Another view of Greenwood, Neb., through the eyes of Kim David Cooper


In this oil painting, Kim David Cooper captures the vividness of the landscape around Greenwood, Neb. Through the assertive strokes and lively color tones, we sense the day’s pleasantness, the stirring of the breeze, and the fried chicken and cole slaw in the picnic basket.

“When I was going through my files I found another view of Greenwood elevators–forgot about this one,” Cooper says of the work completed in 2012. “It’s 16×20 and long ago sold.”

The elevator on the right was built by Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, in 1951, and it’s unlikely that anyone on the crew imagined the edifice would one day be in a fine-art painting. 

Detail right side

Detail view featuring Tillotson’s 1951 elevator at Greenwood, Neb. and the storage annex.

The 1951 elevator followed the Churdan, Iowa, plan established in 1949. It had four tanks, or silos, of 14.5 feet in diameter rising 120 feet from the ground.

The smallish headhouse measured 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

We have posted about the Greenwood elevator before; all the specs and photos can be found by using this link.

Cooper is proprietor of Cooper Studio & Gallery, at 1526 Silver St. in Ashland, Neb. Phone: 402.944.2022.


Listen on KOSU, from Stillwater, as we talk about road trip discoveries


By Ronald Ahrens

Kelly Burley, news director of KOSU, called me up from Stillwater to talk about the recent road trip, focusing on the sites I visited in western Oklahoma.

He requested a couple of photos (seen here) with captions for KOSU’s home page.

Burley said the full interview would post on the station’s site, and an edited version would run as an insert during a broadcast of “All Things Considered.”


Above, Pond Creek, Okla. Here, Tillotson’s first concrete elevator (right), 1939, Goltry, Okla.

Indeed, he was true to his word. The link to the 25-minute version is embedded here. The page will open in a new window.

Kristen and I have been blogging since December 2012, but this is our first media coverage and we’re pleased.

Omahan’s ancestor ran 2 elevators–perhaps even Vinton St.

William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933

Kim David Cooper, a friend of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators, has shared not only his oil paintings depicting Tillotson’s Greenwood, Neb., elevator but also some family history.

As he explains …

Since we’re talking grain elevators … my Great Grandfather, William Leslie Temple, managed them. It was most of his life’s work. William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933 detail 2

Two different large ones in Omaha. One on 16th street near Carter Lake and one just north of I-80 and west of I-480. 16th one still active, I believe the other one is not.

Here’s the group picture from 1933. Quite a group of characters. Looks to be many different nationalities represented.

William died in 1963 at the age of 85–on his birthday, working in his garden.

We believe the one just north of I-80 and west of I-480 is the Vinton Street elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co. in 1947.

It would be a remarkable coincidence if Cooper’s great-grandfather ran a Tillotson-built elevator.

William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933 detail

As we see in this inset photo, the 16th Street elevator was part of Farmers National Grain Corp.

Cargill: Trading the World’s Grain, by Wayne G. Broehl, tells us more:

Farmers National was formed in 1929 as “a new central organization to bring together cooperatively owned elevators, terminals and wheat pools and farmer-directed sales agencies into a single unified marketing organization. In early 1930 centralized units also were formed for cotton and livestock, and later, similar national associations were formed for wool, beans, pecans, sugar beets, fruits and vegetables.”

The 16th Street elevator will require further investigation.

Many thanks to Cooper for sharing this family photo and revealing the probable link between our families.






Tillotson’s Greenwood, Neb., elevator appears in another Cooper oil painting

Corn and Cathedrals, 16x20, oil on canvas, Plein Air, 2015, Kim David Cooper

“Corn and Cathedrals,” used with permission. Copyright Kim David Cooper, 2015.

By Ronald Ahrens

Yesterday we showed you a painting titled “Greenwood Cathedrals,” a 48 x 60 work in oil by Kim David Cooper, a high school classmate.

The Set UpIt depicts the 129,000-bushel single-leg elevator built in 1951 by Tillotson Construction Co.

Here are images of another painting, “Corn and Cathedrals,” a 16 x 20 canvas that Cooper did in 2015.

This time the view is from the Greenwood cemetery and places the Tillotson elevator on the right.

Although “Corn and Cathedrals” was sold, “Greenwood Cathedrals” is on display at Cooper Studio & Gallery, 1526 Silver St., Ashland, Neb.


Tillotson’s 1951 Greenwood, Neb., elevator depicted in oil on canvas

Greenwood Cathedrals Full Painting

This copyrighted image is used with permission of Kim David Cooper.

By Ronald Ahrens

It has come to our attention that high school classmate Kim David Cooper, an artist, has completed a numinous landscape that depicts the Greenwood, Neb., grain elevator built in 1951 by Tillotson Construction Co.

In this view from the north, it’s the elevator on the left of the canvas.

Detail Left Elevator

Detail view. This copyrighted image is used with permission of Kim David Cooper.

Anyone who drives between Omaha and Lincoln on U.S. 6 will notice this elevator, which has a storage annex that was also a Tillotson job.

The 1951 original followed the Churdan, Iowa, plan established in 1949. It had four tanks, or silos, of 14.5 feet in diameter rising 120 feet from the ground.

The smallish headhouse measured 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

We have posted about the Greenwood elevator before; all the specs and photos can be found by using this link.

Cooper, proprietor of Cooper Studio & Gallery, at 1526 Silver St. in Ashland, Neb., titled his painting “Greenwood Cathedrals.”

This oil on a large 48 x 60-inch canvas is now on display.

“We are Cooper Studio & Gallery and have been at this location for almost 17 years,” he wrote in an email. “I do a lot of plein air painting and commission work for customers.  Also framing and some restoration.”

It was my first contact with Cooper since 1972, who was good at baseball as well as art. Nice to come together again after 46 years–all because of a grain elevator.

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


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.


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.
  2. IMG_9421

    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.


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.


Leaving Oklahoma and finding vexing likeness between 2 elevators in Medford




By Ronald Ahrens

After Tillotson Construction Co. had built their first three modest concrete elevators on the Goltry plan starting in 1939, it became time to attempt a big one at Medford, Okla.

Texas-Okla Logo 04In 1941 the Omaha company upsized with a 212,000-bushel single-leg elevator in Medford. Tillotson’s records say they also built an identical companion elevator in Thomas, Okla., which had been too far south from my route across the state’s western region and must be reserved for a future visit.

I had just been in Pond Creek; now, on my way out of Oklahoma, I headed north to Medford. “Located in a wheat-growing region, Medford served as an agricultural trade center with a flour mill and several grain elevators,” Wikipedia reports. “By 1909 the local economy supported three banks and three weekly newspapers.” 

The elevator complex run by Clyde Co-op Association loomed on the horizon. This would be the last stop on my road trip–the 20th elevator in all. (I haven’t even mentioned stopping in Tucumcari, N.M., the very first site visit even before reaching Canyon, Tex.; that elevator had manhole covers embossed with the name Bleater Construction, of Amarillo.) I’d learned by now not to jump to the conclusion about what I was seeing.


The south elevator, foreground, merits the adornment of wheat stalks. 

Indeed, here were two elevators and a storage annex at 567 Hwy. 81. So which one was the House of Tillotson? Turning to the company records, we find the ’41 giant had eight tanks, or silos, of 15.5 feet in diameter that rose 120 feet from the loamy earth. 

The cupola, or headhouse, towered further, being 21.5 feet wide, 48.5 feet long, and 33 feet high.

The job consumed 1,845 cubic yards of concrete and 82.5 tons of reinforcing steel.

On the scene I met Jacob States, a lanky young native of Medford who had worked for Clyde Co-op for a while but maybe too short a period to have developed a wealth of historical knowledge.

Alas, I came away with no photos of manhole covers from inside either house. I did snap one of a Johnson-Sampson plate on the storage annex.

The south elevator appears to be of the same general style but a larger capacity, and it has the larger headhouse. The north elevator looks as if it matches the dimensions listed in Tillotson records.

This morning, two months after my visit to Medford, I phoned the Co-op and spoke to Jenna, who said both elevators are operational.

I hate to end the road trip reports on a note of uncertainty. What can be told for sure  is that the total cost less commission for the Medford elevator was $41,888.37. The workers received 30 cents per hour straight time and 60 cents overtime.

In all, the job required 25,630 man-hours. Total payout was $11,015.50 for an average of 42.9 cents per man-hour.

The Thomas elevator, being identical, required 836 fewer man-hours (streamlined procedures?) and cost $41,275.28.


The Czech sausage sandwich in question.

Rather than conducting a more thorough site visit, I needed to find a lunch spot and then get going in order to make it to my sister’s house in Omaha before bedtime. Jacob States had said I’d find no fast food in Medford, but he failed to mention Smrcka’s Dairy Shack on the north edge of town. In this one-of-a-kind restaurant I ordered a delicious Czech sausage sandwich and sauerkraut, along with friend and a limeade, for only $8.38.

“Have a nice day. Please come again,” says the sales receipt. I don’t know when that will happen, but indeed I’d like to come back to conduct further evaluations here an about 10 other Tillotson sites like Thomas, which I had to bypass.