Collecting six detail photos from Orienta, Meno and Helena, Okla.


Angled view of the east elevator’s headhouse at the High Plains Co-op’s facility in Meno, Okla.


Horns at the High Plains Co-op’s elevators in Meno, Okla., warn of leg overload. Sensors monitor the situation “so you don’t have to have a man up there,” site manager Matthew Thomsen said. If the horn sounds, “You want to be sprinting.”  



Looking through the gap between the main house and storage annex at the Farmers Exchange complex in Helena, Okla. The wind was blowing so hard–accelerating through the gap–that I couldn’t stand quite still while getting the photo.







On-site improvisation at the modest ’47 Tillotson elevator in Helena, Okla.


By Ronald Ahrens

When the 100,000-bushel, single-leg elevator went up at Helena, Okla., in 1947, it adhered to the plan first used the previous year at nearby Pond Creek. In the above photo, it is seen on the right. I don’t know who did the elevator with the rounded headhouse.

Texas-Okla Logo 04On the ’47 elevator there was a full cupola, or headhouse, and an  attached driveway. An old elevator, probably a wooden one, existed at the site, and a note indicates that cross-spouts led over to it.

This is a one-of-a-kind instance in the records of Tillotson Construction Co.

Tillotson’s pages also say that 900 cubic yards of concrete went into the job along with 39.57 tons of reinforcing steel.

The 18-inch-thick main slab covered an area of 41 x 41 square feet. Below this deck, the pit was 13 feet 3 inches deep.

Fully loaded, the elevator weighed 4,968 tons.


The drawform walls rose 110 feet and were capped by the rectangular cupola measuring 16 feet wide, 31 feet long, and 28.5 high. Even with four windows on the long sides, the cupola projected a sort of robotic muteness. It accommodated the leg, with pulley centers being 152.16 feet apart. The boot pulley was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches while the head pulley was 1.25 inches deeper.

A 20-horsepower Howell motor turned the head pulley as fast as 40 rpm.

Wrapping around the pulley wheels, the 310-foot-long, six-ply Calumet belt was 14 inches wide. Grain cups measured 12 inches wide and six inches deep at 12-inch intervals.

According to the rating supplied by the cups’ manufacturer, theoretical capacity of this leg going all out was 5,380 bushels per hour. But it operated at 80 percent of maximum, meaning actual capacity was 4,300 bushels per hour. This required 18.6 horsepower.

IMG_9335A 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor operated the truck lift in the driveway, which raised a truck’s nose, causing the load of grain to stream into the pit.

A final note reads, “Pit Depth & Cupola Ht. incr. after final Plans. (Noted above.)” Could the cupola be higher than the listed 28.5 feet?

The extra information is consistent with records on other ’47 elevators. “Pit extra deep for cleaning,” says the note for Minneapolis, Kan., where the 100,000-bushel elevator also derived from the Pond Creek plan.

An identical note appends to the entry for the 150,000-bushel elevator at Dalhart, Tex., which was built on an original plan, and includes the revelation that the cupola height increased by 8.5 feet “due to Annex.”





Tillotson left a big mark–and a question mark–at the little town of Helena, Okla.


By Ronald Ahrens

As I approached it from the south, the elevator complex in Helena, Okla., rose from the plain.

Texas-Okla Logo 04No one was around when I got there. I’d left Meno and gone back to the northwest to this little town, which residents pronounce Heh-LEE-nuh. It was established 115 years ago and flourished because of the Arkansas Valley and Western Railway, a short-line road that linked the city of Tulsa to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.

The line has been in the hands of the Burlington Northern since 1980.

As I drove across the plain between Meno and Helena, it occurred to me that before the late 1930s, no landmarks would have been distinguishable. The monotony of gentle undulation, the occasional wind-blasted tree, and a few huddling houses and farm buildings were all this landscape offered. One would see a church steeple when nearing a town.


Looking east along the tracks at the Farmers Exchange Co-op complex in Helena, Okla.

Then, with relative suddenness, reinforced concrete grain elevators went up in every town, grain castles, towering and enigmatic and 150 feet tall. After the 1950s it was common to have an elevator in view, if not now, then as soon as you came over the next knoll.

I came over the next knoll, and the early evening sun made the Helena elevators resplendent.

They’re operated by Farmers Exchange Co-op (est. 1917). Alas, the office was closed.

What I know is that Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, built a 100,000-bushel, single-leg elevator here in 1947. A note in the records says it featured a full cupola, or headhouse and four tanks of 15.5 feet in diameter that reached to 110 feet in height.

The cupola, or headhouse, was 16 feet wide, 31 feet long, and 28.5 feet high.

I think these specs refer to the elevator at the west end of the complex, the one with the rectangular headhouse and four windows in each of the broad walls. This elevator appears to have four tanks.


A manhole cover in the storage annex: “Tillotson Const. Co., Omaha, Neb., The Hutchinson Foundry & Steel Co.”

A Tillotson crew returned in 1949 to put up a 100,000-bushel annex comprising five tanks, or silos, of 15.5 feet in diameter and 110 feet high.

And they were back again in 1953 to erect a 200,000-bushel storage annex with 10 more tanks of the same measure.

But what about that second elevator, the one with the curved headhouse on the north face? It has many of Tillotson’s hallmarks, and the Co-op seemed to like to call on Tillotson Construction Co. for its new jobs.

In case of an emerging answer, an update will be posted.



In 1953, the curved headhouse at Meno, Okla., was only 26.5 feet high


By Ronald Ahrens

In previous posts I’ve observed that the 152,000-bushel elevator at Meno, Okla., seen at right in the above photo, was adapted from 1950 drawings for Tillotson Construction Co.’s job at Imo, Okla. This plan was also used the same year in Clifton, Kan.

Texas-Okla Logo 04What prompted Tillotson’s designers to pull out the Imo plan again in August of 1952 for the job completed in 1953 is unknown.

I had also found a second, newer Tillotson elevator at the site. There is no mention of it in the records that extend through 1955. Site manager Matthew Thomsen speculated it came into being in 1956. (Tillotson Construction Co. stayed in existence until Reginald O. Tillotson died in 1960.) With capacity of about 310,000 bushels, it’s more than double the size of the older house.

The smaller elevator was nevertheless a large structure, consuming 1,519 cubic yards of concrete (plus another 17 yards for the hoppers, which were not reinforced). It also gobbled up 68.88 tons of reinforcing steel. 


The 21-inch-thick main slab covered an area 54 x 51 feet. It sat over a pit that was 15 feet 9 inches deep. The pit was dug by hand. A soil map of Oklahoma appears to show that Meno sits on deep, loamy soil, so the excavation might not have been a terrible ordeal for the crew. In places with caliche soils, the excavating would have to be done with dynamite.

When the tanks were fully loaded, the whole shebang weight 8,397 tons.

The cupola, or headhouse, measured 22.25 feet wide, 42.5 feet long, and 26.5 feet high. In 1953, Tillotson also created headhouses as high a 46 feet at Cherokee, Okla., and 49 feet at Estill, S.C. Nevertheless, the pulley centers were spaced 152.6 feet apart in the leg.

This single-leg elevator had a six-ply, 14-inch-wide belt with 12-inch-wide, six-inch-deep cups spaced at nine-inch intervals.


Plan for the larger elevator at High Plain’s Co-op’s larger Tillotson elevator.

The head pulley was 72 x 14 x 4 7/16 inches while the boot pulley was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches. It turned at 42 rpm thanks to a 40-horsepower Howell motor.

Theoretical leg capacity was 7,500 bushels per hour; actual capacity, calculated at 80 percent of theoretical, was 6,000 bushels per hours and used 27.75 horsepower.

A 1.5-hp Ehrsam motor operated the man lift while a 7.5-hp motor powered the truck lift.





Original drawings reveal internal details of Tillotson’s first Meno, Okla., elevator


By Ronald Ahrens

When I visited the office of High Plains Co-op, in Meno, Okla., Matthew Thomsen dug out drawings of the 152,000-bushel elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built in 1953.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I took quickie photos with my phone.

The first drawing shows the leg, noting the right side is the “up leg” and the left side is “down leg.”

That’s so it isn’t installed backwards.

The tanks, or silos, are 16 feet inside diameter. To get an idea where that rates, consider how Tillotson started in 1939 with tanks 12-feet in diameter. Most of the elevators I’d visited so far on my road trip had 20-foot tanks, but the Ralston, Iowa, storage annex Tillotson put up in ’53 boasted 28-footers.

There is a truck lift and dump grate in the internal driveway.

Inside the headhouse, an automatic scale feeds a load-out spout that drops all the way to a rail car on the siding. Dig that draftsmanship by Ted Morse, whose initials appear in the information box seen in the third photo.


The next drawing shows details of the work floor including nine-foot-wide dump grates. We see the electrical room and, on the far right, a dock.

The drawing also shows the bin plan with 16 bins of various sizes and shapes. A handwritten notation on Bin 9 says, “Scales.” At the far end is the dust bin.

Both drawings adhere to a scale of 1/4 inch to 1.0 foot.


The final portion shows bin capacities in a list with some amendments. Penciled above the identification box, the note says, “Imo,” referring to the prototype for this elevator built in 1950 at Imo, Okla.

The plan was revised, according to another note, on Aug. 1, 1952.

We see in the box on the lower right that this is a standard-plan 154,000-bushel reinforced-concrete elevator. But how to account for the 2,790-bushel discrepancy between the plan and the construction record, which lists Meno at 152,000 bushels?

Thanks to Tracie and Matthew, of High Plains Co-op, for hauling out these drawings.




Welcome to Meno, Okla., where Tillotson elevators go off the charts


By Ronald Ahrens

With the country elevators in Orienta, Okla., closed up and one of them crumbling, I decided to get moving. The site was a little spooky.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Meno was just 20 minutes east, and I felt its promise.

Founded in 1899, Meno took the name of a Mennonite leader, Menno Simons, but one “n” was left off the paperwork. The coming of the Enid and Anadarko Railway within three years was a boost for Meno.

Tillotson Construction Co. records show the company built a 152,000-bushel elevator in this tiny hamlet. Adapted from the 1950 drawings for Imo, Okla., this plan was also used the same year in Clifton, Kan.

Meno is the first elevator listed in the records for 1953, when the company also built in Orchard Hill, Ga.; Cherokee, Okla.; Columbia, Ill.; Jamestown, Kan.; Ralston, Iowa; Estill, S.C.; Flagler, Colo.; and, my next stop, Helena, Okla.

Such geographical diversity in a single year was never exceeded by Tillotson.


As I approached Meno from the west, a field of canola in the foreground, I saw two elevators arising from this plain, and both flaunted their curved headhouses like faces of hope and freedom.

What was I about to encounter in this town of 250 persons?

I parked in front of the Great Plains Co-op’s office and poked around. In Follett, Tex., and at my last stop in Orienta, I had encountered surprises and puzzles. Follett had a Tillotson elevator and a Mayer-Osborn elevator facing each other. And Orienta puzzled me because of the combination of builders and owners–not to mention the decrepitude there.


Tracie Rhodes and Matthew Thomsen

As I looked around the Meno site, it became apparent that both elevators were Tillotson jobs. I found the manhole covers attesting to this fact. The second elevator was newer, larger, and invisible in the records.

As questions swam through my head I went inside the office and met Tracie Rhodes and Matthew Thomsen. Somehow, we came up with 1956 as the date for the second elevator’s construction.

Thomsen, a Nebraska boy from Minden, said the elevators were in good condition, although some important repairs had been needed to the floors and in the gearing.

IMG_9284Additionally, the 13 x 17-foot driveway had benefited from some reinforcing.

“Agriculture has gotten bigger, the trucks heavier,” he said.

I showed them the construction record, and they had something for me to look at as well: original drawings.

What a welcome to Meno–a little more than I’d expected!

Watch this space tomorrow for a glimpse of the 65-year-old documents that show inner details of the original elevator.

In Orienta, Okla., 312,000 bushels of storage meant a vast amount of materials


The south elevator and Tillotson’s storage annex at Orienta, Okla.

By Ronald Ahrens

When laying the main slab for a storage annex like the one we found in Orienta, Okla., make it thick and be prepared to go the distance. That’s my takeaway after visiting the site and now looking at the specs and dimensions.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, undertook this job in 1954, building a 312,000-bushel annex. The crew created a slab 24 inches thick, 47.5 feet wide, and 109 feet long.

Even without a headhouse, this job consumed plenty of material. Overall, some 2,963 cubic yards of concrete and 105.72 tons of reinforcing steel were used.

Just in the slab, there was 338 cubic yards of concrete and 53,077 pounds, or 26.53 tons, of reinforcing steel. Fitting all the steel together took a long time before any concrete could be poured. In comparison to the tedious slab, the drawform walls went up rather fast.


Headhouse of the Johnson’s south elevator at Orienta and start of the 100-foot run over the Tillotson annex.

The Orienta annex could hold 9,360 tons of grain, and the structure’s gross weight when loaded was as much as 14,430 tons.

Here, the 10 tanks, or silos, were 114 feet nine inches tall.


The gap between the main house, left, and Tillotson’s storage annex. Note here and in the images below the poor condition of the concrete at the main house.


The run measured 13 feet wide, 100 feet long, and just over eight feet high.

Inside the run, a 30-inch wide conveyor belt ran with a 10-horsepower motor on top and 7.5-horse on bottom to move up to 600 feet per minute. That translated to transferring 9,000 bushels per hour through the run.



Country elevators in Orienta, Okla., present a Tillotson annex and a puzzle


By Ronald Ahrens

Tillotson Construction Co. built at a dozen and a half locations in Oklahoma, and I was now trying to see several of then in an afternoon before staying overnight in Enid.

Texas-Okla Logo 04After my impromptu visit to Shattuck, I drove east on U.S. 60 for another hour or so until I reached Orienta. The wind, which must have been blowing 40 mph, was behind me.

Arriving at Orienta, I found an elevator complex at the highway junction with but very little in the way of a town. One of the steel buildings at the complex was labeled W.B. Johnston Grain Co. 

In 2014, Johnston, which must have come after the Orienta Co-op Association, sold its 19 country grain elevators to CGB Enterprises, Inc. I had just come from CGB’s location in Shattuck.


The south elevator and Tillotson’s storage annex at Orienta, Okla.

Orienta optimistically took its name from the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient railway, which was called The Orient railroad.

I knew Tillotson had built here in 1954 but was disappointed to find it was only a storage annex. (As usual, I hadn’t studied the construction record too thoroughly beforehand.)

There were two elevators, each with an annex.

The south elevator was put up by Johnson Elevator Construction Co. This house is about as unprepossessing as they come: silos compressed in a small area and a pretty average-looking rectangular headhouse.


Tillotson’s manhole cover.

Attached to it is Tillotson’s annex of 10 tanks, or silos, of 20 feet in diameter. They are 114 feet 9 inches tall. Capacity was 312,000 bushels.

I had to accustom myself to the notion that Tillotson would build storage silos alone. After all of our grand talk about curved headhouses and a singular style, this job was generic. There’s no glory in annexes, but there was money.

And I find that Tillotson built eight storage annexes in 1954. They were in Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Company records for that year list 16 jobs in all, so storage was half of the business.

The annex is holding up much better than the main house. Johnson used a coarse aggregate for its concrete, which is crumbling in some key places. It would be interesting to know when this job was done and the circumstances behind it.

The north elevator has an elegant stepped headhouse with plenty of curves. Some faded lettering can still be read: “Orienta Co-op Ass’n.” (For grammarians among us, that’s nice use of the apostrophe to represent missing letters!) I found Johnson-Sampson on the manhole cover. Kristen and I believe that design philosophy trickled down to this company from Mayer-Osborn.


On the south face of the crumbling Johnson elevator, visible above the Tillotson annex, the same slogan appears in a burnt sienna color.

I’m seeking more information about this complex and will provide an update when more news is revealed.



Leaving Texas and hightailing it across the High Plains of Oklahoma


By Ronald Ahrens

Leaving the twin Tillotson and Mayer-Osborn elevators in Follett, Tex., I reached the Oklahoma border after nine miles. The wind blew hard, I could smell smoke from grassfires, and the desolation clamped down like a federal mandate.

The Welcome-to-Oklahoma sign was in tatters, having taken a few slugs. 

Texas-Okla Logo 04Again, something my father used to say–“Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles”–was apt for the situation.

Having visited 10 elevators in the Texas Panhandle, I was driving east and then south on Route 15 until it met U.S. 60. It was classic High Plains topography, but before meeting the U.S. route, the road surprised me by plunging into the valley of Wolf Creek.

Out of nowhere, the town of Shattuck and a towering grain elevator appeared.

IMG_9242I crossed the railroad tracks and turned left for a cursory look and quick photo. The bigger elevator, which I guessed to be a contemporary of the Tillotson and Mayer-Osborn elevators in Booker and Follett, Tex., had the most monstrous headhouse yet. It also had an outside double-driveway and a shed over the rail siding.

Inside the office of CGB Enterprises, Inc., they couldn’t tell me much but were as friendly as could be despite my interrupting at lunch time.


Scoular elevator, Omaha. Rose Ann Fennessy photo.

Here’s an interesting coincidence showing how nowhere can be connected to everywhere: Just three weeks before, CGB’s eponymous subsidiary, Consolidated Grain & Barge Co., had bought four elevators in the Mississippi Delta from The Scoular Company, of Omaha.

Later, one of the workers took a photo of a manhole cover and they texted it to me, but it only bore the name of the foundry. Later I would hear the Shattuck elevator was built by Sampson & Fisher. Whether that’s definitive, I don’t know.

Altogether, on the route I’d chosen, Orienta, my next destination, was still 90 minutes off. 

At one town along the way, I stopped in a minimarket for a corndog and was buttonholed by a poor lonely woman–who was buying cigarettes and had already bent the ear of the cashier and another customer–talk about her well-educated aunts and uncles.

IMG_9240Yes, one of those “conversations” in which someone needs another person to talk to, but I didn’t want to make eye contact lest I spend another 20 minutes hearing about her life.

Maybe I should have hung in there and listened to the whole story, but I got back in the truck and took off. There were four more elevators to visit; my main quest for the afternoon was Goltry, where Tillotson Construction Co. built its first elevator of reinforced concrete in 1939.


A Friday photofest from Follett


Tillotson headhouse and ladder-climb challenge.

By Ronald Ahrens

Who wants to read an long rambling story about my travels through the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma when the weekend is coming and, before leaving work, you’d rather look at waders on the Cabela’s site?

Texas-Okla Logo 04How about we look at a few more pictures from Follett, Tex., instead? We have the unique circumstance of a Tillotson elevator and a Mayer-Osborn elevator at the same site.

The Tillotson stands on the south end and the Mayer-Osborn on the north. The Tillotson has center and outside driveways and a gigantic 52-foot-tall headhouse. Even though it started with the standard Medford plan, it ended up a singular thing.

The Mayer-Osborn has only an outside driveway, making the main house sleek as an eel, a showpiece with sheen. The east side smooths along like “On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe”–Johnny Mercer’s huge hit of 1945 (when neighbor Tillotson was built).

OK, let’s roll the pictures.


Mayer-Osborn has a boom, like many of the elevators I visited. As far as can be told, it’s a boom without a bust.



Tillotson, left, with High Headhouse and central driveway, and Mayer-Osborn, right, with dual outside driveway and the sleek, smooth profile. Both main houses have storage-annex extension. Quite a nice cottage, as well, on the corner of Nagel St. and Travis or Frazier Ave. 


So long from Follett, Tex.!