Another look around Wahoo, Neb., yields treasure beyond reinforced concrete

Story by Ronald Ahrens and photos by La Rose Tillotson

The bend on Route 92 as it entered Wahoo, Nebraska, from the east was always welcome. Here, the road dipped down and crossed Sand Creek at the edge of town, then turned into leafy neighborhoods. It was the first shade for us after more than 30 miles under the sun on the flat prairie.

Wahoo was a frequent waypoint when our family visited relatives in David City farther west.

A site of interest in Wahoo was the Saunders County Courthouse, where a torpedo was displayed near the curb. Even when I was eight and nine years old, the torpedo seemed incongruous, being so far from the sea. But we Nebraskans were starved for variety, and leftover munitions from a distant war were deemed tasty morsels.

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Never did it occur to me that the Wahoo grain elevator had been built by my grandfather’s company. We knew he built elevators but assumed they were in far off places like Iowa.

Kristen Cart has already visited Wahoo and written one post.

But there’s new reason to think about the town after Aunt La Rose Tillotson drove there on a recent tour of the countryside. She forwards the pictures you see here.

As a young woman, Aunt La Rose lived in Wahoo for a short time. While going about her daily business, she never gave much thought to the elevator that stands along North Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth.

This isn’t a surprise, as a form of amnesia touched many family members after the family business faded out. Grandfather Reginald died in 1960.

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Here are some particulars of the Wahoo elevator:

Tillotson Construction Company used the same plan as from Imo, Okla., which had also been built in 1950. That meant a 150,000-bushel elevator rose from a 54- by 51-foot slab over a pit nearly 16 feet deep. The drawform walls were 120 feet high, and the cupola topped out after another 26.5 feet.

From atop of the Wahoo elevator, you could probably see all the way to Swedeburg, looking south, and Malmo, looking northwest. (Prague–home of Czech Heritage Days–was just a bit northwest of there.) It’s doubtful, though, you could see as far as Valparaiso, in southwestern Saunders County. Ulysses, way to hell and gone in Butler County, was out of the question.

Some other noteworthy aspects of the Wahoo’s single-leg elevator were its use of 3,056 tons of reinforced concrete and its gross weight, when loaded with as much as 4,500 tons of grain, of 8,216 tons.

I don’t see anything else in the specifications that distinguish the Wahoo elevator all that much from Imo, or for that matter, David City, which was built the next year because whatever Wahoo did had to be done in David City, too.

But no other place was like Wahoo. Wikipedia says the name comes from an Indian word for the shrub Euonymus atropurpureus, which yields arrow wood. But who believes it? I think they’re covering up for the day in 1870 when two large casks of beer fell off the delivery wagon.

Remember these four things about Wahoo:

  1. Wahoo Sam Crawford came from Wahoo, play outfield from 1899 to 1917 for the Reds and Tigers, and still holds the Major League record for most triples (309). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957.
  2. A wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri)  is a sport fish in the tropical oceans, but as far as I can tell it isn’t the official fish of Wahoo. Lake Wanahoo is barren of wahoos.
  3. Wahoo was a long-running gag on Letterman.
  4. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Howard Hanson (b. 1896), three-time Academy Award-winner Darryl F. Zanuck (b. 1902), and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist George Beadle (b. 1903) came from Wahoo.

How many towns of Wahoo’s size–about 4,500 souls today–have produced a Hall of Famer as well as Pulitizer Prize, Academy Award, and Nobel Prize winners?

Beyond all that, Wahoo has a Tillotson elevator.

Vandals strike Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator, leaving the owners with an expensive cleanup

644369_10152681898735294_1745767005_nSometime overnight on Wednesday, May 4, vandals struck the Vinton Street elevator, painting “Dump Trump” graffiti on the south annex’s upper run. The message caused a sensation Thursday morning.

Tillotson Construction Company completed the original 382,880-bushel elevator in 1950. Extensive annexes were later added. We don’t know when operations ceased, but for the last eight years the elevator on five acres of land has been co-owned by Ron Safarik and Richard Brock, who attempted to make a climbing facility comparable to those established at old elevators in Bloomington, Ill., and Oklahoma City.

In 2012, the Vinton Street elevator received national attention after the annexes served as the canvas for a public art project; a nonprofit organization commissioned artists to create themed banners that were draped over the silos.

Reached by phone, Safarik said he and Brock have tried to secure the property, but intruders found a way to pry through and gain access to the top. “I would presume they used the internal ladders that still exist,” he said.

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Photos courtesy of SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures. 

Safarik and Brock will now be stuck with the cleanup bill. Since SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures, the partners’ venture, closed in 2013, the elevator has been a burden, he said.

It has been listed for sale since 2014. A post on SILO’s Facebook page says, “The Silos and the 5 acres of industrial land are for sale through Ben Pearson at World Group Commercial Real Estate. Any climbing related buyer will receive the holds, bolts, and supporting gear for starting up a climbing club or business.”

Safarik said the asking price remains $150,000.

Although he said he hadn’t known much of the elevator’s history, he did pass along a story heard from an elderly man named Otto, who lived on Vinton Street and “had intricate knowledge” of events.

According to Otto, the only death that occurred at the elevator happened on a freezing night in an unspecified year. The victim, an elevator employee, locked himself out of the scale house. As he tried to pry back into it, he jammed his arm and couldn’t pull free. Found dead in the morning, he was surrounded by cigarette butts. With his free hand, he had managed to smoke his remaining cigarettes before he froze.

 

 

 

A reader recalls elevator construction and the recent explosion in Hinton, Iowa

By Michael Pelelo

I was born in 1954, the same year the Tillotson headhouse was slipped in Hinton, Iowa. I can see it from my late parents’ farm south of Merrill, Iowa, where I grew up. I knew several local farmers who worked that slip in ’54.

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The Hinton elevator in July 2015. Photos by Kristen Cart.

Within the last month or so, there was an explosion in that workhouse and it looks like the tank walls were breached, so it will probably have to come down. I spent many days in the 70s and 80s working in that complex and remember the old layout quite well.

In the 70s, as a young man, I became a millwright and worked for an outfit out of Oyens, Iowa, that built jump-form silos. Later I worked for D&B Construction out of Sioux City and helped slip workhouses in Oyens and Maurice, Iowa, and the set of tanks to the south of the Tillotson workhouse in Hinton.

I have probably been in every elevator in northwest Iowa at one point or another, and I worked as a millwright out of the sheet metal local, too. A lot of the guys who worked for Dad Sherrill and D&B Construction got their start at Younglove Construction out of Sioux City, which is still slipping elevators today after over a hundred years.

I am now retired and just this afternoon went to look at a pair of very large tanks that are being jump-formed in Sloan, Iowa, by Hoffman Construction. That outfit goes back a long way slipping and jump-forming elevators.

Way back when I was doing that type of work, old guys would come around every day and gawk at what was going on. Now, I am one of the old guys gawking!

* * *

DSC_0455My days in construction are ones I remember fondly, even though the work was hard and dangerous and the hours were long.

One of the companies I worked for was involved in a three-fatality accident at the Ritter, Iowa, Co-op in 1976. We were building 24-foot and 30-foot jump-form silos all up and down the Floyd Valley. I was working on the 24-foot forms in Sheldon, Iowa, south of Ritter at the time.

The March 17 explosion at Hinton was in the main workhouse, which is the Tillotson structure built in 1954.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I was very involved with work on several structures in that complex with two different construction companies. Much has been added since I last worked around there. From pictures in the media, it appears that at least one or more of the tanks in the Tillotson structure have ruptured, as I can see grain spilling out in some photos.

A model Tillotson grain elevator is part of Lauritzen’s Model Railroad Garden

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Photo courtesy of Lauritzen Gardens

We were happily surprised to hear from Rosemary Lebeda, director of development at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, which is located along the Missouri River at 100 Bancroft St. She found her way to Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators when searching for information about Tillotson Construction Company’s Vinton Street elevator. She wrote:

“I thought you might like to know that a model of the grain elevators is a part of our Model Railroad Garden. This particular garden includes miniature sculptures of historical buildings in Omaha built from natural materials. They are on display throughout the summer and then they are brought inside and displayed as part of our Poinsettia show.

“Families really enjoy seeing the buildings, and the grain elevators are easy to spot. I drive by them almost every day! It was neat to discover your historical page on the web and learn more about the company that built them.

“The Garden is fairly new in comparison to other community attractions such as the zoo or museums. The visitors center opened in 2001 and before that it was pretty much open space.

“Lauritzen Gardens is uniquely positioned as the region’s premier botanical center and garden resource. Situated on 100 acres of lush grounds, the garden exemplifies visionary efforts to provide a quiet, tranquil and serene setting for the study, preservation, and pure enjoyment of some of the region’s most precious resources and flora. Beginning with a grassroots effort to build a garden for the Omaha community, the garden has quickly become a regional destination and has substantiated its position as a major Omaha-area attraction.

“Today, more than twenty themed gardens invite guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Nebraska landscape. At Lauritzen Gardens, a diverse palette of plant life combines with fine art, architectural components and water features to create an incredible sensory experience. The grounds change with the seasons and are open year-round for exploration and enjoyment.

“In addition to horticultural displays that inspire, events that entertain and educational programs that cultivate minds of all ages, the garden works to conserve the endangered plants of the Great Plains and to advance the understanding and stewardship of the region’s biological diversity.”

 

 

 

The Atlanta, Kan., elevator suggests our grandfathers’ signature designs

 

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Photo by Brad Perry

Editor’s note: Contributor Brad Perry sent this photo of Valley Coop’s elevator in Atlanta, Kan. The rounded, stepped headhouse suggests Tillotson and Mayer-Osborn design influences. A call to the elevator put us in touch with Katherine Grow, who runs it with her husband Darren.

“I think it’s a Johnson house. I remember when they built it. All the men in the community helped when they started pouring. Markle was the head of the crew that did it. I think it was ’58 or ’59 when it was constructed. In fact, it’s better designed than a lot of places. We added an outside leg. We used to load out on the rail but don’t any more. We’ve done maintenance and made safety updates. We’ve had it painted once. We were told it is the kind of concrete that has to be kept painted. It’s easy to work with, the way it’s put together with the inside leg. We’ve been pleased with it. I was a teenager or preteen when they built it. Once started, they kept pouring. With the lights at night, it reminded you of when you see a riverboat all lit up going down the river. It was cool. When we built this other bin and they could do it in sections, it was kind of different. They just pour so much and go round and round with a little cart, and come night, why, they’d quit and go home.”

Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators mourns the passing of contributor Neil A. Lieb

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell .

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell .

We have learned with regret of the recent passing of our contributor Neil A. Lieb. His son Neil, Jr. sent an email on Sunday, Oct. 25, and it includes these details.

At about 10 a.m., Saturday morning, my father Neil Lieb passed away.

He recently battled a case of pneumonia and although it appeared he was able to recover, it probably weakened his body beyond repair. While we won’t know exactly what caused his death, the doctors we spoke with said he may have been suffering over the last few days from a leaking heart valve which manifested itself as severe back pain. 

unnamed-1As you may know, he battled many illnesses later in life including COPD, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes to name a few. He was a such strong fighter it seemed like he would live to 100 and beyond…but alas it was not in the cards.

After losing his wife and the love of his life just over three years ago, he was never quite the same. I’m sure he is happy now that he is reunited with his bride of 59 years. 

The story of how Neil met his wife Jolene while on the job for Tillotson Construction Company is documented in this blog.
Neil first contacted us in July 2014:

My name is Neil A. (Anderson) Lieb. I graduated from Pocahontas High School in May of 1949. I worked on the original concrete elevator from June until its completion. I also worked on the one built in Clare the same summer. I continued to work for Tillotson Construction Company until August of 1951.

Neil Lieb later in life While employed by Tillotson I helped build similar structures in Bushland and Cannon, Texas; Alto and West Bend, Iowa: and Marshall, Missouri. I am currently working on my autobiography and would like to have some data on these structures (capacity, specifications, etc.). 

The message led to several enjoyable hours of phone conversations with Neil and his supplying dozens of photos from Tillotson jobs. He said that he didn’t take the photos and didn’t know who did, but as far as we were concerned, it was no matter because we had a new wealth of documentary details.

We salute Neil Lieb for his great contribution to our blog and extend our condolences to his family.