By Ronald Ahrens
As I drove east from Booker, Tex., on that peaceful Wednesday morning, there was no suggestion I was in for a shocking surprise.
Following Route 15, I passed through the tiny town of Darrouzett, heading for Follett. This is the last town in the northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle.
Like Booker and Spearman, it was named for a railroad man, Horace Follett, a “locating” engineer. Even Darrouzett was named for a railroad attorney.
From a high point among the land’s gentle undulations, I got a glimpse of the elevator complex in Follett. Looming on the horizon, two elevators faced each other. I would have guessed the Tillotson job of 1945 was the one on the right with the rectangular headhouse. Later in the ’40s, they perfected their signature curved headhouse.
The other elevator with the stepped headhouse was rather mysterious.
Here, it’s necessary to remind you of some basic information. My grandfather on my mother’s side was Reginald O. Tillotson. He and his brother, Joe, took over Tillotson Construction Co. after my great-grandfather, Charles H. Tillotson, died in 1938. They started building concrete elevators, instead of wooden ones, the next year.
Reginald and Joe split up in 1948, and Joe went to Denver, where he established his own company. He built a few elevators before dying in a car accident.
My partner in this blog is Kristen Osborn Cart. Her grandfather, William A. Osborn, became a partner in Mayer-Osborn Construction Co., also of Denver, around that same time. Bill Osborn had worked for Tillotson Construction Co. before starting in business for himself.
We have Tillotson’s construction record, but so far the equivalent from Mayer-Osborn has eluded us. We do know of a few locations where Mayer-Osborn built–for example, Roggen, Colo.; McCook and Maywood, Neb.; Odebolt and Blencoe, Iowa; and Cordell, Okla.
I was unable to guess that here, in the very northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle, I was walking right into what may be a one-of-a-kind pairing.
When I got into town, I poked around the Pryor Avenue site. The two elevators looked to be in nice enough shape, but there was no sign of recent activity. I got my pictures of the Tillotson elevator. Then I marched across the yard to the other elevator, the mysterious and more handsome one with the stepped headhouse.
Much to my surprise, the manhole covers were engraved with Mayer-Osborn’s name. It was like having heard of a grand cathedral in some distant land but arriving there and finding it face-to-face with another great cathedral.
And it made me wonder about something: Had Bill Osborn worked on the Tillotson elevator here in ’45 and made business connections?
I took a photo with my phone and sent it to Kristen right away.