went up in flames because of grain dust explosions, sparks from passing trains or short circuits. Finding one standing in good condition is a rare event. 


Getting out of the truck with my camera, I chatted a bit with an employee and showed him my grandfather’s name on a manhole cover.

Then I looked around, finding the elevator in pretty nice shape after so many years. A previous logo on the headhouse had been covered up and replaced with simple lettering that said, “Dalhart Consumers, Hartley, Texas.”

My notes show that I also peeked into the office and met an employee named Yvette, who said they store corn, wheat, and milo.

The elevators in Canyon and Bushland, Tex., have more dramatic stories to tell. This one in Hartley merely keeps its head up and goes about its job every day.





Fave photos from elevators in Hereford, Canyon and Bushland, Tex.


In Canyon, Tex., the 1950 Tillotson elevator operated by Consumers Supply Co-op receives the graces at day’s dawn, April 17, 2018.



Consumer Supply Co-op’s grain monster. In case you missed it, the name’s MACK.



The beautiful, classic, curved 1951 Tillotson cupola reaches 152 feet in Hereford.



At 252,000 bushels, Bushland stuck to the ’49 plan perfected at Dike, Iowa

IMG_8889By Ronald Ahrens

The 252,000-bushel Bushland, Tex., elevator that today remains in pristine condition was built by Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, in 1950 and followed the plan for single-leg elevators established the year before at Dike, Iowa.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Notes on the plan specify eight tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter rising to 120 feet in height–certainly the tallest thing in Bushland, an unincorporated town that sits between cropland and rangeland.

Even today Bushland has just 130 people or so, and none paid attention to me as I photographed the elevator from every good angle.

IMG_8895The job 68 years ago required the careful mixing of 2,066 cubic yards of concrete from the sand pile on the site. It would be reinforced with 109.37 tons of steel. At least I think that’s the number in the company records. That line got pinched in the copying process. But 109 tons is consistent with the amount used in other elevators of similar size. The 252,000-bushel elevator built the same year in Pond Creek, Okla.–another on the Dike plan and one of two dozen Tillotson jobs in that bounteous year–used 112.91 tons of steel.

The hoppers required another 40 cubic yards in which no reinforcing steel was used.

The 21-inch-thick main slab covered 60 x 72.5 feet. A note on slab’s area saying “Act. outside on ground” records a total of 4,200 square feet. We get 4,350 square feet when we multiply those numbers. How to account for the discrepancy?

When loaded with up to 7,560 tons of grain, the elevator could achieve a gross weight of 12,880 tons. So there was never a danger of jealous farmers sneaking over at night from Wildorado, down the road to the west, and towing it away on a flatbed.

The cupola, or headhouse, was 24.5 feet wide, 50.25 feet long, and 40 feet high.

With a pit depth of 14 feet 9 inches, there was a distance of 165.25 feet between the leg’s pulley centers.

In the construction record’s Machinery Details section we find a note that says: “LIKE POND CREEK.” That means the boot pulley was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches. The head pulley, as we found in our earlier visit to Canyon, Tex., was the same except for being 1.75 inches wider.

IMG_8908It turned at 42 rpm, cranking the 14-inch, six-ply belt and it’s cups that measured 12 x 6 inches at 8.5 inches o.c. The head drive had a 40-horsepower Howell motor.

Theoretical leg capacity according the cup manufacturer’s rating was 7,920 bushels per hour. But actual capacity being 80 percent of that, the leg delivered 6,340 bushels per hour, demanding only 32 hp of the motor.

The man lift had a 1.5-hp electric motor. The truck lift had a 7.5-hp Ehrsam. Some day, after our road trip series ends, we need to write a post about Jürgen Ehrsam, inventor, who sounds like a fascinating subject.

Tillotson’s Bushland, Tex., elevator glistens with paint. Is that a good thing?


IMG_8912After prowling in and out, up and down, and finding the Ag Producers Co-op elevator at Bushland, Texas, to be spotless and more than serviceable after 68 years, I struggled in the ambitious crosswind and went over the the co-op’s office just to the installation’s north. It’s just north of I-40.

Texas-Okla Logo 04As said before, I had encountered no one. Going through the back door, still, no one. But I went through to the front of the building and saw Bret Brown in his office.

Brown stood up to greet me hear my explanation. I had come to see what Tillotson Construction Co. built here in 1950. The company’s principal, Reginald Tillotson, was my grandfather.

Brown, the co-op’s CFO, wore a short-sleeve plaid shirt. He had a couple of minutes to chat with the intruder.

IMG_8920I remarked on the elevator’s excellent condition and the glistening paint job.

He said the paint was applied after the insurance company issued an imperative to seal cracks and coat the silos and main house.

In fact, he said, it was $160,000 paint job.

Yes, the result is spectacular.

For concrete, though, is paint a good thing? As reader Paul Grage wrote in a comment last week about the elevator in Rockwell City, Iowa, “The elevator is rotten in concrete terms.” Happy news to us is that it remains standing.

“But for how long who knows?” Grage writes. “Another victim of paint.”

There was a reason the builders finished the jobs with whitewash instead of paint.

What’s the difference?

A quick search turns up this definition of whitewash: “A solution of lime and water or of whiting, size, and water, used for painting walls white.”

Porous whitewash allows the concrete to breath. It might also be cheaper than paint. You can mix it onsite, maybe by grinding up Hyundais built in the 1990s. I don’t know. But let’s think about it.

Next in the Tex-Okla Road Trip series: Bushland’s specs.

Tillotson’s Bushland, Tex., elevator was the scene of a scary, non-fatal fall in 1950


Besides yesterday’s story about getting off-level when building the Bushland, Tex., elevator in 1950, the late Niel Lieb supplied another one that illustrates how dangerous elevator construction could be. 

Texas-Okla Logo 04I recalled it during my road trip when approaching the 252,000-bushel Bushland elevator that gleamed in the midmorning Monday sun. A second one on the site looked a little tattered in comparison to the classic Tillotson with its fine curved headhouse.

Lettering on the east side’s upper-middle part proclaimed, “Welcome to Bushland, Home of the Falcons.” The Class of 2010 was responsible.

IMG_8923But the drama of the elevator’s construction might have eluded the Class of 2010.

“Every job had a peculiarity,” Lieb said.

“The guy in Bushland jumped off the top. He started to fall, so he jumped. He jumped out far enough to land on the sand pile. We were probably 40 to 50 feet [above ground on the slipform]. He landed on the side of the sand pile and slid to the bottom.

We said, “How you doing?”

He said, “Oh, I’m fine. I’ll be a little stiff and sore.”

“There were seven guys that I worked with. Baker was one and Bill Russell. All of ’em fell or got killed somewhere along the line.

“When you’re working in the air, you become careless because it’s like walking on the ground, but you’re not walking on the ground.”

IMG_8911Indeed, we can hardly count the human cost to building an elevator, or any tall structure, in the early and middle decades of the 20th century.

Sometime afterward, we figured out more specifics about safety procedures and equipment.

At last I drove onto the grounds. The elevator was open. Chalk up another score for me–the second elevator in a row I could enter and inspect. No one seemed to notice me even though the Ag Producers Co-op office was just to the north.

Admitting myself, I went in and out through open doorways and up and down stairs. Not only was the elevator well painted outside, but it was meticulously clean inside.

Sports arenas and shopping centers go up with much acclaim but sometimes are torn down before 68 years go by. But the Tillotson elevator in Bushland was fit and trim.

As the grandson of builder Reginald Tillotson, I felt pride in his work and gratitude to the owners who have kept it so well.

Tomorrow, a meeting with a co-op executive.


Tillotson’s Bushland, Tex., elevator reveals how ‘every job had a peculiarity’


By Ronald Ahrens

Leaving Canyon, the home of West Texas A&M University, after a cheese omelet at KJ’s coffee shop, I drove north and soon skirted the west-side sprawl of Amarillo, the largest city in the Texas Panhandle. There were housing tracts, car dealerships, and Westgate Mall.

The land was dead flat, the sky blue, and the wind gusted with vehemence.

Texas-Okla Logo 04A few of Amarillo’s 275,000 residents may sometimes think about the importance of grain elevators, but it’s likely many more are preoccupied with the Toyotas and Fords I was seeing on lots along the way and with the Bath & Body Works and Hot Topic shops in Westgate Mall. They can afford to shop here because they work in factories building V-22 Osprey aircraft and, on an atomic reserve northeast of the city, nuclear bombs.

And of course there are cattle to be slaughtered. 

At I-40, I turned west and continued across the plain.

IMG_8923Of course, I was thinking about the late Neil Lieb’s stories. Readers of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators may remember that Lieb tracked us down three and a half years ago and told tales about the jobs he worked, and the people he worked with, when he was with Tillotson Construction.

Company records show the 252,000 Bushland elevator was built in 1950, the same year as Canyon, and it followed the Dike, Iowa, plan from the year before. That means eight tanks measuring 18 feet in diameter and 120 feet high. The 12 x 17-foot driveway had eight bins above. Altogether, there were 20 bins for grain and one dust bin.

When I sighted Bushland, I thought of Lieb’s statement that “every job had a peculiarity.” In this case, he provided an account of the struggle to maintain accuracy during the continuous pour.

“Somewhere between checking the water level when we started and checking it in the middle, the forms became about 3.5 inches off level,” Lieb said.

“That’s because one guy who was running the jacks on one side wasn’t making his rounds as he was supposed to. The guy was fired on the spot.

“Now you had to get the decks level again. When you’re going off-level, you’re going at an angle. So what happened, you got a little swerve in the tanks. It’s only an inch. You can’t see it. The only time is if you go up and down on a hoist. So the bottom and top are not exactly over each other.

“It had no effect. Not enough to be significant. We were about 65 or 70 feet in the air when it happened.”


It might be news to Ag Producers Co-op, which runs this and about two-dozen other Panhandle elevators.

But when I sighted Bushland, the elevator gleamed like nobody’s business in the sun. There were seven narrow, tall windows in the east side of the headhouse. Everything looked impeccable, and indeed this would turn out to be one of the nicest elevators I’d visit on my road trip through the Panhandle and western Oklahoma.

Tomorrow, Niel Lieb’s account of a leap into the sand pile.



The 320,000-bushel Tillotson elevator in Canyon, Tex., followed the Bellwood plan


IMG_8860The year 1950 was a busy one for Tillotson Construction Co.  The Omaha outfit (my grandfather Reginald Tillotson’s company) built 25 grain elevators–an amazing number. They were in Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. The next year they would build one in Missouri.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The Canyon, Texas, elevator operated by Consumer’s Supply Co-Op was built on the same single-leg plan developed for Bellwood, Nebraska, in that year. It incorporated eight tanks, or silos, of 20 feet in diameter and 120 feet in height. Capacity was 320,000 bushels.

Measuring 13 x 17 feet, the driveway was underneath 10 bins. A note in the construction record mentions “5 bin Dist. Under Scale.” In all, there were 22 bins and a dust bin as well. 

IMG_8855While the Bellwood plan was used for five elevators, it’s interesting to note the slight differences in materials used. For example, Canyon took 2,463 cubic yards of reinforced concrete while Burlington, Colorado, also on the Bellwood plan, took 2,436 cubic yards (the exact same amount as the mother elevator in Bellwood and the one in Hartley, Texas, which is coming soon in this series). Rock Valley, Iowa, though, took 2,394 cubic yards.

In all, this reinforced concrete weighed 5,069 tons.

Canyon required another 20.3 cubic yards of plain concrete for hoppers. It weighed 40.3 tons.


Looking up the tracks at Consumer’s Supply Co-Op’s East elevator.

There were 143.3 tons of steel used to reinforce the concrete.

This amount also includes the jack rods used to move the formwork. 

The main slab was 66 x 77.5 feet, for an area (a note says “Act. outside on ground”) of 4,806 square feet.

  • When the tanks were fully loaded, the grain weighed as much as 9,600 tons.
  • Additional structural steel and machinery weighed another 28 tons.
  • This means that the elevator’s gross weigh when loaded was14,964 tons.
  • The pit depth below the main slab was 15 feet and 9 inches.

Up above the main house, the cupola, or headhouse, measured 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 39 feet high. So the structure’s total height was 159 feet. Look closely at the headhouse photo, top of page, and tell us if it doesn’t seem to be smoking some sort of Turkish pipe.

Pulley centers of the leg were 166 feet apart. The boot pulley was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches. The head pulley was shared the first two dimensions but was wider at 3 15/16 inches. It turned at 42 rpm.

The six-ply belt was 14 inches wide, and the cups were 12 inches wide and six inches deep.

IMG_8881Altogether, 34 hp was required to operate the leg; the record says two 40-hp Howell motors were installed. Theoretical capacity of the leg, based on the cup manufacturer’s rating, was 7,920 bushels per hour. But the leg operated at an actual capacity of 80 percent the theoretical capacity, or 6,350 bushels per hour.

The truck lift had a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor, and the conveyor had a 3-hp motor.

In all, it was state-of the art in 1950, and the elevator remains in everyday use now.



The surprise in Canyon, Texas, is how the Tillotson elevator survived a blowout

IMG_8884By Ronald Ahrens

Too many bad things can happen at a grain elevator. For one, construction crews and elevator workers face the risk of falling. For another, grain dust can explode. And it’s even possible for a worker to be trapped in a silo.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Then there’s the problem of blowouts. We have written before on Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators about blowouts.

One had occurred on a Tillotson Construction Co. job, probably in 1955, at Blencoe, Iowa.

And it turned out, during our visit to the 1950 Tillotson elevator run by Consumer’s Supply Co-op in Canyon, Texas, there was the story to tell of a blowout.

Those weren’t just stretch marks on that corner silo. Well, actually, yes, they were. 


As Dewayne Powell explained when he showed me around, the blowout in a single silo had occurred sometime before his tenure, which goes back eight years.

Tillotson Construction Co.’s records specify the bearing pressure of the walls at 3.1 tons per square foot. Somehow, the concrete must have deteriorated, leading to the failure.

The elevator’s importance to the Co-op is underscored by the fact that repairs were made. Powell said Gunite was used. I searched for a definition of Gunite and found this passage from the Shotcrete entry on Wikipedia:


Dewayne Powell leads the way into the elevator’s basement.

“Shotcrete, then known as gunite (/ˈgənīt/), was invented in 1907 by American taxidermist Carl Akeley to repair the crumbling façade of the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago (the old Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition).[1]

“He used the method of blowing dry material out of a hose with compressed air, injecting water at the nozzle as it was released.

“In 1911, he was granted a patent for his inventions, the “cement gun”, the equipment used, and ‘gunite,’ the material that was produced.”

Whatever the term, the repair was nicely done. But Powell said he’d heard stories of chaos the blowout caused. Aside from this disaster, the 68-year-old elevator has held up quite well.