A conversation in Pond Creek, Okla., about the future of concrete elevators

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By Ronald Ahrens

The morning of Thursday, April 19, was calm in more ways than one. The Ford Ranger that had conveyed me from Palm Springs wouldn’t start. I got a jump from AAA and took the truck to Walmart, next-door to my hotel in Enid. With a new battery, it seemed ready to go, so I headed north out of town. My destination was Omaha, but there were two more Tillotson elevators to visit before I left Oklahoma.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I drove for a half-hour before coming to Pond Creek. The town of less than 1,000 people has an impressive complex of three reinforced-concrete grain elevators and additional storage.

Tillotson Construction Co. built here in 1946 and again in 1950. The first was a 100,000-bushel storage job on an original plan. It had an attached driveway, four tanks of 15.5 feet in diameter rising 107 feet from the ground, and a “standard” cupola (according to the company records) that reached 18 feet in height. This elevator is seen at right in the photo at the top of the page. Another elevator, by what builder I don’t know, lurks behind it. 

The second job was a 252,000-bushel elevator on the plan established at Dike, Iowa, in 1946. This time, there were eight tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter rising 120 feet from the ground. The distinguishing feature is Tillotson’s classic curved headhouse. You see this elevator on the left. 

The big one was open, so I helped myself to a tour and found the 68-year-old elevator operational and good condition. The interior is all elegant contours and secret passages. 

No one had noticed me, so I went to the Farmers Grain Co. office and met Jeff Johndrow, the location manager.

“The earthquakes haven’t been kind to the old girls,” Johndrow said, referring to tremors that are widely attributed to fracking in the area.

Then he tempered his remark by saying, “They’re fine–just some circular cracks, good cracks, not bad cracks.”

While the elevators are “very much in service,” he said they’re beyond their rated lives.

I said I wasn’t aware that the builders had established a life rating.

“The insurance companies certainly have an opinion,” he said.

This sobering revelation made me realize just how precarious is the continued operation of concrete elevators. I’d already seen a few discards on my road trip. It leaves one asking: Twenty years from now, how many of them will be in service?

 

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