History of Tillotson’s massive Bellwood, Neb., elevator includes details of 1959 explosion that injured two

 

By Ronald Ahrens

At 320,000 bushels, Bellwood, Neb., and Canyon, Tex. were the second-biggest jobs for Tillotson Construction Co. when they were built in 1950, some 12 years after the company’s first elevator of reinforced concrete.

There was the early, huge 350,000-bushel facility at Farnsworth, Tex., in 1945.

Otherwise, the 310,000-bushel elevator at Dalhart, Tex., in 1949, was next-largest.

We now find this welcome history of the Bellwood elevator complex–which presents slightly different figures from those in the company record–from a local source:

The first concrete elevator was built in 1950 with a capacity of 324,000 bushels and a cost of $141,000. The first addition followed in 1954 costing $133,000 and holding 344,000 bushels. The second annex of 343,000 bushels followed in 1958 with a price tag of $116,000. The third annex, being the north elevator with the headhouse, was built the next year for $179,000 and has a capacity of 290,000 bushels. Twenty years later, in 1979, two large diameter tanks each holding 165,000 bushels, were built at a total cost of $333,000. This brings the companies (sic) licensed storage capacity to 1,685,000 bushels.

As reported in the previous post, we found the Frontier Cooperative location to be surviving quite nicely after 70 years and two explosions.

Here is this detail of the first one:

An explosion ripped through the first concrete elevator on March 27, 1959 causing considerable damage to the basement and headhouse areas. Seriously injured in this explosion were Jim Mick and Walker Meyers, both employees of the Farmers Co-op Grain Co.

The original house was built with 2,436 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 20.3 yards of plain concrete for the hoppers.

Reinforcing steel amounted to 143.3 tons, which worked out to 115.3 pounds per cubic yard.

 

The structure sits on a main slab of 66 x 77.5 feet. We work that out to 5,115 square feet, but the construction details in the company records note, “Act. Outside on Ground” and give the figure of 4,806 square feet.

The reinforced concrete and steel weighed in at 5,069 tons, and the tanks could accommodate 9,600 tons of grain. Incorporating other factors like 28 tons of structural steel and machinery, as well as 40.3 tons of concrete for the hoppers, the gross weight loaded was an impressive 14,964 tons.

All this massiveness was quite a testament of progress. We have to remember that just 12 years before–with the period of inactivity during World War Two intervening–the Tillotsons were building cribbed wooden elevators.

The main slab covers a pit of 15 feet 9 inches deep.

Way above the pit, the cupola (headhouse) was quite a specimen at 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 39 feet high–identical to Canyon and pretty comparable to the 300,000-bushel elevators that were also built in 1950 at Burlington, Colo., and Hartley, Texas. All of these elevators were built on the same plan that was original to Bellwood, yet the tanks at Burlington and Hartley rose to 115 feet instead of 120 feet and the cupolas were five feet taller than those at Bellwood and Canyon.

The single-leg Bellwood house boasted 72-inch-diameter head and boot pulleys that were 166 feet apart; the 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt stretched an impressive 360 feet. The record shows that the belt’s cups, of 12 x 6 inches, were spaced 8.5 inches “o.c.”

Powered by a 40-horsepower Howell drive, the head pulley could turn a 42 rpm. It provided a theoretical leg capacity of 7,920 bushels per hour. Actual leg capacity at 80 percent of theoretical used 32 horsepower for 6,350 bushels per hour.

The 1981 explosion destroyed the cupola and, we presume, all its contents. We hope to find period photos of before and after.

Records show the 1954 annex with capacity of 340,000 bushels. It consumed 2,129 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 119.5 tons of steel.

The 24-inch-thick slab–same thickness as at the main house–spread over 45.5 x 107 feet for “Act. Outside on Gd.” of 4,569 square feet.

The 10 tanks of 20 feet in diameter reaching 130 feet high required 4,377.5 tons of reinforced concrete and yielded a gross loaded weight (with 10,200 tons of grain) of 15,628.5 tons.

The cupola, or run, atop this annex was 13 feet wide, 100 feet long, and 8.4 feet high.

Top and bottom belts were 30 inches wide and moved at 600 feet per minute. A 10-horsepower drive at top and 7-horse drive at bottom enabled movement of 9,000 bushels per hour.

As we saw for ourselves, the second annex, a 1958 job, bears manhole covers embossed with the Tillotson Construction Co. stamp. Alas, our records stop at 1955.

The headhouse is long gone, but the Frontier Cooperative elevator at Bellwood, Neb., may be Tillotson’s largest build

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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.

Nebraska 2020Nevertheless, 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.

An old-time mill in Billings, Mont. sports a wooden scale

A wooden scale lies beside the old brick scale house.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

This old mill in Billings, Montana was too good to pass up. A trip around all sides revealed its current occupation as a tire company or body shop–old cars and an old wood elevator inhabit the yard beside it, but a large quantity of tires are piled adjacent to the road on the other side. But the area pictured above shows that it once handled grain.

The door to the scale house admits no one.

I have never seen a wooden scale before. The scale house next to it is shut up tight with iron bars–it could have been a jail, perhaps, in a later life. The mill itself shows signs of repeated brick repair. The story of these buildings invites a more thorough investigation.

The mill is in a historic part of Billings and sits across the street from the railroad lined with coal cars. If you could imagine it opening up to a brick-paved street illuminated with gas lights, this structure would fit right in. But it is a bit odd in its present setting.

The modern look undoubtedly bears no resemblance to the original view.

The mill appears to be well maintained and will, with care and good luck, grace this historic street for another hundred years.

Cars in the adjacent yard await restoration.

 

An unused elevator completes the scene.

Although feeling the strain, Tillotson’s elegant 1948 elevator stands tall at Richland, Neb.

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By Ronald Ahrens

The handsome 52,000-bushel elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built in 1948 at Richland, Neb., has “pretty much turned into an OSHA nightmare.” 

Nebraska 2020So reported Todd Henke, who manages the Richland location for Cooperative Supply Inc.

“They’re so concerned about dust explosions,” Henke said. And it’s no surprise, not “with the electrical and how they [elevators] were built.” Keeping clean inside is a big emphasis. 

The old elevator–rated at 3,169 tons gross weight when fully loaded–was full at the time of our phone call on Feb. 3. Henke described its intermittent use, which he attributed as much to limited capacity as to general creakiness.

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Rose Ann Fennessy paces off the driveway on the chilly morning of Jan. 4.

The leg, for example, is “very slow,” running at 2,000 bushels per hour. Original specifications indicate a theoretical maximum of 5,700 bushels and actual capacity (80 percent of theoretical) of 4,555 bushels.

“If we max it out we maybe could do 2,500,” Henke said, pointing out the elevator was built in the day of 100-bushel wagons and 300-bushel trucks. It’s more common for today’s truck to bear up to 1,200 bushels, making for tight accommodations in the 13-foot-wide driveway.

The heavy rigs, as well as massive trains rumbling by, shake and stress the whole building.

And days of loading rail cars at the siding have ended.

“Years ago the main problem was loading six cars. Now that feature, we had to take that spout down from cracking.” The insurance company requested it. 

Not to mention that the scale of things has changed so much. “These days, if you don’t load 100 cars, it isn’t worth doing.” 

Do people ever comment about the cupola (headhouse) being rounded at the south end? 

“I’ve been here a very long time and don’t notice it,” Henke said. He started as a bookkeeper in 1990. “I imagine they kept that north side more square because of the leg.”

Tillotson was still experimenting with rounding the cupola in 1948 and gradually extended this design to general use.

Our other question concerned the note in company records saying, “Water.” We take this to mean groundwater seeped into the 10-foot 6-inch excavation. So is there any problem with moisture in the basement?

Henke said no–another indication of a well-built Tillotson elevator continuing to do the job.

 

In Richland, Neb., Tillotson made a handsome, early experiment with a curved headhouse

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By Ronald Ahrens

Located between Schuyler and Columbus on U.S. 30, Richland is a blowing-away little hamlet with nothing of interest save for the handsome grain elevator at 310 E. Front Street. Rose Ann Fennessy and I pulled in just before lunch on Jan. 4 to look it over.

Nebraska 2020Cooperative Supply Inc. operates the location, and the elevator appears to be in good working order. 

Records show this as one of the first four elevators Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, put up in Nebraska. Minatare, in Scotts Bluff County, was built in 1941. It has been documented in our blog by Kristen Cart.

To the far northwest, Rushville came along in 1947.

Polk and Richland, built in 1948, were based on the plan of Goltry, Okla.–Tillotson’s first elevator of reinforced concrete, put up nine years earlier.

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Other Tillotson elevators of 1948 were in Moscow, Rolla, and Montezuma, Kan.; Manchester, Okla.; Springfield, Colo.; and Cavalier, N.D. 

The Goltry plan as modified for Richland included four tanks (silos) 12 feet in diameter rising 86 feet in height. (The tanks at Polk were 10 feet taller.) Richland’s shorter tanks meant 52,000 bushels capacity instead of 60,000. This is one of Tillotson’s smallest elevators. Eva, Okla., of 1947, is the smallest at 13,500 bushels.

But Richland, unlike Cedar Bluffs, Neb., was a full-featured elevator. The center driveway measured 13 x 18 feet, and six bins were positioned over the drive. In all, there were 14 bins and a dust bin.

A full basement, electrical room, and motorized manlift were included. One curiosity is that we did not find manholes on the outside of the tanks, so there were no embossed plates to offer their confirmation of the builder’s identity. We suspect the cleanout holes are located on the interior, as at Booker, Tex., and elsewhere.

After 1946, our records omit information about cost, but we do know that Goltry (without an electrical room) was a $21,522.97 total-cost job less commission.

One note on Richland says only, “Water.” In the Platte Valley, this is no surprise and means that the modest pit depth of 10 feet 6 inches was likely an ordeal to achieve, requiring much pumping.

A second note is significant for architectural progress. “One End Round on Cup.,” it says. As we see, indeed, the cupola (headhouse) does have a rounded end on the south. We have tried to pin down the origin of Tillotson’s signature design, and now we know Richland is a contender for the honor.

The cupola’s windows each have a lintel to add character.

Cavalier, also a 1948 job, was “Winter Const.,” according to a note, leading us not only to shudder at the thought of a continuous pour in a northern Great Plains winter but also to surmise that what was learned at Richland was applied in full at Cavalier. The photo shows a fully rounded cupola.

It was rewarding to find the significant Richland elevator in good condition. The next post will include more specifications.

A quick look at the Aurora, Neb., elevator built by Tillotson Construction in 1950

Our friend Rose Ann Fennessy passed through Aurora, Nebr., recently and stopped to take photos of the Tillotson elevator there.

Aurora was built at 246,070 bushels following the Palmer, Iowa, plan established that same year of 1950. This entailed eight tanks (silos) of 18-foot diameter and rising 120 feet.

There were 22 internal bins and a dust bin.

The cupola (headhouse) was 23 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 40 feet high. Being so tall, the elevator had a leg with pulley centers at 160.5 feet apart, and it could move a lot of grain–7,500 bushels per hour in theoretical capacity, 6,000 bushels per hour when running at 80 percent.

It’s obvious that additional storage has been built since the main house went up.

We thank Rose Ann for the photos.

Tillotson’s Cedar Bluffs, Neb. elevator did without such luxuries as a central driveway or full basement

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By Ronald Ahrens

The reinforced-concrete elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built for Farmers Union Cooperative Association for $60,000 in 1950 did without expensive options like an integrated central driveway, a full basement, and an electrically operated manlift. But it was still a substantial and well-made structure that continues in operation in Cedar Bluffs, Neb.

Nebraska 2020Today, according to Randy Carlholm, the co-op’s general manager and CEO, an electrically driven manlift serves in place of the original hand-operated one. Farmers deposit grain in the external enclosure, and it is conveyed below ground to the leg.

Our records say this elevator had four tanks, or silos, of 16 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. Storage capacity was 130,675 bushels. There were nine internal bins. From outside it appears there are more tanks. Without a walk-through, we are unable to reconcile this discrepancy. Are we talking apples and apples here?

The construction process consumed 1,024 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 44.19 tons of steel.

Another 2.3 yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

The main slab was 21 inches thick and covered an area 46×46 square feet to support a gross loaded weight of 6,365 tons. The pit was 16 feet 7 inches deep.

Atop the tanks, the cupola, or headhouse, measured 14 feet wide, 24 3/4 feet long, and 21 1/2 feet high.

This is a single-leg elevator with the boot and head pulleys spaced 150 feet apart. The boot pulley was 60 x 12 x 2 3/16 inches while the head pulley was 1 1/4 inches wider. The head turned at 40 rpm thanks to a 25-horsepower Howell motor. The pulleys carried an 11-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt with cups 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep spaced 7 1/2 inches apart.

IMG_20200104_100430644_HDRTheoretical leg capacity rated at 5,972 bushels per hour; actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, which rounded off to 4,780 (4,777.6) bushels per hour. This required just 22.3 horsepower.

J.B. Ehrsam and Sons Manufacturing Co. provided the hand-operated manlift.

The dump grate was 6 x 5 feet.

With the 10-bushel load-out scale and 8 1/4-inch spout, we can’t guess how long it would take to fill a rail car with corn, but a fascinating document we found suggests that filling a car with wheat would take about 80 minutes.

 

Farmers Union Cooperative operates a well-preserved Tillotson elevator in Cedar Bluffs, Nebr.

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By Ronald Ahrens

Ace scout Rose Ann Fennessy and I visited five Tillotson elevators in Nebraska’s Saunders and Butler Counties on Jan. 4. 

IMG_20200102_163303436The first was at Cedar Bluffs, a village of 600 overlooking the Platte River. The Farmers Union Cooperative Association location was quiet when we arrived around 9.30 a.m., so we invited ourselves to walk the site and take photos.

Cedar Bluffs is a smart-looking operation, as might be expected from “Nebraska’s Oldest Cooperative Since 1888.” The main house, about to celebrate its 70th birthday, and the annex that came along nine years later appear to be in fine shape.

Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, completed this 130,675-bushel elevator in 1950–a big year in eastern Nebraska: my grandfather Reginald’s company also built elevators in Bellwood, Aurora, Omaha, and Wahoo.

Nebraska 2020The Cedar Bluffs job is noteworthy for its rectangular headhouse. The company’s graceful signature, the oval headhouse, was still to be perfected.

Other elevators built in this same year–namely, Wahoo and Richland–reflect the movement toward ovalization.

Another unusual circumstance is the lack of a central driveway going through the structure. A note with the entry says, “Truck Dump Grate No Dr’way.”

A history on the co-op’s website shows that “Elevator C, the first concrete elevator” was built in 1950 for $60,000. The co-op, which dates from 1888, had paid $10,000 for a steam-powered elevator and sheds in 1915. In 1934, the 40,000-bushel Elevator A was constructed. Six years later, Elevator B was acquired from Updike Grain Co. for $5,000 but was “disposed of” later.

The co-op lists capacity of Elevator C at 110,000 bushels–a discrepancy when compared to Tillotson records.

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Without an integral central driveway, an outside dumping grate serves the elevator, now starting its eighth decade.

Cedar Bluffs was built on an original plan that included four storage tanks of 16 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height.

In 1950, a concrete elevator was a big splurge for a small co-op. Besides no central driveway, Cedar Bluffs did without the luxury of an electrically operated manlift–it was hand-operated.

The 300,000-bushel annex and the grain dryer were added in 1959 for $150,000. It is unknown who did this job; the manhole plates are blank. We do know that Tillotson was pretty much finished with new construction by then.

We hope to learn more. Meantime, this is the first of two posts from Cedar Bluffs. Complete specs will follow.

 

 

 

 

Sunset at Rockwell City, Iowa

The Tillotson elevator in Rockwell City, Iowa, as it appeared in 2014

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Recently, one of our readers sent us some disheartening news. The skyline in Rockwell City, Iowa, has permanently changed, as announced by Paul Grage:

“…I would like to let you know that the Tillotson elevator in Rockwell City, Iowa, is currently being torn down. They blasted the head house because it was too tall for the crane that ran the wrecking ball. They are currently wrecking balling the rest. The rail that used to serve it was abandon[ed] long ago and an airport runway was built on the old bed. The elevator is shot and it’s presence makes about 1200 feet of the runway useless after course corrections. Its demolition was funded by the Iowa DOT and Landus Cooperative.”

Back in 2014 I paid a visit to Rockwell City, Iowa, located a few miles south of U.S. Route 20 in the western third of the state. I stopped to take pictures of the old Tillotson project, which was one of the larger elevators on my route from Nebraska to my home in Illinois.

The Tillotson landmark was permanently closed for business and deserted.

I spoke to an elderly gentleman standing outside of his small bungalow, which was tucked in close to its neighbors on a street radiating from the elevator property. He had recently moved to town, so he didn’t know any local history, but he shared his observations of the old site.  He said that an owl family had moved into the headhouse. Sometimes he would see the birds flying in or out at dusk, or he would hear their hooting at night.

Other than accommodating the new residents, the elevator stood silently, by far the biggest structure in town. Its doom was sealed when the rail line closed. I didn’t know it would be my last visit–the dull light of the day invited another visit for photos, so I set my images aside for a later post. I never got back there. But here are views of the old elevator, as I found it that day.

The tallest landmark in town is now the water tower.

The first Denver office of Mayer-Osborn is for lease at $8,000 a month

The 1717 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, Colo. location is for lease.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

While enjoying our leisurely October road trip, my dad, Jerry Osborn, and I sought out the former business office of the Mayer-Osborn Construction Company, the Denver-based business my grandfather, William Osborn, operated in partnership with Eugene Mayer. It still stands at 1717 E. Colfax Ave.

Mayer ran the business office, while Grandpa was in the field selling their services. Their former office has undergone a smart update, now sporting solar panels and new brick siding, which has added great street-front appeal for potential tenants.

An item from the Farmers’ Elevator Guide

The place was vacant, but it was settled into an optimistic, mixed neighborhood not far from the Denver Botanical Gardens. About four blocks from Denver’s Five Points, the area seemed to be on an economic rebound, though most buildings were older and fairly nondescript.

Dad and I pulled across a busy grocery store parking lot to get a good vantage point. The photo above shows modern updates, including passive solar panels installed to take advantage of Denver’s many days of sunshine.

Dad and I checked off another important historical visit, and went on our way, happy to see Bill Osborn’s Denver digs at last.