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.

 

 

 

Conversation with Sherman Johnson, scion of Johnson Construction, of Salina, Kansas

We were happy to be able to give Sherman Johnson a call the other day. Sherman, a flooring contractor in Shawnee, Kansas, is one of Virgil Johnson’s six sons. Johnson Construction, Virgil’s contracting firm, operated out of Salina, Kansas, and built a whole lot of elevators. We have speculated about the existence of a strong link, perhaps a common architectural designer, between Johnson Construction and Mayer-Osborn Construction. Johnson Construction sometimes acted in partnership with Rex Bratcher, and we know something about Johnson & Sampson. The design themes spread through those channels.

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Brad Perry took this photo in Atlanta, Kansas. “I think it’s a Johnson house,” he said. The rounded and stepped headhouse suggests Mayer-Osborn and Tillotson design influences.

Sherman was born in 1945 and went to elevator construction sites as a kid. “I remember going to Texas and Oklahoma. We lived in Salina, but most of the jobs were in Oklahoma and Texas, in the Panhandle of Nebraska, and in Iowa.” 

We had many other questions for Sherman, and he tried to help as much as possible. One thing he seemed pretty certain of was that Virgil talked about Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha. “I heard my dad talking about them!” he said. “My father, he worked for Tillotson, I think. I don’t know for sure. I heard the name Tillotson, Chalmers and Borton, people like that.” 

Kristen Cart: Do you remember being on any job sites when you were a kid?

Sherman Johnson: Oh, yeah.

KC: Are there any memories you’d like to share?

SJ: Oh, like I said, I was just a kid. I remember going to Texas and Oklahoma–Newkirk (Okla.) and Blackwell and Conlon, Texas.

Ronald Ahrens: How long was Johnson Construction active?

SJ: As near as I can tell, at first it was my father and my uncles. And then Rex Bratcher was his partner for a while.

KC: The Sampsons were your uncles?

SJ: My dad’s wife’s brothers, Darwin and Sherman. I’m named after one.

RA: Do you remember the name Darrell Greenlee?

SJ: Darrell and Rosina. They were very, very nice people, great people. They had six girls.

RA: He was a foreman for your dad’s construction company, right? 

SJ: Superintendent.

RA: Can you characterize him?

SJ: In the summertime I had to work for him, and he worked me pretty hard. He was a good guy: a hard worker, a smart guy. We’d go out in the summertime, I don’t remember what the jobs were, they had me doing all the grunt work. I guess that’s why I’m not a contractor. 

KC: My dad described installing rebar.

SJ: Laying it and tying it. And it seemed like you always had a shovel in your hand doing something. 

KC: We had comments from Emily Frank, whose grandparents were Darrell and Rosina.

SJ: He built an elevator in Rushville, Illinois, and he retired there. If she’s still alive, she’s there. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not. 

Editors’ note: Here is the link to Rosina’s obituary.

KC: A couple of jobs, I’m going to ask if they’re familiar. Grand Island?

SJ: I don’t know.

KC: Atlanta, Kansas?

SJ: That rings a bell but I wouldn’t tell you that we did.

KC: One of the things we do is visit the elevators, and right on the manhole covers is the name of the company.

SJ: Oh, yeah. They used to make those at Wyatt Manufacturing in Salina. There was a foundry for a long time.

A slip-formed lesson in character-building at Blencoe, Iowa

Mayer-Osborn pay stubs from August, 1954

Mayer-Osborn pay stubs from August, 1954.

Story by Kristen Cart

Just when you think you know all there is to know about your parent, you find a document that tells you something more. In this case, I found the pay stubs for when my dad, Jerry Osborn, worked for Mayer-Osborn Construction Company in 1954. He wedged a few weeks of hard labor between school in the spring and football in the fall.

The project was a large elevator similar to the first elevator Bill Osborn built with his partner, Gene Mayer, in McCook, Nebraska, in 1949. This example of the type went up in Blencoe, Iowa–and not without incident, as we have related in this blog.

It struck me that his pay rate was just that of a laborer. No cushy job for the son of the boss was offered–he laid steel rebar down during the uninterrupted concrete pour, working his way around the bin top as workers jacked the forms and scaffolding ever higher. Dad mentioned that when he worked for his father, he was paid the same as everyone else–a dollar an hour for back-breaking labor. Not a few times, laborers walked off the job after the first paycheck. It wasn’t easy.

Dad managed to find something to do on the job that was worth even less–he put in a fair amount of time at fifty cents an hour. I can only imagine what that job entailed.

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Jerry Osborn had interests other than building elevators for his dad. He was a champion golfer at Midland College. It seems odd that a good golfer, while cultivating the skill and concentration such sport required, would take time out to heave rebar for a summer job.

I’m not sure which year they won the championship, but I like the juxtaposition between the brutality of the labor and the finesse of golf.

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The summer job added up to a tidy sum for the time. Perseverance paid off.

These days, many of our college-educated young people seem too delicate for such work, especially in exchange for such a meager reward. It would make no sense to them.

But my grandfather, William Osborn, might say that this kind of work built character. Especially if you showed up for that second and third week.

Monuments go up, memories surround them, but all ultimately subside and vanish

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Story by Kristen Cart

Workers were taking down an old silver maple today on the greenway beside the Boise River. It was a living tree, and I wondered why they chose to remove it. All along the park stood younger trees–sugar maples and walnuts and spruce trees–and under some of them, memorial plaques were placed, probably at the time the trees were planted.

I noticed one plaque had partially sunk in soft ground, and a puddle of water covered most of it, but the birth year of 1911 could still be seen. This person had come into the world 105 years ago. His children, if living, would be in their 70s or 80s perhaps. No one tended the memorial. The Boise State students who strolled by might not know why he was remembered.

These memorial trees were intended to grow in beauty while families and colleagues remembered the dead. When the names are eventually forgotten, the trees will provide shade and nesting places until they become unsightly or weak or damaged. Then they will go.

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Concrete rubble from the Maywood, Neb., elevator. Mayer-Osborn Construction built it during the heyday of elevator building in the 1950s.

I remember a book about the ubiquitous stone walls in Kentucky horse country. The author explained how they came to be, how they disappeared into hillocks of rock, and how they sank back into the soil. Frost heaved stones out of the ground every winter, and farmers endlessly piled them onto the edges of their fields every summer. The stones were stacked and filled into walls, but after many years, weather and erosion consigned the stones back into the earth in a sinking process which all heavy stones must endure.

Today, even the locations of some old walls can only be estimated, in spite of the labor invested into them over many years.

Cemetery monuments–in fact, whole cemeteries–disappear in this manner, taking their inscriptions with them. The identities and locations of the dead are not resurrected unless a caring relative intervenes.

My grandfather’s generation was slighted in the monument department. He lived too late to be conscripted into the Great War, and by the time the next conflagration arrived, he was considered too old to serve. My father slipped through a similar gap between the Korean and Vietnam wars. Whole families lived their lives between one glut of glorious war dead and the next–to their good fortune, but at the cost of corporate memory.

William A. Osborn in 1965

William A. Osborn in 1965.

Grandpa was fortunate, however, to have left the elevators he built. With his name forged into the manhole covers and plaques set into concrete walls, his legacy seems more certain. Grain elevators are a durable memorial–but much like the trees in the park, they only represent him until no one remembers. Eventually, his great and useful contribution to the world will pass into utility, then into obsolescence.

Like the silver maple tree, the elevators will come down when they no longer serve. The plaques and covers will be recycled, and even his name will disappear. And those who loved William Arthur Osborn, beloved father and grandfather, will be past knowing when they go.