By Ronald Ahrens
We arrived on a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Frontier Cooperative elevator in Bellwood, Neb., knowing a 1981 explosion had taken off the headhouse. By the account of Uncle Tim Tillotson, we were also alerted to the possibility of another explosion there in the late-1950s.
Nevertheless, we expected to see an elevator with a replacement structure at its crown.
We found an impressive complex: mighty, smart-looking, and meticulously maintained. Yet it operates with external legs to serve the huge complex–no headhouse whatsoever. The leg over the main house is mantis-like and a little spooky.
Of course, there was no hint whether the original headhouse was a squared-off rectangle or a curved volume in keeping with the characteristic Tillotson style that was developing after World War Two.
Tillotson Construction Co. built the main house, a 320,000-bushel elevator, in 1950 and followed up with a 340,000-bushel annex in 1954. The main house followed an original plan with eight tanks (silos) of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet high.
There was the typical central driveway, 13 x 17 feet, for unloading trucks.
Other notes in the company record say “5 bin dist. under scale” and “Prov. for hopper scale.” There were 22 bins and a dust bin.
The 1954 annex, also on an original plan, featured 10 tanks of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 130 feet high. It had a basement, 30-inch belt conveyors, and a tripper.
We also found the Tillotson name embossed on the manhole covers of the second annex, which appears to match the first annex in size and capacity. But company records make no mention of this second annex.
Nevertheless, it appears possible to credit Tillotson with an even 1 million bushels of capacity.
A close look at surfaces on the main house shows patchwork that must represent filled holes from the big blowout.
While preparing this post, I phoned Frontier Cooperative branch manager Justin Riha, who knew of this 1981 explosion.
The elevator works fine with the external legs. “I think it’s better,” Riha said.
Overall capacity at the location is 2.4-million bushels, a tidy amount at such a small town.