Tillotson’s design plans consolidated the trends in elevator form and function

Photo by Gary Rich

Photo by Gary Rich

Story by Kristen Cart

The concrete elevator construction records of the Tillotson Construction Company display data in columns, each column headed with the location of the project, and the date it was built. Specifications follow. Above the header is the name of the plan used to build the elevator. A short description accompanies the plan name.

For instance, in 1955, the Boyden, Iowa, elevator was built using the Palmer, Iowa, plan of 1950, with eight bins, each being 18 feet in diameter and 117 feet high. The driveway measured 13×17 feet.

You might discover, on review, how many of each elevator type were built based upon the plan names. This exercise will show us how the elevator plans evolved, and which were successful over the years of the elevator boom. Over the next few posts, I will attempt to spot trends over the span of our records, starting at the beginning. The elevators will be referenced by their locations.


Richland, Neb.: Front Street, looking east from about Tilden Street, taken on 21 October 2013, by Ammodramus via Wikipedia Commons

Goltry plan:

Goltry, the first elevator of its type, was built with a center drive and four 12-foot-diameter tanks. The Goltry plan specified an elevator in the 60,000-bushel class, the smallest Tillotson built:

Goltry, Okla. (1939); Newkirk, Okla. (1940); Douglas, Okla. (1941); Wellsburg, Iowa (revised plan, 1946); Polk, Neb. (1948–“Wellsburg plan” was another heading used for this elevator, just to make it confusing); and Richland, Neb. (1948).

From the photographs we were able to find, this elevator type was a small, four-square design with a rectilinear headhouse. Several of the type were still standing in recent photographs.

Medford Plan:

Medford 01Medford, the first elevator of its type, was built with a center drive, a cross work room, and 22 tanks of 15 1/2 feet in diameter. These old elevators had rectilinear headhouses, a feature that was later abandoned in favor of a rounded design. The plan represented a big jump in size from Goltry, having a 212,000-bushel capacity. Later, a revised Medford plan had a capacity of 140,000 bushels, and an expanded plan pushed the capacity to 240,000 bushels:

Medford, Okla. (1941); Thomas, Okla. (1941); Burlington, Okla. (revised plan, 1945); Cherokee, Okla. (revised plan, “like Burlington,” 1945); Lamont, Okla. (revised plan, 1945); Blackwell, Okla. (revised plan “like Lamont,” 1945); Booker, Tex. (revised plan, 1945); Follett, Tex (revised plan, 1945); Elkhart, Kan. (revised plan, 1946); Kingfisher, Okla. (expanded plan, later designated the Kingfisher plan, 1946); Thomas, Okla. (expanded plan, “similar to Kingfisher,” 1946); Ensign, Kan. (expanded plan, “similar to Kingfisher,” 1946); Manchester, Okla. (revised plan, later designated the Manchester plan, 1948); Montezuma, Kan. (1948)

The two daughters of the Medford plan, Manchester and Kingfisher, follow:

Manchester Plan:

Medford 02Manchester, Okla. (1948); Rolla, Kan. (“like Manchester,” 1948)

Kingfisher Plan:

Hooker, Okla. (1949)

More analysis is needed to determine exactly when the transition to a rounded headhouse occurred–but we think it did occur sometime after the Manchester plan was first designated as such, unless some of these elevators were modified at a later date.

What is clear from photos of Goltry and Medford plan elevators is that the rounded headhouse design was not used in Tillotson’s earliest elevators, and was likely adopted sometime in 1948–both plans made the transition in that year. Other details are bound to emerge as we study the other elevator plan types as they entered the Tillotson Company’s repertoire.




Christmas ideas for an elevator enthusiast

DSC_0075Story and photo by Kristen Cart

Our good friend Linda Laird shares our interest in American grain elevators and has devoted much of her time to documenting these historic landmarks of the plains. I purchased her book some time ago and found it very enlightening. She did a terrific job. This book is on my short list of recommendations for Christmas, if you have an elevator lover on your list.

The American Grain Elevator

Another good friend and fine photographer Bruce Selyem, and his wife and excellent writer Barbara Selyem, have published several books on the subject of grain elevators, and they also publish an annual grain elevator calendar. Last time I checked they still had a few for sale. They also have fine prints for sale if you find an image of an elevator you can’t live without. I spend time on their site while planning elevator trips because of their extensive coverage of elevators all over the country and in Canada.

Grain Elevator Photos

Lastly, it is always a good idea to visit Gary Rich’s elevator photo pages to see his latest elevator photography. He recently finished a trip to Oklahoma, so I expect to see new images from there soon. He says he loves taking pictures in the winter sunshine, which is the perfect illumination for his subjects.

Gary Rich Grain Elevators

Enjoy the season!

Despite ADM’s ‘No Admittance,’ the mystery of Moscow is solved

Elkhart 189 copy

Story and photos by Gary Rich

I spent a couple days during October 2012 photographing grain elevators in southwestern Kansas. Arriving in tiny Moscow, Kan., I saw a concrete elevator with a curved headhouse and had a hunch it was built by Tillotson Construction Company.

My problem was that it was operated by Archer Daniels Midland. ADM has a strict policy of not allowing anyone on their property. I went inside and had a conservation with the elevator manager. I didn’t have any hope getting into the elevator. He told me that it was built by Chalmers & Borton. I knew this was not the case, since Chalmers & Borton never built an elevator with a curved headhouse. He told me I could take all the photos I wanted. However, it would be across the street from the elevator.

I have wondered since this trip how I would ever find the true builder for this Moscow elevator.

Elkhart 207 copy copyabThe recently discovered records of Tillotson Construction Company show that Tillotson indeed built this elevator in 1948. Capacity was 100,000 bushels with 14 tanks and a 13-foot-wide center driveway. Six bins were over the driveway.

The Moscow elevator was a very small one for anything made of slip-formed concrete. Tillotson built another relatively small elevator in Rolla, Kan., that had a 140,000-bushel capacity. Most that Tillotson was building in this time frame were of 200,000-bushel capacity or even larger.

The Santa Fe Railroad had a branch line from Dodge City, Kan., to Boise City, Okla. It was about 140 miles in length. Tillotson Construction built elevators in Ensign, Montezuma, Satanta, Moscow, Rolla and Elkhart, Kan.

It’s  quite an accomplishment that Tillotson built six elevators along this line.

Elkhart 204 copy

Gordon, Nebraska’s elevator was built in a classic Mayer-Osborn style

The Mayer-Osborn elevator, identified by manhole covers inside the driveway, stands in front of Chalmers and Borton additions

The Mayer-Osborn elevator, identified by manhole covers inside the driveway, stands in front of Chalmers and Borton additions.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

Farmers Co-op operates these elevators. The co-op is based in Gordon, Hay Springs, and Hemingford, Neb.

The elevator in the foreground was built by Mayer-Osborn Construction Company, based in Denver. The completion date is not known.

The elevator in the background was built by Chalmers and Borton Construction, based in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1958. The company built a second elevator, west of these elevators, as well as a couple of annexes.

A side view of the Mayer Osborn elevator

A side view of the Mayer Osborn elevator.

By Kristen Cart

This stepped up headhouse design was first rolled out with the elevator in McCook, Neb., built in 1949 by Mayer-Osborn Construction Company. The style was featured in the Mayer-Osborn ad that ran in the early 1950s in the Farmers Elevator Guide.

The Gordon elevator showcased the rounded headhouse construction method adopted by Tillotson Construction for their later projects, but it is not known which company pioneered the cost saving technique.

From his home in Colorado, Gary Rich investigated this elevator on a trip east to photograph a number of Midwestern elevators. Gary has been instrumental in identifying a large number of Mayer-Osborn, Tillotson Construction, and J. H. Tillotson projects, pursuing the history of the elevators with as much passion as he puts into his excellent photography.

We are indebted to him for his relentless pursuit of good information, now contained in this blog.

Our grandfathers’ construction companies managed to escape the dreaded ‘blowout’

Written on the back of this photo: "This is the Bird City elevator that busted. This is the one Parrish built."

Written on the back of this photo from the Linda Laird Collection: “This is the Bird City elevator that busted. This is the one Parrish built.”

Story by Gary Rich

Vickroy-Mong built the Bird City, Kan., elevator in 1950. It was ready for that year’s wheat harvest. But sometime afterward, the elevator had a blowout.

A nightmare for any elevator builder, a blowout can happen if too little rebar is used when pouring the concrete. There is a lot of pressure on the bins once you put grain in them. And the weakest point is on the outside.

As you see in the photo, part of the outside section fell to the ground. The grain would have spilled out, too. Note that some grain remains inside the bin.

Chalmers & Borton received the contract for the repair work here. It is unknown if they fixed only the damaged bin or found others were flawed.

The Chalmers & Borton superintendent was W. Grammer. The job number was 50-K-62. Work began later in 1950, probably by fall.

The Bird City elevator wouldn’t have been good advertising for Vickroy-Mong. It’s not known if they built any other elevators.

How we know Tillotson Construction built the Burlington, Colorado, grain elevator


Story by Charles J. Tillotson and photos by Gary Rich

Editor’s note: Chuck Tillotson had just finished high school in Omaha when he and his two younger brothers, Tim, 16, and Mike, 13, were dispatched by their father, Reginald, to work on the family construction company’s grain elevator project in Flagler, Colo. Chuck had drawn up the plans himself in the preceding months during breaks from school. They drove out together in a 1953 Ford, towing the twenty-eight-foot travel trailer in which they would live for the duration. To the best of Uncle Chuck’s recollection, they subsisted on beans and wieners when they weren’t dining in the Flagler cafe. “That was when Tim and I weren’t screaming over to Elitches Park outdoor pavilion, in Denver, some 120 miles to the west, to squeeze in a night of dancing and return at daybreak to assume our work shift—no sleep of course.” Uncle Mike fended for himself, alone, in Flagler. 

When we were building the Flagler job in 1953, Tillotson also commenced the construction of a new elevator in Burlington, Colo. The thing I remember about that job is a story regarding a cement mixer.

We had contracted with a local hauler with a pickup truck to relocate one of our mixers to the Burlington job, which was about forty-five miles to the east on US-24.

He came one day, hitched it up to the back end of his pickup, and started off down the road. Just about where the Flagler town sign is, the road made a ninety-degree turn, and then it crossed the tracks to the south.

The hauler made the turn and started southward. Just as he crossed the tracks, his truck ran out of gas.

He ended up stalled—with the mixer straddling the tracks.

Every afternoon about 3:00 p.m., the eastbound passenger train came roaring along toward Kansas.

Well, the hauler jumped out of his truck and started running, ’cause he heard the train a-comin’, comin’ down the track, clickety-clack, like Johnny Cash sings.

The train barely slowed down as it passed through town, and it ended up smashing the mixer to smithereens.

The engine, and, as I recall at least, one of the first cars behind, were derailed.

It was a mess, but no one was injured.

That’s how I know we built Burlington.

It looks like a Tillotson elevator in Bird City, Kansas, but it’s a surprise instead

Wheeler, KS 044 copy

Story and photos by Gary Rich

I wanted some information about the Bird City Equity Co-op elevator that is now operated by Frontier Ag, Inc. Bird City is located on U.S.-36 in Cheyenne County, Kan., which is in the very northwestern corner of the state.

The Bird City elevator features a rounded headhouse.

The Bird City elevator features a rounded headhouse.

I was positive this elevator was built by Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, Neb. I called the elevator manager prior to my trip and drove to Bird City on Dec. 7. Upon arriving I went into the office. It was noon, so the whole crew was having lunch. I introduced myself to the manager. One employee told me there was a plaque on the outside of the elevator. I have never seen a plaque on a Tillotson elevator. I guess I should have had some qualms at this point that it wasn’t a Tillotson elevator.

We walked out to the elevator. The plaque, dated 1950, showed the elevator was built by Vickroy-Mong Construction Company, of Salina, Kan. Another interesting thing: the manhole covers in most elevators were produced by the Hutchinson Foundry, of Hutchinson, Kan, but these were made in Salina by Wyatt Manufacturing.

There have been other stories in our blog about elevators that Mayer-Osborn built and another construction company that was building identical elevators. This company was Johnson-Sampson Construction Company, of Salina, Kansas. Now, we have Vickroy-Mong building a Tillotson-lookalike elevator.

It has been demonstrated that the curved headhouse was a Tillotson signature. Did someone leave the Tillotson operation and branch out on his own, or were the plans sold to Vickroy-Mong?

In the future, I plan on photographing the Bird City elevator in more detail and will compare it closely to a Tillotson elevator.

Stay tuned for more information.

Editor’s note on Dec. 14: The reference desk at the Salina Public Library has come through with information that Carl Vickroy and Raymond Mong were partners in a company located on South 9th Street, according to the Salina city directory of 1950. Additionally, it’s possible that the Hutchinson Foundry produced the manhole covers for Wyatt Manufacturing. 

Wheeler, KS 049 copy

Tillotson Construction’s grain elevators often varied in capacity

The allotment of grain to bins is shown in this chart inside the Satanta, Kansas, elevator.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

Tillotson Construction Company erected grain elevators of different capacities that could meet the unique demands of Midwestern and Plains farmers’ co-ops. Such was the case in southwestern Kansas.

Satanta, Kansas

Satanta and Rolla are towns located along U.S. Route 56. Satanta, named for the Kiowa chief, is in Haskell County and Rolla is in Morton County. The two towns are 42 miles apart.

As noticed in towns in Colorado, Iowa, and Nebraska, the Satanta elevator is of larger capacity. This elevator is now part of United Prairie Ag.

The elevator in Rolla, however, has a much smaller capacity. This was probably due to the Co-op not having the funds to build one larger. Rolla was constructed around 1954, maybe a little earlier, and is now owned by the Elkhart Co-op Equity Exchange.

While it’s a smaller elevator, there was no stinting on style. Tillotson’s signature curved headhouse graces the top of the structure.

Once again, Tillotson met the demands of the local community and the Co-ops.

The annex to Tillotson’s Rolla elevator was built by Hamilton. We don’t know much about this company.

The other elevator at the site was done by Borton Construction around 1964.

The beautifully curved headhouse distinguishes Tillotson’s smaller elevator in Rolla, Kansas. The annex, center, was built by Hamilton, and the newer elevator, right, by Borton Construction in 1964.

How Tillotson Construction made a good first impression with the Ensign Co-op

Story and photos by Gary Rich

During the late 1940s and early 1950s many Kansas co-ops were planning new elevators. Grain production was increasing; thus, the old wooden elevators were not large enough. Ensign Co-op, located in Gray County thirteen miles southwest of Dodge City on US-56, needed a new one.

Looking for a concrete elevator with a lot of capacity, the Co-op contacted Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, Nebr. I am guessing the elevator was built around 1950 or 1951. Ensign Co-op has since changed hands several times. There are no records or blueprints available.

The first annex, seen right, was of single bins and allowed a path for trucks.

The elevator Tillotson Construction built was of a very unique design. First of all, it did not have a curved headhouse like so many other elevators they were building.

Secondly, this elevator had a double driveway. Many elevators built at that time had a single driveway. The use of semis hauling grain to the elevator was many years away. The only vehicles bringing grain to the elevator were farm trucks and pickups.

When the Ensign Co-op needed further expansion, they contacted Tillotson, which built the first annex east of the elevator. This probably occurred in 1952 or 1953.

The double driveway created some engineering problems. The annex had to be built at an angle from the elevator. This would allow trucks using both driveways a path around the new annex. The first annex was set a distance from the elevator.  Tilloston solved the problem, making the annex with eleven bins. The first bin was a single bin, while the others were double bins.

About 1957, Ensign Co-op was looking at additional expansion. Tillotson was contacted again. They built the second annex, connected to the first, in 1958. Nine double bins increased the total capacity to twenty-nine bins.

Typical of the company’s later projects, the second annex’s manhole covers included the year of construction. All manhole covers inside the elevator and first annex have “Tillotson Construction, Omaha, Nebr.”–but no dates.

Tillotson built the elevator as well as the first and second annexes. The company produced a quality product as the Ensign Co-op kept contacting the company for additional capacity. The Ensign Co-op had to be very impressed with their work. 

This is a rare case where Tillotson built an elevator and then returned to the same town and built several annexes. Generally other construction companies built the expansions.

The elevator at McAllaster, Kansas, proved to be a missed opportunity

McAllaster, Kan., photo by Gary Rich

Story by Kristen Cart

Sometimes our elevator quest ends in a dead end, without definitive answers. In the case of McAllaster, Kan., we had only an old photo belonging to my grandfather, William Osborn, to go on, and Gary Rich and I never got any independent confirmation of the builder. When I went to visit the elevator two months ago, nothing was left and there was no sign it had ever existed.

William Osborn photo

Gary Rich tried hard to get information about the builder, after he had gone to McAllaster to photograph the elevator. Both of us made calls to the cooperative. But all we were able to confirm was that it was slated for destruction sometime this year. It was shut up tight, of course, when Gary went to see it, and, no man-hole covers were visible from the outside. The only clue we could find was an old photo of one of grandpa’s projects, which was probably built for J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, Colo., judging by the style. The caveat was that quite a few others similar to this one were also built, and some of them have long since disappeared.

Gary Rich photo

Elevators like those at Daykin, Fairbury, and Bradshaw, all in Nebraska, were built in a similar style, so the only clues to their builder are external to the main house: elements such as windows, driveways, office buildings, and loading chutes can be compared to details in my grandfather’s old photos. Of course, if we have independent verification, such as contemporary newspaper accounts or my dad’s memories, it makes our lives easier, since only one of grandpa’s photos has any caption. Daykin and Fairbury have both been verified in this way.

When the photo above is compared with the photos taken by Gary Rich of the McAllaster elevator, it shows just enough difference to dash our hopes for an identification. The building behind the driveway appears to be attached, and the windows don’t match our photos of McAllaster. So we are at a frustrating impasse. We still don’t know the identity of the elevator in grandpa’s photo, and we still don’t know the builder of the McAllaster elevator, though we suspect it was a J. H. Tillotson project. With no way to verify it, we are at the disappointing end of our quest.