Storage and more storage at the sprawling complex in Sunray, Tex.


By Ronald Ahrens

The next stop on my road trip was Sunray, Tex., which I reached from Dalhart by minor roads through the cotton and grain fields. It was a warm afternoon and very windy, and I had a pleasant drive going east, away from the sun.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I had already heard about Sunray as a key location in the Ag Producers Co-op network.

And I knew Sunray was in the construction records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha.

What I didn’t know is that Tillotson only built a storage annex–not the main elevator–at Sunray. This occurred in 1950 or 1951. The record is smudged on that line, but I think it says 1951. Sunray is placed with other 1951 jobs. At the same time, Tillotson was building in Malta Bend, Mo.; Greenwood and David City, Neb.; and Hereford, Tex., which I had visited at the beginning of the trip.

The storage annex was a big one: 550,000-bushel capacity. There were 14 tanks, or silos, of 20 feet in diameter reaching 120 feet in height. A note mentions a full basement.

The job demanded 3,297 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 196.39 tons of reinforcing steel. Both figures significantly exceed the amounts needed for the 250,000- to 300,000-bushel elevators that Tillotson built.

The 24-inch slab for these 14 tanks was 56 x 148 feet and the main slab area is listed at 7,880 square feet.

All this reinforced concrete weighed 6,790 tons, and the annex’s gross weight when loaded was as much as 15,048 tons.

IMG_9033Up in the run, a conveyor belt turned on two pulleys, one being 16 x 32 inches and the other being 18 x 32 inches. The pulley turned at 127 rpm, so the 30-inch, four-ply belt moved at the rate of 600 feet per minute.

What I found was not one but two annexes by the elevator; both had 14 tanks, and the manhole covers said Tillotson Construction Co. Sunray appears nowhere else in the records, so it’s impossible to say for sure that Tillotson built identical, twin storage annexes.

However it went down, Tillotson contributed substantially to the sprawling elevator and storage complex at Sunray.

Trying to trace the sweep of Tillotson’s hand in Dalhart, Tex.

By Ronald Ahrens

IMG_9022Tillotson Construction Co. had yet to perfect its signature style of the curved headhouse when it first built in Dalhart in 1947.

Before the late 1940s the headhouses were rectangular with a sort of molding, of concrete, extending up the full height at each corner. 

In ’47, Tillotson built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg elevator along the busy railroad tracks of this market center, the seat of Dallam County.

In specifications it adhered to a unique plan with four tanks, or silos, each measuring 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height. There were eight bins. The attached driveway was 13 x 16 feet.

The surprise is that Tillotson built a 98,000-storage annex in the very same year. Notes in the company records show two tanks of 25 feet in diameter reaching a height of 120 feet.

A further note says “Direct spouts from elev.–Gravity flow to Elev. Pit. Ring footing 3 bins.”

When I visited last month, I hadn’t realized there were two elevators. Maybe I missed something. I think I paid a call to the 1949 job.

Here’s what Uncle Chuck contributes: “I remember Dad having to make a number of trips to Dalhart, but if the annex was finished in ’47, like you say, then he must have been there to close out and inspect the finished project.

“My recollection was that the job was either finished or in the final punch-list stage. But like you on your trip, we had visited a bunch of jobs or prospective jobs before we got to Dalhart.

“Also, my young mind in those days wasn’t necessarily concentrated on the job status in each stop but probably more interested in the secretarial staff!”

At last he reveals the truth!

Except for a railroad employee familiar from down the road in Hartley, no staff–and especially no secretaries–could be located.

Looking through the scale-house window, I saw a plate of uneaten food and an open bag of chips on the counter. Yes, another mystery.

I would leave Dalhart with more questions than before my arrival. 

Onward to Dalhart, Tex., and memories of a wild ride through New Mexico in 1948

IMG_8992After departing Hartley, my next stop, just 15 miles northwest on U.S. 87/385, was Dalhart, a market town with brick streets in the business district and, along the railroad tracks, a whole lot of buildings by Tillotson Construction Co. Dalhart is so remote in the Texas Panhandle that six other state capitals are closer than the Texas capital of Austin. For example, it’s 28 miles shorter distance to Lincoln, Neb., than to Austin.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Mention of Dalhart got my uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, reminiscing about his experience with my grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson. Perhaps from the following anecdotes we understand why Reginald started using light aircraft for his business travels.

Uncle Chuck writes:

Remembering Dalhart brings back memories of one of Dad’s business trips where I had been brought along to help drive (12 years old). I believe this one was during the winter of ’47 or ’48, and Dad was making a big business loop (similar to yours only in reverse) out of Omaha, down through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and then back up through New Mexico, Colorado, and western Nebraska.

IMG_9009Anyway, on that trip, it was getting close to sunset as we approached Dalhart, so Dad had me stop in Amarillo where he secured a hotel room.

I will never forget the night in that godforsaken place. The hotel was not insulated nor fully sealed from the winter wind, and I practically froze to death in that cold room with the wind whistling through the cracks in the wall.

I was still frozen the next morning when we headed out to Dalhart, glad the car had a good heater.

Another memorable thing about that trip was what happened after we left Dalhart. We went north up through New Mexico to our 640-acre ranch in Cebolla. Dad had recently purchased this section at the encouragement of one of his best superintendents, Francis Dawson, who lived on a big parcel not too far west from our place.

Ours didn’t have running water, heat, or utilities. After we got there Dad decided to go out to Francis’s where we could stay overnight. The problem was that most of the road to his home was very poorly graveled. It was more like a pathway. IMG_9019

I was driving the car, but when we got to an area that was somewhat of a bog, Dad took over the wheel to show me how to drive through the mud. Well, it wasn’t very long after that when he got the car high-centered, tore a hole in the oil pan, and lost all the oil. Yet he kept his foot on the gas until we were stuck dead still; then the engine got so hot, it threw a rod.

We had to slog on foot through the mud to Dawson’s house. We arrived by nightfall. The next morning one of Francis’s hired hands got the tractor, fetched the car, and dragged it into the tiny little town of Cebolla (35 miles south of the Colorado border).

As you can imagine, there was no mechanic nor any repair facility. The closest one was well to the south in Espanola. So Dad called around to the various mechanical shops there until he found someone (lucky) that could repair the engine of the fairly new ’48 Chrysler four-door sedan.

Two days later we got under way again, and amazingly the car ran like it had never been through a torture chamber.

All of that trip transpired during my high school winter break and as I recall I only lost a couple of days of the next semester.

A trip I’ll never forget, in the spring of ’49 with me again subbing as a driver, Dad again high-centered a brand-new ’49 Ford and burned up the engine.

He had a thing about willing the car to go forward even though it was hung up with no wheels touching earth.

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.