Art Parrish and his family went from one Mayer-Osborn elevator job to the next through the 1950s

Mary Ann (Parrish) Davis is the daughter of Art Parrish (b. 1921-d. 2012), who was a superintendent for Mayer-Osborn Construction Co. The family–Art, Flo, Alice, Mary, and their dog, Tuffy–went from job to job, living for weeks or months at a time in places ranging from Wyoming to New York. They had many marvelous, dramatic, and even tragic experiences. Mary was married 44 years to James Davis until he passed away in 2007. They had three children. Today she is known as Mary Mentel from a subsequent remarriage in 2011. We spoke to Mary by phone from her home in Oklahoma City on May 11, 2021.

Art Parrish

Mary: When he [Art] started working on elevators, he was only 18 and had just married my mom and worked as a laborer. In fact, his first day of work, he worked for his father-in-law, John Berle Fowler [Mary’s grandfather], he climbed into a big storm drain and fell asleep, so he [Fowler] fired him. After he forgave him and gave him another chance, he taught him to read blueprints. He [Art] worked real hard, and after a certain time he became a carpenter. When he was working as a carpenter, he was called to the Army in November of 1944. So from 1940 to 1944 he worked as a laborer and carpenter. Called into the army during the war, he was injured and sent home. He went back, and the war was over: they dropped the bomb. After the war he went back to work on an elevator because he already had experience and could read blueprints. He always thanked his father-in-law for that. It was in 1945 when he got out of the Army and  started working on this big job that was in Enid, Oklahoma. (That was his hometown.) He worked as a carpenter. His superintendent was Bill Grammar. So my dad was a carpenter for a year. Bill came to him and asked, “When this job is done, I have a small job in Oakland, Kansas. Do you think you can handle a foreman’s job?” The company from Hutchinson, Kansas, sent Bill up there. My dad said he didn’t know if he could do it, but sure would like to give it a try. Bill said it would pay $1.50 an hour. Now this was in 1946. The laborers got $1 an hour, the carpenters got $1.25, and a carpenter foreman got $1.50. Bill had been a superintendent for many years and–he was as old as his [Art’s] dad–and he only made $150 a week as a superintendent. He was on a steady salary. That’s how things were in those days. But you could buy a new car every other year, which my dad always did that. He said with that kind of money, things were cheap then. 

There was an old man that worked with my dad. His name was Roy Snodgrass. He kind of treated him like a son. My dad was still limping. He’d been shot in the leg a couple of places with a machine gun in the war. This old man said, “Are you getting your pension?” My dad said no. Well, he forced him to go downtown and sign up for that. My dad was always thankful. He said one day it was raining, and when that happened they would go into the toolshed and play poker. And Roy told my dad, “Come on, we’re going to go get you signed up for your pension.” So they did, and about a year later he started getting his pension in 1946. This doesn’t have anything to do with elevators, but his pension was $42 a month. By 2006 it was $800 a month. But then in 2007 the government cut it in half for any vets over 80 years old, which I thought was really sad. 

Myrl Davis, who was Mary’s father-in-law, with crew at an undetermined job site.

He said he never did see Roy again after that job. Then from 1946 to 1952, Art worked for six years as a carpenter foreman. He was all over the Midwest on different jobs, all grain elevators. There was just one time he worked on a cement plant. Then he was hired in 1952 as a superintendent when I was eight years old. 

My grandfather, J.D. Fowler, worked construction on the elevators. My father-in-law, Myrl Davis, he worked for Mayer-Osborn. In 1952 we were in Rudd, Iowa. It was population 400–you probably never heard of it. The elevator was the only tall building in town. It was really a big deal. There were about 10 kids in my third-grade class, and my dad invited the teacher and the children to come up on top after it was finished. So that was a big deal for me and my class. There was a  small elevator on the outside of the [grain] elevator. That’s what we got in to go up. I think he called it a manlift. I don’t know if they used ropes or it was electric. On that job his foreman was Ray Rogers. There were like three families of us that traveled, and we would see each like every other year. We kind of grew up together. Myrl Davis, Ray Rogers, and Art Parrish–those three families. And I ended up marrying Myrl Davis’s son and was married for 44 years before he died. He had one sister and 10 brothers, and all the boys were named with girls’ names. One of the brothers worked on one of my dad’s elevators, I’m not sure which one, but he had a heart attack on top. They all died before they were 65 of heart attacks; they were all kind of heavy drinkers. The one that died on top, he had a heart attack on top of the elevator. My dad carried him down. By the time he got he down, he was gone. My dad never told me these things till I was old.  

We went to Rochester, New York, and that was where my dad worked on the cement plant. 

[Mary raises the question whether it could have been a Mayer-Osborn Co. job, and we discuss the range of their work throughout the Plains, down to Texas, points in Iowa, and even Tempe, Ariz.] 

My dad worked an elevator in Tempe, Arizona, when I was in first grade. If I was in first grade it would have been probably 1948 or 1949. I remember Tempe. When we drove into town everybody was wearing coats. It was like 65 degrees and raining. Everybody was shivering. We were laughing at them. I learned to ride a bike in Tempe. I liked it there. 

Flo, Art, Mary (front), and Alice and an Oldsmobile

After Rochester–that’s the first place I ate pizza; it was wonderful–we went to Iron Mountain, Michigan. It was way out in the country and really cold. We went ice fishing. We saw the biggest ski jump in the whole world. And then when I went to school there, I went in and the teacher told them I was from New York, and they all applauded. This was a little bitty country school and I guess they thought I was from New York City or maybe they thought everybody from New York was a celebrity.

In 1955 we lived in North Canton, Ohio, and built an elevator there.  

In 1958, when I was 14, the elevator we built in Limon, Colorado, was right across the field from where we lived in a trailer court. So I saw it go up, and that was really interesting. It seemed like it took most of the summer for the foundation. When they poured that, my dad always worked–even when he was superintendent–he worked 48 hours straight when they poured that concrete. The other guys would be on a shift, eight or 10 hours, but a lot of times he had to call people in to help because they wouldn’t show up. He started getting ulcers because he was worried a lot about different things. I’d walk outside at night, after dark, and you could see across the field from our trailer court, it was bright out there. They’d string lights above and have floodlights shining down so they could keep working constantly for 48 hours. Then they’d get to go home and sleep for maybe a day so it would dry real good. Dad was superintendent, Myrl Davis was foreman. A lot of times on different jobs, either Myrl or Ray Rogers would be foreman. Some jobs he had both of them working, one as carpenter, one as foreman.  I was surprised after they did that foundation. It shocked me how fast that elevator went up, like one day it wasn’t there and the next day it was. Of course then they had all the inside and everything else to do. But it just went up so fast. I always knew he was on a time limit because they were on a contract, and if they didn’t finish within a certain time, they didn’t get as much money and they got in big trouble. My dad was real good about getting it done and doing it well. He said as far as he knew, in his whole life, he never had problems with his elevators. A lot of different companies, it crumbled or they had problems. His were always really well built. 

Mary Ann Parrish Davis, now Mary Mentel

I’m not sure where we were going in 1954, but our trailer turned over when we were pulling it on a wet two-lane road in Wyoming. These two big semi-trucks passed us real fast, and from the air pressure the trailer started weaving and my dad lost control and it turned over. It was the only one we had. It was brand-new, extra wide and long and like a split-level. That was a scary time, real traumatic for my parents. We had to live in apartments for a while until we bought a used trailer. I think back on my favorite Christmas. It was when that happened. Because we had no money, we were in a motel room. So they got these big Christmas stockings full of toys and candy. And the next year we made our own Christmas decorations. 

The last job that my dad worked on was in Commerce City, Colorado. That’s near Denver. It’s like a suburb. That was in the 1960s. He quit building the elevators. He painted the old ones, put the names of the towns on them. They stayed in Denver because my sister and I had gone to over 30 schools when we were growing up. [Art and Flo were divorced during this period in Denver.] Even after he retired my dad never quit working. He built his own house. He poured patios and driveways for people all around Denver, and he painted houses with his stepson and his family. He loved getting together with Ray Rogers and Myrl Davis and laughing and talking about old times. 

After we kids got married and moved out, he married my stepmother. They moved back to Commerce City. She had a house there. 

Art Parrish

My dad died in 2012. He was 91 years old. He was told he had cancer in 2007 and had six weeks to six months to live. My mother died, my husband died, my stepsister died. My dad was still alive. I was grieving everybody, and I said, “I’m not going to grieve him any more.” He lived until 2012–that much longer. The doctor said, “What do you want to do with the time you’ve got left?” He said, “I want to make a liar out of you.” And he did. 

Marvin Keele recalls building Mayer-Osborn’s Blencoe, Iowa, elevator in the hot summer of 1954

Ronald Ahrens and Kristen Cart spoke to Marvin Keele, of Blencoe, Iowa, on April 20, 2021. Marvin is 88 years old. In 1954 (above) he spent a few weeks working on construction of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Blencoe. The interview starts with Ronald’s explanation about use of the voice recorder and typing a rough transcript during the phone call. 

Marvin: Well, I hope I can answer your questions. (Hearty laugh.) 

Ronald: How did you get the job working on elevator construction in Blencoe? What was the connection? How old were you? What did you do?

Ronald Ahrens and Kristen Cart at BMW Performance Center West, Thermal, California, April 22, 2021. We are just a few months from observing the 10th anniversary of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators.

Marvin: I’d just turned 21 the fall before. I worked for the school with the buses, but they didn’t hire me during the summertime. I had to have a summer job. Word got out in town that they were hiring, and I and a guy from a nearby town were the first two hired. His name was Dale Vrainburg (sp?). He passed away at 100 here just a year or two ago. 

Ronald: So you had been colleagues since 1954. Have you been in Blencoe all this time? 

Marvin: Yep. I was born outside town here, and I’ve lived here all my life. 

Ronald: You heard through the grapevine that they were hiring. What did they call your job? 

Marvin: Well, they hired us as carpenters to build the forms. When we went to work the wage was 75 cents an hour. But for every week you stayed with them you got a dime raise up to $1.25. That was top wage. It was awful good money because they paid time-and-a-half over 40 hours. We worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week. So we had three days that we got time and a half. In ‘54, that was awful good money. I worked there from first part of June to a little bit into August, and I had to go back to work at the school. But we saved enough money that we could buy some furniture and go with my brother-in-law to Oregon on a trip. 

Ronald: You and your wife? 

Marvin: Yeah, Mary. We’re the M&M kids. We were married in Nov. ‘53. So we got married in November the year before, and I went to work at the elevator in the summertime. 

Ronald: Was your young bride concerned about your safety? 

Marvin: No, huh-uh. Nothing to be concerned about over there. The first thing they did was build a big deck so they could draw out the shape of the bins. We made a big deck. The engineer chart drew out the shape of all the bins. When they got to building the forms, we just followed the shape on the deck.  

Ronald: Was this all an adventure for you? 

Marvin: It was something I’d never done, being as young as I was. I just got out of the Air Force the year before, then went to work at the school. After they hired Dale and I, people would come to apply for a job and when they’d take their name down and say, “Well, we’ll let you know,” then they’d call Dale and I into the shack there, the timekeeper’s shack, and they’d say, “You know these guys? Would they be good workers? So Dale and I, we kind of could steer some of our friends into jobs that the other people didn’t have a chance to get. 

Inside the excavation at Blencoe: rebar mats, welder, and formwork for pits

Kristen: My name’s Kristen Cart–Kristen Osborn by birth. The Mayer-Osborn Company, that was my grandfather. I know my dad was on that job that summer. Jerry Osborn was there just for the summer. He was at pouring stage, putting in rebar. 

Marvin: I just mailed copies of some pictures I had. It’s showing all the rebar they put into the base of it, into the footings. I sent four pictures, and it shows all the rebar that went into the base. And in the center of one picture, you can see the dump bit, or the boot pit–we called it the boot pit–that was put in where they dumped the grain. 

Kristen: Do you remember the name of the superintendent on that job? 

Marvin: Ernie Mendoza was the foreman. That’s who we worked with. 

Kristen: Do you remember somebody named Dick Osborn on the job? 

Marvin: No, not really. I know there was an Osborn that was in the time shack and was the boss. 

Kristen: OK, that would have been him. 

Marvin: I’ll tell you something interesting about that. We had three guys that came to work, and they’d been working in another town for a local contractor. They were getting 75 cents and hour, no raises, no time-and-a-half. They came and got a job, and by the third day they was there, they got talking among themselves that Dale and I and a few others were getting more money per hour than they were. So they went over to time shack, and they went in and said, “Those guys, we’re doing the same job those guys are, and they’re getting more money. I imagine Dick Osborn, I think, was running it and I don’t know, whoever the Osborn was that was running the time shack said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” He pulled their time cards, wrote them out a check and said, “It’s been nice knowing you.” They came back about two weeks and said, “Can we come back to work?” He said, “Yeah, if you start out at 75 cents an hour and work your way up, you can come back to work.” And another thought that came to my mind today, they hired quite a few high school seniors, kids who were going to be seniors in high school in the fall. One was my cousin, Eric Keele. He was going to be a senior in high school that fall. He showed up for work, I think it was the second day, third day. I went by and he was.digging a hole. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m digging a hole for the outhouse.” That was in the days before Port-a-Potties. 

Ronald: We don’t have any photos of those outhouses. That would be a new department for us. 

Marvin: There wasn’t a city water system at that time. One of the pictures I sent you, I wrote on the back that there was somebody, I couldn’t tell who it was, you see back, and he was at the water pump evidently cleaning up or cooling off. They just put a point down, and had a water system that we drank out of and things. 

Ronald: Did you ever work the night shift? They went 24 hours a day. 

Marvin: I quit before they started up. I worked nights when we were pumping water. See, we live out here on the Missouri River bottom, and the water level is most times about 10 to 15 foot. When they got ready to put the boot pit, or dump pit, down I think around 80 two-inch points all around the perimeter, and they had two big Hercules engines–I think they were propane powered–and they pumped water 24 hours a day out into the ditch. They never shut ‘em down. They had somebody watch the pumps all the time–they had a sight gauge on the side with oil in it. That’s how they checked the oil level in the pumps. They never shut down. 

Ronald: We wanted to ask you, there were some problems with this job. You wrote a little bit about that when you commented on a post. Could you go into any more detail about what happened? They had to tear part of the elevator back down, right? 

Marvin: I quit and went on the trip. What they told in town, whether it was right or not, they had some of the forms were upside down. The forms had to be a little bit wider at bottom than they did the top so they’d slide. That’s what they told in town. They got up about 14 feet or something like that. When we got back from our trip they were tearing it down, but I didn’t go back to work because I had to go to work at the school. As I said, they put down all of those two-inch points to pump water. Then they built a coffer dam that was bigger than the dump pit. They built it out and dug down and stuck it in the ground. It was about eight-, 10-foot tall. Then they built another section on top of that, and they stuck it clear down in the ground and kept pumping the water out around the perimeter. Then we went down in there and built the forms for the dump pit. 

Kristen: Dad said that the concrete was slumping underneath the form, so they tore it down and started over. 

Marvin: Yeah, they tore it down and started over. They had quite a few high school kids working on that. They had one kid, they got going, they were up about 15, 18 foot. Ernie Mendoza did not know kids, when he wasn’t around, they were jumping off of the deck down into cars of sand, they had the railroad cars, and these kids were jumping down into the cars of sand. One night, he told this one kid to do something, and the kid just pretended to be mad. He said, “Well, I’m tired of you telling me what to do, I’m just going to jump off of here. He went over and jumped off into that car of sand. I guess Mendoza looked down and he said, “Don’t you come back up on this deck tonight.” 

Ronald: That’s funny. We were wondering if there were any accidents. 

Marvin: Not that I know of. I never heard of any. 

Ronald: Is the elevator still standing in Blencoe? Is it in use today? 

Marvin: Oh, yeah. It’s there. 

Ronald: Does the co-op still use it? 

Marvin: A  big co-op from Fort Dodge, Iowa, had bought it. They put up, the one that we worked on, a few years later, they put up some bins beside it to expand it. And then they put up another one. A few years later they put up another one. Now this New Co-op–the name is New Coop[erative]–that took over here a couple years ago, they put up a $750,000 bin, they put up a new dryer, and they put up a big fertilizer plant for dry fertilizer. Now this year they have built a barge unloading and loading on the river, and reportedly they spent $7 million building that. We were just out there over the weekend and they got their first load of dry fertilizer on three barges. They emptied them out, and they’re going to ship three barges of soybeans back down the river. 

Ronald: Can you remember the buzz when the elevator was built. It was such a tall building that comes out of nowhere–kind of a big event for the town. Do you recall any commentary about that? 

Marvin: No, not really. We had some people pass through town the other day, and he hadn’t been here–he was raised here as a kid and left as a kid, and he said, “I never remember seeing that elevator from the schoolhouse.” I said, “Well, the reason you never saw it is because it wasn’t there when you were a kid in school.”  

Ronald: That was an older gentleman then, I guess. Anything else you want to tell us about your adventurous summer of ‘54. 

Marvin: Well, it was probably the hottest summer we’d had in years. It was really hot. In fact, I sent you a picture that I’m in, and I noted on the back, “Notice how tan I was.” We really got suntanned over there. In those days you never had sunscreen or thought about skin cancer or nothing. 

Kristen: That elevator that they put in later also had a problem. They had a blowout under one of the doors during construction. Do you remember that? 

Marvin: No, I don’t remember that. But they were building an elevator, the same company was building one at Odebolt that summer. They had problems at Odebolt. When they put the dump pit in, they run into a lot of big rock I guess. That’s the story we heard. They ran into some huge rocks they didn’t know about. 

Kristen: That’s when they were building the dump pit? 

Marvin: Yeah, they run into rock. Now this elevator over here, it sets on sand. There was no pilings put down. They said that sand was so solid that they just dug down about seven, eight feet, and then they put the base of it on that. There was no piling used in the construction of it. This blow sand–they call it blow sand–it’s wet and packed. When they put that elevator up they said, “That’s the best base there is.” That’s what they told us anyway. 

Kristen: That coffer dam that was built–was that left on-site and then filled in? 

Marvin: They just built the boot pit inside of it and covered it up. After they got the boot pit made, then they filled the boot pit with water to let it cure. We went out and walked on catwalks out over the water to work on different things. Like I say, it was primitive according to today’s construction because the jacks they used to move it up, they were all screw jacks, they weren’t hydraulic or anything. They had a water line that run around the perimeter to level it. And they had guys, that’s all they did, was go around and make sure the water level, they were level.

Kristen: That’s interesting. I wondered how they did that. 

Marvin: There was a plastic pipe that went all the way around to each screw jack.

Kristen: They said they filled the concrete into the forms with regular wheelbarrows. 

Marvin: Up on the deck they had wheelbarrows that they moved the concrete around the deck. In these pictures, you can see how much rebar in in the base of that thing. There’s just tons of rebar in it. 

Kristen: That’s why it’s still there. 

Marvin: There were two levels of rebar, a bottom level and they put up on blocks, I remember maybe eight, or 10, 12 inches off the base, and they laid a mat down, a rebar mat, and then they built another one above that, about three foot above it. So there was two mats of rebar put in there, and it’s all fastened together and welded together. You can see in those pictures, there was an electric welder setting out in the middle there, that they welded a lof that rebar together with.  

Ronald: Did they bring in a specialist to do that welding, or was it just the local guys and they got some training? 

Marvin: I don’ know, I don’t remember, because I say, Dale and I were hired to be carpenters and that’s all we did was build things, build forms and things. Then after that, then they put you to work doing other things. When the forms got done, I was done, I quit. I went on a trip, and then I had to go back to school to my job there. 

Ronald: You did what for the school district? 

Marvin: It wasn’t that big a district, and later on our district consolidated with another district. I had a lot more buses. I worked for the school 36 years. 

Kristen: What did you do in the Air Force? 

Marvin: I was in motor pool. I was in the Air Guard in Sioux City. In fact, today is our 70th anniversary of reporting to Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Maine, the 20th of April. They called us to active duty.  I always laugh that I was one of the few people that served on active duty and never went on active duty and never went to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. I joined the Guard, and they activated us. And they said when we get to Maine, we’ll send to Lackland for basic training. We got up there, and they said, “We’d be short-handed if we sent you down there. We’re going to give you a week of basic training here. They marched us around the block, took us out to the rifle range, and said, “You’re in!” 

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.

Some initials on a bronze plaque in Limon, Colo., help to solve a mystery

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

My father, Jerry Osborn, and I had a rare opportunity this October to take a road trip. Our goals were to see family, check out our hunting camp, and see some of the sights in the west. Dad is in his eighties now, so we don’t put off any chances to do neat stuff. This trip exceeded our expectations. Happily, we also were able to take in some elevators.

Jerry Osborn at Zion National Park, Utah

Our stop at the elevator in Limon, Colo., proved to be a wonderful surprise. There was a truck at the co-op when we arrived, but the office door was locked, so I approached the elevator itself and called out to see if it was deserted. When I turned around, a man was approaching from the office. I went to meet him.

Ed Owens was finishing up paperwork before going home for the night. I asked him about the history of the elevator, and he brought me into the office. Ed said his grandfather, S. L. Sitton, helped build the Limon elevator as well as the earlier, neighboring one in Genoa, Colo. He said his grandfather came into the area in 1939. He went away during the war, then came back and looked for whatever work he could find. Elevator construction provided a part-time laborer job that kept food on the table.

The builder put up the elevator like a layer cake, letting each concrete layer cure for a period before adding another, rather than by the continuous-pour method pioneered by early elevator construction companies. The Limon elevator was built in stages by farmers who built by day and farmed by night. I was impressed by Mr. Sitton’s fortitude, and I would have asked the old gentleman about it, but Ed said he was 97 years old and living in a nursing home in Flagler. He likely wouldn’t remember, and even if he did, he might not appreciate a visit.

The Genoa, Colo., elevator is in a neighboring town.

The best discovery was yet to come. When Ed ushered me into the office, he showed me the bronze plaque which originally adorned the driveway of the Limon elevator. Ed said all of the directors listed on the plaque were dead by now. The elevator was built in 1958, so all the community leaders of the time were long gone. But the key bit of information on the plaque was the name of the builder and designer, M. and A. Enterprises, Inc., of Denver.

I was very excited to see this name. The company was based in Denver, and the designer claimed to be the builder. Based on the design of the elevator, I had a strong suspicion of who that designer might have been. We now had a key piece of information.

Followers of this blog know that we have puzzled over a few mysteries while tracking our grandfathers’ elevators. The most difficult story to reconstruct, thus far, was how the Mayer-Osborn Construction Company met its demise.

The Denver-based enterprise lasted from 1949 until at least 1954, when my grandfather, William Osborn, apparently left the business. In the summer of 1954 he built the Blencoe, Iowa, elevator with the help of my dad, Jerry Osborn; by the summer of 1955, William was home from his Denver office and never worked elevator construction again. Meanwhile, his partner, Eugene Mayer, probably revived the company under various guises, but we know little of what became of him.

With our visit to Limon, Colo., we may have cracked the case.

Usually, the simplest explanation is the true one. The quickest way to explain why a thriving company would go away is to look for a disaster. Family lore says there was one. But I suspect the rumor of a collapsed elevator, lost to a crew that “shorted materials” and made bad concrete, might have been a tall tale that sprung from a much more pedestrian event. No such disasters can be found in 1954 or 1955 newspaper accounts.

The only related problem I could find occurred at the the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Blencoe, Iowa. During construction, when the elevator had reached about twelve feet high, the forms were slipped for the first time. As soon as concrete appeared below the slipped form, it began to slump and crumble. Bad concrete was indeed the culprit, and it necessitated a tear-down. To get back to a twelve foot height, the company had to add a day or two of expensive labor, which directly cut into profit. Could this event explain why William Osborn left the company? It’s the simplest explanation, so perhaps.

Several subsequent elevators bore the Mayer-Osborn manhole covers, but Dad didn’t know about these elevators, and he was certain that by 1955, his dad, William, was home for good.

The Mayer-Osborn elevator at McCook, Nebr. built in 1949

With its signature stepped headhouse, the elevator in Limon bears an uncanny resemblance to the first elevator Mayer-Osborn built in McCook, Neb. In fact, it is the same design, updated somewhat, and dated 1958. So it certainly went up after Grandpa left the business. But what about Eugene Mayer? Dad said that he was the designer, whereas Bill Osborn started as a carpenter and learned his construction skills on the job. Mayer still retained ownership of his elevator designs, which could explain why McCook clones continued to pop up all over the plains in the mid-1950s.

That brings us back to the builder of the Limon elevator, as inscribed on the plaque, “M. and A. Enterprises, Inc.” It seems inescapable that the “M.” was Mr. Eugene Mayer.

The Limon elevator had newer innovations but was built haltingly. Plainly, all was not the same as it had been when Bill Osborn was on the job. Perhaps fewer workers were available. Fewer contracts were awarded as subsidies waned. So the big, ambitious, day-and-night event of an elevator project was toned down somewhat. I expect we will find that Eugene Mayer’s design was eventually sold and others built it, then it passed into history, along with the great concrete elevator boom.

Happily, Limon’s elevator still thrives, and it gives us a peek at the amazing history of elevators on the American plains.

The layout of the elevator is used to record the content of each bin. Flat storage is adjacent to the concrete elevator.

 

 

Update on redevelopment of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Tempe, Ariz.

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We have discovered news in the Arizona Republic about progress at the derelict Hayden Mill and Mayer-Osborn grain elevator site in Tempe.

As the Republic’s story reveals, a developer plans to refresh the buildings and make a multipurpose facility that will entail converting the elevator into a hotel.

We visited Tempe in 2012 and posted this story and photos.

And we spoke a few months ago to John Southard, historic preservation officer for the city of Tempe, discussing some details of the project.

This is a beautiful, sleek elevator that integrates the headhouse into the main house in a singular manner and represents Mayer-Osborn at the top of their game.

We plan to return to Tempe in a few weeks to get the low-down, and of course we will report further right here at Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators.

Final thoughts after 1,800 miles, 20 grain elevators, and one Czech sausage

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By Ronald Ahrens

As Kristen Cart and I have been blogging about Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators since 2012, she has been able to make the most of her Midwestern location by visiting “our” elevators in Iowa and Nebraska. But I live near Palm Springs, Calif., which is much better known for its midcentury modern houses. Down in the southern end of the valley they grow dates, grapes, strawberries, and leafy greens. No need for an elevator there.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I had only been to the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Tempe, Ariz., and Tillotson Construction Co.’s 1947 terminal in my hometown of Omaha. (Also, a superficial look-see at an elevator-mill complex in Colton, Calif., about an hour from my house.)

So I’ve been winging it.

The 1,800-mile road trip from April 15 to 22, 2018, was an education. I had to go about 1,000 before the first visit to one of “our” elevators in Hereford, Tex. But in the next 84 hours I visited 18 more locations, saw for myself the distinctions from one to the next, and learned a great deal.

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Workbench and storage in Pond Creek, Okla.

Subsequent conversations with my uncles, Chuck and Tim Tillotson, have sharpened those distinctions.

And of course, as I’ve been at my desk writing the posts in this series, I’ve pored over the company records as never before.

My takeaway from all this can be distilled into a few points.

  1. The people I met in Canyon, Bushland, and Booker, Tex., are super-smart and know their business inside and out. In Conlen, Tex., an employee named Jamie said the elevator there was “older than dirt.” In Meno and Pond Creek, Okla., I was encouraged by the astuteness of Matthew Thomsen, Tracie Rhodes, and Jeff Johndrow. They’re not so different from the leaders I interview in my assignments as a reporter for automotive and business magazines. I could see them in Silicon Valley or Detroit.
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    Pond Creek basement.

    Seeing the elevators–most of them in pretty good shape–and watching the work is gratifying. The first Tillotson concrete elevator, in Goltry, Okla., has not been operational for about a decade. But the fourth one ever built, in 1941, is still in use at Medford, Okla., and is looking at its 80th birthday in 2021. I’m sure my grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson, would be proud. Kristen’s grandfather, William Osborn–who may have worked on some of these jobs when he was with Tillotson and who built one of the elevators that greeted me in Follett–would be the same. They did a splendid thing.

  3. On the Great Plains of the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma, it’s quite possible to see how these grain castles, some as high as 175 feet, changed the landscape. We know it happened in a 15-year period between Tillotson’s first effort at Goltry and 1954, when most of the building was done. Excepting the intensive effort to out-produce the Germans and Japanese during World War Two–the period from 1942 to 1944 when no elevators were built–the transformation happened even faster. If at the moment you weren’t in view of a grain elevator, you soon would be.

It was a propitious moment to do this road trip. Most of the elevators were still going about their noble business, but 20 years from now they’ll be reaching what we conceive as their maximum life-cycle. I fear that more and more of them will stand as decrepit monuments. Someone asked if they’ll be knocked down. The answer is that I didn’t hear any of the farmers’ cooperative employees mention a budget for pulverizing, in the case of Tillotson’s 350,000-bushel elevator at Farnsworth, Tex., 1,875 cubic yards of concrete and 127 tons of reinforcing steel.

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Tillotson Construction Co. manhole cover and other detail from Pond Creek.

Perhaps a good lesson comes from the news that Ford Motor Co. has acquired the Michigan Central terminal in Detroit. This building, abandoned for decades, became the chief emblem of “ruins porn,” those photos of the Motor City’s decrepitude. Ford will restore the building over four years and devote some space to its expanding innovations hub in the city.

We can only hope for the same with elevators. Not that Ford would be involved, but that the innovators we’ve written about–vertical farmers, property developers, recreation entrepreneurs–will find new uses or refine old ones.

Here I extend a big salute to the readers who’ve followed along on our road trip series. Your companionship and comments have been appreciated.

 

A Friday photofest from Follett

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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.

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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.

 

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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. 

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So long from Follett, Tex.!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.