Former Kingfisher, Okla., GM Bob Case recalls elevator fixes after his start at the co-op in 1967

Kingfisher overview 01

Bob Case retired as general manager of the Kingfisher Cooperative on Jan. 1, 1991 and hasn’t been back. But a telephone conversation proved he still has a good sense of the business.

We know Bob through his late-wife Velma’s fine history of the Kingfisher operation. They came to Kingfisher in 1967. By that time, the cooperative had a long history and Bob already had significant experience running things.

“I started out with management in Red Rock when I was 25 years old,” he says. “I was the youngest co-op manager in Oklahoma. They didn’t have people 25 years old managing cooperatives.”

Co-op Way 08The Cases went from Red Rock to Rogers, Ark., to run a poultry cooperative that was in ruinous competition with Tyson. A year later they moved to McPherson, Kan. The large co-op there had three different locations with a grocery market, grain elevator and mill, and large petroleum operation–the largest in Kansas, he recalls.

With Bob’s parents in their 80s, he wanted to get back to Oklahoma. The Kingfisher job came up, and the co-op board was ready to hire him on the spot. The co-op was “about to go under” after three years of losses. He took a little pause during the interview to let things cool off.

“I went outside for about 20 minutes. When I came back, they asked,  ‘Would it be all right to have a used pickup to drive instead of a new one?'” This reduction of the offer didn’t stop him from accepting the job.

“The first full year, we made money. I built a spirit within the community to make them realize they had to work together to get things done.” Bob instilled the same spirit into the employees. They wore uniforms. The facilities received new paint.

There were two grain elevators. The south elevator, which we take to be the 250,000-bushel Tillotson house erected in 1946, was seamed in three locations where the continuous pour had evidently stopped, and of course there were leaks. To fund construction of this elevator, the co-op had reincorporated for $130,000. Then the existing 34,000-bushel elevator was knocked down.

“The old elevator was wearing out,” Velma writes in her 50-year history of the Kingfisher Cooperative Elevator Association published in 1984. “It had started leaning badly, making it necessary to fill the bins carefully and to distribute the weight evenly. Otherwise the cups would bind, and the cantankerous old machinery would refuse to budge.”

One of Bob’s first matters was to fix the big concrete elevator. “We had a company come in and go around and seal those places. I don’t recall what it was. It probably would be Gunite. The biggest problem was, they had that leakage of course, but also a manager who allowed wet grain to come into that elevator.” Instead of moisture content below 13 percent, Bob guesses it was more like 15 percent. “That’s going to spoil every time. It was very damaging and expensive to get rid of all that.” Greater care was used from then on.

“We tried to keep them running in good shape all the time. As we expanded we took in the flour mill that was just north of us.” The larger elevator not only provided the most storage but also handled grain faster. The first elevator, which wasn’t used as much afterward, was reserved for grains other than wheat.

While Bob was immersed in business, Velma wrote for the newspaper in Kingfisher. Her popular, regular features included a cook’s page and a long series of interviews with people 90 years old and up. She also taught music at a Catholic school.  

The Kingfisher Co-op grew and expanded, becoming the largest fertilizer dealer and leading supplier of agricultural chemicals in Oklahoma, Bob recalls. All this volume of business led to its becoming one of the largest cooperatives in the state.

“I had made a prediction,” Bob says. “We’ve got to become larger to become competitive. We would have five to six major cooperatives in state of Oklahoma.”

And in fact, he sees fewer and fewer cooperatives all the time–and they’re regionalized. The collapse of Farmland Industries in 2002 “destroyed a lot of smaller and even larger ones that were invested them.”

Bob lost Velma to a heart attack on June 29. He is 90 years old and, as he says, “still active.” On Thanksgiving he hosted 23 people, providing a “huge ham and turkey.” Family support has sustained him, he says. “They’ve been very comforting to me.”

An old letter reveals some details about the Tillotsons’ early days in wooden elevators

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

A letter from my grandmother Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson reveals some details about the early nomadic life of my grandfather Reginald Oscar Tillotson. As we have documented in this blog, Charles H. Tillotson (seen in the photo above), who was Reginald’s father, built wooden elevators.

When Charles H. died in 1938, Reginald and his brother Joe took the helm of the family’s construction company and learned how to build elevators by slip-forming concrete. That positioned Tillotson Construction Company to advance as the new method served to meet demand for greater storage capacity at rural cooperatives.

My grandmother’s missive of Oct. 6, 1978 gives a few details of those early days.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938“When they moved from place to place with the construction company they had many funny places for a home. Your grandfather moved ten times one school term. They built cribbed elevators during those days. This was made by placing a two by four on a two by four to build the walls for the outside and to make the bins. The fields of corn and grain were used by the farmers so they had no great need for storage or grain elevators. So many jobs were to add on to bins or repair them. This made small jobs and many changes in places to live.

“One time they lived in a school house. Many times when it was a small job they lived in the elevator office. During the cold weather they got to live in parts of others’ homes and tried not to have to move. Construction those days was almost nil during the cold weather. They wished many times they were farmers when they had big snow storms.

“After his grade school days they settled in Omaha. Reginald worked in stores. His recreation was sports which I mention (tennis, baseball, football).”

Uniqeness in an early Cargill elevator in northeastern South Dakota

Early Cargill 02

Brad Perry shares another photo of an early Cargill elevator, this one at Athol, S.D.

Athol and yesterday’s Ashton are twin towns in Spink County, a ways south of Aberdeen. Together they must have about 180 people.

We hope those people appreciate the uniqueness of their elevators.

An early Cargill country elevator complex at Ashton, S.D.

Early Cargill 01

Brad Perry shares another photo of an early Cargill elevator, this one at Ashton, S.D. As the Dakota Territory surrendered its prairie to agriculture in the 1880s, grain traders like Cargill expanded north and west. The initial heavy harvests from the rich earth raised demand for storage.

 

 

The trading partnership of Bagley & Cargill in South Dakota

Bagley

Our friend, Brad Perry, saw the recent posts about Cargill history and was prompted to send some of his photos.

“The Bagley name still shows up in South Dakota along U.S. 12,” Perry notes. This elevator turns up in an online source that says the location is Andover, just east of Aberdeen.

“George C[olt]. Bagley was a member of a grain-trading family in eastern Wisconsin,” Wayne G. Broehl, Jr. writes in his massive history of Cargill. 

In the early 1880s, Wisconsin farmers were moving out of wheat and into livestock, so Bagley betook himself to South Dakota and partnered with Sylvester Cargill, one of the five Cargill brothers.

Broehl continues:

Most of the Bagley & Cargill operations were in that part of the Dakota territory that later became the northeastern section of South Dakota. Similar to Jim Cargill’s larger-capacity operations in the Red River Valley, the Bagley & Cargill’s 13 structures at the firms 10 locations were more substantial (although only one was classified as an elevator.) This elevator, at Aberdeen, had a capacity of 25,000 bushels; the Andover warehouse had the same; the Groton operation had an 18,000-bushel capacity and the Bath warehouse, 15,000.

An extensive biography of Bagley says the company concentrated on towns along the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

The partnership lasted “only a short time.” Bagley’s wife, Cornelia, would later recall, “Ves Cargill [Sylvester] was a partner but George could not put up with his suspicion of all deals and bought him out.”

 

One of Cargill’s early concrete elevators found in southern Minnestota

Elmore

Our friend, Brad Perry, saw the recent posts about Cargill history and was prompted to send some of his photos.

Here he shows us one of Cargill’s early concrete elevators. It’s located in Elmore, Minn., a tiny town in Faribault County, in the south-central part of the state right on the Iowa line.

As railroads pushed west in the 1870s, Will Cargill expanded his grain storage along the lines through northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.

And as the era of reinforced-concrete elevators unfolded, Cargill’s successors continued building.

We don’t know a thing about this elevator’s dimensions or who might have built it, but how impressive is the wooden elevator on the right? It stands almost shoulder to shoulder with the more modern concrete one. 

American Colossus, the blog, recounts a century of early grain elevators

Screen shot 2018-08-20 at 10.11.43 AM

By Ronald Ahrens

One thing leads to another, and somehow we found ourselves looking at someone else’s blog about grain elevators. “This blog hosts information about American Colossus: The Grain Elevator 1843 to 1943, written by William J. Brown and published by Colossal Books in February 2009,” says the blog’s introduction.

Then Brown generously includes the introduction to the book. Among other things, it mentions the work of Barbara and Bruce Selyem:

Brown writes: “One of the striking things about Barbara and Bruce Selyem’s The Legacy of Country Elevators: A Photo Essay, Kansas History, Spring/Summer 2000, is that it includes so many pictures that show traditional country elevators built out of wood standing next to modern country elevators built of reinforced concrete. The latter are often twice the height of the former and distinctly ‘urban’ in character.”

Screen shot 2018-08-20 at 10.12.47 AM

There’s also a citation for “Concrete Elevators,” a 1913 article by Barney I. Weller (from which we took screenshots). The abstract, which is the first paragraph of Weller’s article, says:

“Elevators as a means of housing and handling grain did not make their appearance until the latter part of the last century. The first real elevator of which there is any record is the ‘cribbed’ wood type and there are still a good many of these elevators in existence. This type is interesting when it is considered that at one time an elevator of nearly 4,000,000-bushels capacity was erected complete, and almost totally filled with grain in a period of forty-four days. Of course, lumber was plentiful, no expense was spared and no restrictions were put on the builder. As the price of lumber advanced it became necessary to look for other material; the elevator operator and owner seeking a material which would lower appreciably the very high insurance rate on wood.”

Thanks to Google Books, we find the entire article by using this link.