Looking for details of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Follett, Tex.

By Ronald Ahrens

As I observed on Monday, we know a few locations where Mayer-Osborn built–for example, Roggen, Colo.; McCook and Maywood, Neb.; Odebolt and Blencoe, Iowa; and Cordell, Okla.

Texas-Okla Logo 04This Mayer-Osborn elevator in Follett, Texas, came as a surprise.

It’s a handsome one, probably dating to the late-1940s, and in good condition. And it has a new owner. We would love to know his plans.

Meanwhile, let me show you more photos of the mighty M-O elevator. One aspect you’ll note are the X-braced windows. My guess is it’s related to the routine, high winds.


How Follett residents see their elevators. The 1945 Tillotson stands left, the Mayer-Osborn elevator on right. Without a central driveway, like the Tillotson, the M-O presents a sleeker, more streamlined profile.


The headhouse has a step. This elevator was probably built in the late-1940s. In coming years M-O would enlarge the headhouse of their new elevators and curve the corners.


The west side of the main house has a different shape from the east, which is smooth. The run from the headhouse and extending over the storage annex is unusually graceful.


Smooth business on the east side. Note the generous double-driveway. Not only was reinforced concrete used for additional storage, but a metal bin joined the team as well

A few more details to share. Hover over each photo to make the caption appear.

In Follett, Tillotson and Mayer-Osborn twins are sold to new owner


By Ronald Ahrens

The northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle was the subject of dispute of between Texas and Oklahoma for 79 years, from 1850 to 1929, despite the precise boundary coordinates having been given as 100 degrees longitude and 36 degrees and 30 minutes latitude.

Texas-Okla Logo 04A historical marker outside Follett says nine surveys were made to locate the Panhandle’s corner. None coincided. Nevertheless, land was annexed to Texas in 1903.

One man claimed he went to bed in Oklahoma and woke in Texas.

Finally, in 1929, the United States Supreme Court had a survey done, lines were moved, and that was that.


The stepped headhouse would become a more exaggerated–and rounded–feature of Mayer-Osborn’s elevators. 

Whereas the officials had a hard time setting the boundary, the people on either side of it sure were good at growing grain, and it needed to be stored.

We find in Follett the unusual, perhaps singular, circumstance of a Tillotson elevator and a Mayer-Osborn one on the same site. See yesterday’s post for an explanation. The M-O house and annex are seen at the top of this post and in pictures throughout.

We know Tillotson’s was a 1945 job; without Mayer-Osborn’s records, I have to guess. Although this M-O has a stepped headhouse, which was their signature, it is composed of rectangles and has unique window arrangements, with three small daylight windows coyly stacked atop one another on the south face. (Again, this is seen in the topmost photo.) Like the Tillotson elevator, it is labeled “Farmers.” Both elevators have annexes by Chalmers & Borton.

My guess is this was an early job for Mayer-Osborn.

The exterior walls of the Mayer-Osborn’s main house have an attractive flat surface over the silos. It looks aerodynamcally efficient, even if that’s not the point of a massive structure of reinforced concrete sticking up 150 feet on the windy Plains.

The paint was excellent, almost glossy.


Another feature was the outside double-driveway, something we hadn’t encountered before.

No one was around. I went over to the office and saw a sign saying “Farmers Grain & Sply Co” painted on the backrest of a bench. A paper sign hanging in the window said Tri-State Ag & Environmental LLC.”

I called the number given there and learned the elevators had recently been sold and was given a name and another number. But so far there’s been no response to my voice message.

Arriving in Follett, Tex., and stumbling onto a big surprise


By Ronald Ahrens

As I drove east from Booker, Tex., on that peaceful Wednesday morning, there was no suggestion I was in for a shocking surprise.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Following Route 15, I passed through the tiny town of Darrouzett, heading for Follett. This is the last town in the northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle.

Like Booker and Spearman, it was named for a railroad man, Horace Follett, a “locating” engineer. Even Darrouzett was named for a railroad attorney.

From a high point among the land’s gentle undulations, I got a glimpse of the elevator complex in Follett. Looming on the horizon, two elevators faced each other. I would have guessed the Tillotson job of 1945 was the one on the right with the rectangular headhouse. Later in the ’40s, they perfected their signature curved headhouse.

The other elevator with the stepped headhouse was rather mysterious.

IMG_9150Here, it’s necessary to remind you of some basic information. My grandfather on my mother’s side was Reginald O. Tillotson. He and his brother, Joe, took over Tillotson Construction Co. after my great-grandfather, Charles H. Tillotson, died in 1938. They started building concrete elevators, instead of wooden ones, the next year.

Reginald and Joe split up in 1948, and Joe went to Denver, where he established his own company. He built a few elevators before dying in a car accident.

My partner in this blog is Kristen Osborn Cart. Her grandfather, William A. Osborn, became a partner in Mayer-Osborn Construction Co., also of Denver, around that same time. Bill Osborn had worked for Tillotson Construction Co. before starting in business for himself.


Looking west toward Darrouzett’s elevator and antenna tower.

We have Tillotson’s construction record, but so far the equivalent from Mayer-Osborn has eluded us. We do know of a few locations where Mayer-Osborn built–for example, Roggen, Colo.; McCook and Maywood, Neb.; Odebolt and Blencoe, Iowa; and Cordell, Okla. 

I was unable to guess that here, in the very northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle, I was walking right into what may be a one-of-a-kind pairing.

When I got into town, I poked around the Pryor Avenue site. The two elevators looked to be in nice enough shape, but there was no sign of recent activity. I got my pictures of the Tillotson elevator. Then I marched across the yard to the other elevator, the mysterious and more handsome one with the stepped headhouse.

IMG_9204Much to my surprise, the manhole covers were engraved with Mayer-Osborn’s name. It was like having heard of a grand cathedral in some distant land but arriving there and finding it face-to-face with another great cathedral. 

And it made me wonder about something: Had Bill Osborn worked on the Tillotson elevator here in ’45 and made business connections?

I took a photo with my phone and sent it to Kristen right away.




Reviewing dimensions, details of Tillotson’s ’45 job in Booker, Tex.


By Ronald Ahrens

By 1945, some six years after its first reinforced-concrete elevator, Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, had completed 15 such jobs, with a hiatus in 1942 and 1943 because of wartime materials shortages.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The size of these elevators ranged from tiny, namely, 37,550 bushels at Peterson, Iowa, to quite enormous, 350,000 bushels at Farnsworth, Tex. Where’s that? Looking again at the map, I drove right through Farnsworth on Route 15 about 10 miles before reaching Booker. Somehow, when planning this road trip, I missed Farnsworth in the company’s construction record. So I got nothing from that early giant–a deflating thing weeks after the fact.

Six of the 15 earliest elevators had less than a 100,000-bushel capacity. The Booker elevator was on the larger side at 216,000 bushels. As previously mentioned, it followed a plan (with some revisions) first established in 1941 at Medford, Okla.

IMG_9096Booker was capable of holding 6,480 tons of grain. Fully loaded, the whole shebang weighed 10,798 tons. For the record, a Boeing 747-8 weighs as much as 970,000 pounds, or 458 tons, at takeoff. So a whole lot of big airplanes are represented in the elevator’s maximum gross weight.

The 21-inch-thick main slab was laid over a pit measuring 13 feet 9 inches in depth. (Farnsworth’s pit plunged down 26 feet!) Booker’s capacious rectangular headhouse was 21.5 feet wide, 48.5 feet long, and 33 feet high. The pulley centers were 158.16 feet apart. 


Wondering if this ladder next to the man lift goes all the way to the headhouse.

The single leg comprised a boot pulley of 24 x 14 x 3 3/16 inches and a head pulley of 72 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches. In just a couple of years it was typical for boot and head to be the same 72-inch diameter.

The pulleys turned at 42 rpm thanks to a 40-horse Howell motor made in Howell, Mich. The 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt with 12 x 6-inch cups at nine-inch intervals had a theoretical capacity (according to the rating of the cups’ manufacturer) of lifting 7,500 bushels per hour out of the pit. Actual capacity ran 6,000 bushels per hour. For the day, it was a high-performance leg: the companion elevator built the same year in Follett, which had pulley centers stretched 180.58 feet apart, realized actual of 4,100 bushels per hour.

A 2-hp motor moved the man lift up to the headhouse and back. The truck lift used the same 7-hp Ehrsam motor that Tillotson liked for this purpose. And a 3-hp motor operated the dust collection system’s fan.

All of 73 years after its construction, the Booker behemoth was wide awake on the morning of April 18, 2018, still doing its job.


How the working grain fortress in Booker, Tex., came to be in 1945



By Ronald Ahrens

I have to say it was something of a thrill to see the Tillotson elevator at work in Booker, Tex. My grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson, was 37 years old when his company built it. He would be so pleased about its continued operation, and the modifications and markings, in the crazy far-off future of 2018.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Long ago, most people stopped staring in wonder at these towering grain elevators. As they proliferated, elevators became almost invisible. We stare at our phones now, even while driving. On roads as straight as Route 15 leading into Booker, that’s not much of a trick.

If anything, people use the elevators as navigational points and hardly give them another thought.

It should be remarked that a crew from Tillotson Construction Co. strove mightily, risking their lives, to put up this elevator in 1945. We wish we knew the names of those men. We hope to find more records.

IMG_9114When this single-leg, 216,000-bushel elevator went up over a period of about 10 weeks, it enhanced the skyline of the northeast Texas Panhandle, being one of the first of its type. We don’t know the dates into which that 10-week period fell, but all this happened as the United States was wrapping up the war in the Pacific. Labor was scarce; materials–especially steel–were just becoming available.

Booker followed the plan established for Medford, Okla., in 1941. This entailed a 21-inch-thick slab over a pit 13 feet 9 inches deep.

The tanks, or silos, rose 120 feet. Unlike elevators soon to come, they were 15.5 feet in diameter (if indeed they followed the Medford plan). Elevators to come would have silos of 20 feet in diameter.

This behemoth consumed 1,875 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, another 20 cubic yards of plain concrete for the hoppers, and 83.25 tons of reinforcing steel. 

It’s interesting to note the company records include costs for 10 of the first 16 elevators that Tillotson built. Alas, Booker, which is among them, is in a group of five elevators for which these figures are omitted. A note in that space says “Not Completed 10-10-46.” 

What we can say is that in ’45 Tillotson completed similar elevators in Burlington and Cherokee, Okla. Burlington’s total cost, less commission, was $69,819.15. Cherokee was slightly more expensive: $73,973.90. 


In that year, the difference between them of $4,154.75 represented a lot of dough.

Before the auto industry suspended production of passenger cars, switching to war production, a ’42 Chrysler New Yorker eight-passenger limousine set you back all of $3,065. The U.S. Census Bureau says in 1940 the average price of a house in Texas was $17,600. One can imagine a lower figure for the Panhandle with its one-dimensional economy and sparse population.

Labor rates of 75 cents per hour and $1.25 for overtime at Cherokee more than doubled the 30 to 35 cents per hour Tillotson was paying on jobs undertaken from 1939 to through 1941. Overtime rates reached a lofty 60 cents per hour.

Alas, even though a line item for costs appears on subsequent pages of the records, the totals are only recorded through 1946.

How the Tillotson elevator in Booker, Tex., revealed itself to a visitor


By Ronald Ahrens

After a breakfast at La Choza (The Hut) that included a side order of chorizo, I returned to the complex in Booker, Tex., where Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, had built a 216,000-bushel, single-leg elevator in 1945.

Texas-Okla Logo 04It had been sleeping during my visit before breakfast, but now it was alive. The staff had opened up for business.

I walked in through the center-driveway door and told a staffer what I was up to. He welcomed me to look around.

Just then another employee arrived at ground level in the man-lift. This is the secret little elevator inside the main house, just large enough for a single occupant who rides to the top in order to work inside the headhouse or the run.

IMG_9099Power originally came from a 2-hp motor, and for all I knew the original unit was still doing its job.

A bit of clattering ensued as the lift bumped to a stop over a tire that’s laid in the cell to act as a spring. The man let himself out. He had received no explanation why a photographer was present and thrilled to take this picture, but he smiled upon exit and went about his business.

There’s a ladder beside the man-lift. Does it go all the way to the top, too? The electrical conduits seemed to do the same.

It didn’t occur to me to ask. I set about photographing every detail, as if the candy jar had spilled on the floor.

Inside and out, the main house had a well-worn look–maybe I can get away with saying “burnished”–but everything seemed to be in working order. Every door, window, ladder, and passageway tells a story.

IMG_9073Additionally, the elevator has served, and may still serve, as a storm shelter. Some big, powerful twisters blow across these plains, and if anyone needed protection, this was the place to find it.

Tomorrow we’ll have a look at the specs and more details.

An early morning visit to an early Tillotson elevator at Booker, Tex.


By Ronald Ahrens

In 1945, far in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle hard against the Oklahoma Panhandle, Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, built a 216,000-bushel grain elevator in the town of Booker. Records show it was the company’s 15th reinforced-concrete elevator. The construction occurred in the same year as Tillotson’s 212,000-bushel job just 23 miles over the road to Follett.

Texas-Okla Logo 04With about 1,300 people today, Booker sits on the Ochiltree and Lipscomb county line. It is about the same distance, roughly 400 miles, from here to Denver or Dallas.

The elevator complex was on the Santa Fe Railroad’s tracks, but these were taken out years ago. Originally they were the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railroad’s tracks. There is a curious history to this, as we find in the Wikipedia entry:

“Booker was founded seven miles north of where it currently sits as La Kemp, Oklahoma, in 1909. However, 10 years later when the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway was built from Shattuck, Oklahoma, to Spearman, Texas, the entire town moved seven miles across the state line to be near the railroad. The town was platted shortly before the move in 1917 by Thomas C. Spearman who had Spearman, Texas named after him. La Kemp was renamed Booker in honor of one of the engineers for the railroad.”


The Tillotson elevator’s headhouse, middle, is 48.5 feet long and 33 feet high.

On this early morning of April 18, I approached from the west on Route 15, looking into the twilight on the horizon.

I didn’t know yet that I was looking at an amalgam of elevators and storage silos. The tall headhouse was that of a second elevator on the site, one by another builder.

Tillotson’s Booker elevator adhered to a revised plan from Medford, Okla., which was a 1941 job. (Tillotson built no elevators in 1942 or 1943.)

IMG_9067Medford had tanks, or silos, of 15.5-feet in diameter and a center driveway.

In 1945, Tillotson hadn’t yet developed its curved headhouse, so this one in Booker seemed a little impertinent and rigid.

I had the place to myself while taking pictures. Mostly, in this light, I could only shoot profiles. So I went down to the sports field at the southwest corner of town for the long view.

Then, desperately hungry, I found my way to La Choza (The Hut) for a hearty breakfast including extra chorizo, all for $9.69.

What happened when I returned to the elevator after breakfast is the subject of tomorrow’s post.







Roundup of Tillotson elevator photos from Hartley, Dalhart, and Gruver, Tex.


In Hartley, Tex., an old Dodge pickup reposes in view of the Tillotson elevator’s rounded headhouse.


Tillotson Construction Co. records don’t show it, but we think the storage annex at Hartley was one of their later jobs.




I have to confess I don’t know where in the Texas Panhandle this was–nothing in my notes about it–but here’s a random elevator complex that seems worth sharing. 


A closer view of the metal-clad wooden elevator. Note the modest eaves, which reduced the chance of catching sparks from a passing train.


Symmetrical form, an elevator’s ‘face,’ and one of the first curved headhouses


By Ronald Ahrens

Sometimes we need to slow down and look longer at details of our grain elevators. They seem to be architecturally significant buildings, and those who love midcentury-modern style should extol them. No big-name architect like Richard Neutra was involved. Yet we see flourishes to compare to Albert Frey’s upward-curving eaves or sculptural statements like the asymmetry at E. Stewart Williams’s Edris House in Palm Springs. 

Texas-Okla Logo 04With elevators it’s more the case of form over function, which leads to a vernacular style, beauty by accident. Many cars were like this: the Volkswagen Beetle, for example, loved by all.

Our correspondent Rose Ann Fennessy said the elevator in Farley, Tex., had “a testy face.”

What I tend to see, looking at the rectangular windows, is robot eyes.

Taking a closer look at the Tillotson’s 1947 elevator in Gruver, Tex., pictured above and below, I note the symmetry of window placement in the headhouse. (In ’47 they preferred the term “cupola.”) The high windows are paired up and aligned over two silos. The bottom three windows form a neat row. And a smaller side-light on the curving portion lines up with the tops of the topmost windows.

The Gruver elevator was similar to the design for Satanta, Kan., which was also built in 1947. Together they descend from a plan developed the previous year for Dike, Iowa. Although it’s a long view, one image from Satanta squares with what we see of Gruver.

IMG_9042I called up Uncle Chuck Tillotson to ask about the articulation and curved part of the headhouse. Could he imagine how this advance came about? As we saw in the Dalhart entries in this road-trip series, Tillotson still built a standard headhouse that was entirely rectangular in 1947.

“The only thing I can think of is that it was formed that way to accommodate some equipment inside,” Uncle Chuck said. “Maybe they’re were trying to see if the formwork and the slipping would actually do the trick for the accommodation of the inside equipment.”

He continued: “It’s gotta be formed that way for a reason. “This is the first one that I’ve seen the beginnings of the curved headhouse.”

Records for Satanta include mention of “Roto-Flo Distrib.” Below, on right and left, are Tillotson’s drawings for headhouses with Roto-Flow distribution. The left, dated 1953, is for a 314,000-bushel elevator in Cherokee, Iowa,. The right, undated, is labeled “254,000 bu. Reinforced Conc. Grain Elev.” And the center, also undated, with radial distribution to all bins, is the headhouse outfitting plan for a 250,000-bushel elevator. 

“Roto flow to me would say it’s like going at the end of the belt and it just rotates around and starts over again,” Uncle Chuck said. “Horizontal versus vertical doesn’t entail the curved headhouse.

Then, as a caveat, he added, “I’m just making that up.”

But it’s likely he’s close to the mark.

Could Tillotson’s elevator in Gruver, Tex., have taken on the monster tornado of ’71?


By Ronald Ahrens

In 1971 a monstrous tornado just missed Gruver, Tex., veering away from the town at the last minute.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The funnel cloud was as great as two miles wide, and we can’t help wondering what would have happened if a direct strike had engulfed the town of 1,100 souls and its fine Tillotson elevator.

Besides breaking windows, ripping out doors, twisting spouts and ladders and sending them flying, the tornado might have played hell with some of the elevatotr’s internals as they became exposed.

The reinforced-concrete structure would have looked tattered, but it might well have withstood the fierce storm. Anyone sheltering in the basement would have been rattled but OK.

IMG_9053Records kept by Tillotson Construction Co. reveal this single-leg elevator was built in 1947 and was, as a note says, “Similar to Satanta (but 125′ D.F. walls).”

That’s the Kansas town where Tillotson built earlier the same year. To decode that sentence: Satanta is a town 100 miles away in southwestern Kansas; D.F. stands for drawform, and Satanta’s silos were 120 feet high. 

Both elevators succeeded from the Dike, Iowa, plan of 1946.

The basics are that this 265,000-bushel elevator had eight tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter–two feet less than Tillotson would later offer as the standard dimension.

Gruver had an extra attached driveway, a hopper scale in the cupola, and double distribution floors.

The entry for Satanta notes some 2,072 cubic yards of reinforced concrete were used, and 25 cubic yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

Steel used for reinforcing the concrete amounted to 107.50 (including the amount used for jack rods).

The 21-inch-thick main slab sprawled over an area measuring 57 x 69.5 feet. The records say that amounted to 3,754 square feet “outside on ground.” Again, as with other Texas elevators, we get 3,961.5 square feet and can’t account for the difference.

If the tornado bumped against the elevator, it would have realized this structure had 4,251 tons of reinforced concrete and weighed 12,351 tons when fully loaded. The confrontation would have been interesting.

The cupola, or headhouse, measured 21.5 feet wide, 48.5 feet long, and 40.25 feet high.


With a pit reaching 16 feet in depth, the pulley centers of the leg were 166.75 feet apart. Pulleys were standard size: the boot was 72 x 14 x 3 3/16 inches while the head pulley was .75-inch deeper. The head turned at 42 rpm.

The 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt stretched over a distance of 360 feet and carried 12 x 6-inch cups. Two 40-hp Howell motors were installed to turn the leg. Theoretical capacity was 8,450 bushels per hour, but actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, coming to 6,750 bushels per hour.

The man lift rose and dropped with a 2-hp Ehrsam motor. The truck lift had a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

After 71 years, this Tillotson elevator appeared to be in good working condition and maybe even ready to take on the next monster storm that approached Gruver.