A bucket-list tour of Nebraska courthouses yields some elevator insights

The elevator in Gordon, Nebr. was built by Mayer-Osborn, as attested by its manhole covers. It was built in their iconic style.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

When someone reaches their middle eighties intact and in good health, they can do whatever they want. It’s a reward that comes along with advanced age. Okay–it has to be within reason–say, within the budget, but there shouldn’t be any major obstacles, unless care-giving is in the picture. With my dad, Gerry Osborn, no such obstacle existed in 2019, before Covid-19 made its debut.

Gerry Osborn at the courthouse in Rushville, Nebr.

Dad and I had taken a western driving tour in 2018 to visit the house where I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, which he had architecturally restored from a sadly worn and altered state. It was a foursquare brick farmhouse with historic ties to early Mormon settlers. The current and longtime owner, Gundi Jones, kindly gave us a tour. We admired her finishing touches, which updated the mid-seventies decor as we had left it, to a European country style. It was beautiful.

We also took in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, before heading east for a stop at Mesa Verde, a marvelous place that captured Dad’s imagination. He was especially taken with its large collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.

Then, on our way home, we stopped at the Nuckolls County courthouse in Nelson, Nebr. The place brought back old memories. Dad explained that when he was a young student, he and his friends would play a game where they collected sightings of Nebraska license plates, each identified by a number designating its county of origin, 1 to 93. Each county was assigned a number, to be displayed on the license plate, in the order of the number of automobile registrations extant in each county as of 1922. So the most populous county was assigned the number 1, and plates with the number 93 were quite scarce.

Dad and his friends raced to try to find a plate from every county. The hardest ones to collect were from small counties at the other end of the state from Dad’s hometown of Fremont, Nebr.

Now he said that he would like to find them all by visiting every county courthouse in the state. He also wanted to see each courthouse out of curiosity–he loved the old architecture.

At the far left, the Mayer-Osborn elevator at Gordon, Nebr. displays the stepped, rounded head house typical of the company.

I said, “Sure, why not?” It made perfect sense to me, since I was a collector of all sorts of things, with an irresistible impulse to complete the set, whatever it happened to be. License plates sounded like a great excuse to spend time with my dad, while setting the world in order by collecting them all.

Beginning in early 2019, we started our project. We decided to photograph Dad in front of each courthouse, while surreptitiously snapping a shot of a local license plate. He had great fun Google-mapping our routes and itineraries, and over the course of the year, we completed our mission, taking several day trips and a couple of overnighters. We didn’t research any of the courthouses before we visited the county seats. Instead, we saved our first impressions for later, so each courthouse would be a surprise. Sometimes we would gasp in awe as a magnificent courthouse came into view; other times, we would sigh in disappointment.

The grain elevator in Merriman shares the characteristics of its predecessor in McCook, Nebr. and other Mayer-Osborn elevators, including its neighbor in Gordon, but we have not confirmed its builder.

Dad and I covered the entire state during our courthouse expedition, and incidentally, we crossed paths with his father Bill Osborn’s travels when we stumbled upon some of his grain elevators. Bill Osborn was based in Denver for a good part of his career as a builder, but he got back to Nebraska a few times while building elevators for Joe Tillotson and later for himself as partner in Mayer-Osborn.

A few of those elevators we have documented in this blog, including McCook, Lodgepole, and Big Springs.

Dad recognized the name of one of the elevators we encountered shortly after we visited the courthouse in Rushville, the seat of Sheridan County.

The elevator at Gordon, Nebr. (a town along Hwy. 20) had the trademark Mayer-Osborn rounded and stepped headhouse, and it followed the plan of their other larger elevators. It also sported manhole covers embossed with the name of the builder, which confirmed Dad’s thought that his father had built it. What a happy find!

Another view of the beautiful grain storage facility in Merriman, Nebr.

Its twin in neighboring Merriman, a town further east along Hwy. 20, had the same headhouse as the Gordon elevator and the same general plan as seen from the outside, but we couldn’t corroborate its origin, either by manhole cover, local attribution, or Dad’s memory. Yet we put it down as a strong maybe.

The elevator at Limon, Colo. had confounded us for a long time because of its resemblance to other Mayer-Osborn’s elevators, until we found that it was built after Bill Osborn had left the business. So there’s also a question mark over the elevator at Merriman until we can learn more.

Unfortunately our itinerary was pretty tightly planned, or we would have tried to track down someone who knew the history of the two elevators. We set the locations aside for a future visit. Now, years later, we haven’t been back, but we still have some photos to share here.

Blue-line drawings for a main slab and tunnel with breakout details for other sections in Gurley, Neb.

Finally, mercifully, we get to the last of the drawings from Tillotson Construction Co. records, and instead of dark, hard-to-read copies of blueprints, we offer these scanned copies of a “blue line.” They’re for a main slab and tunnel at Gurley, Neb.–which we assume has something to do with an annex–and were completed by Ted Morris on April 18, 1958. The scale is indicated as one-quarter-inch to one foot.

These are among the most detailed drawings in our possession, with abundant dimensional markings and figures for steel reinforcing bars. There are also many notations, some comprehensible and others begging for clarifying comments. In the upper right, the note, “Knock out Exist. Endwall in Tunnel” seems to suggest a conveyor that would connect the annex to the elevator.

Above that, an 11.0-foot gap is indicated between slabs with the note, “Wall to Wall (to Clr. Car Puller). Hmm!

Another one, between the Number Six and Number Four tanks, says, “Truss Bars next to Tank Opg’s. Str. Bars next to Inner Opgs.”

And in Number One we read, “Main Slab Steel to be 2″ Clear from Face of Slab Shown. Main Wall Steel to be 3/4″ clear from Face of Wall Shown.”

Others are far trickier. For example, “Print Walls for Roof” is written in Number Eight, and that’s pretty obscure.

Gurley is located in the Nebraska panhandle a few miles north of Sidney and Interstate 80. A satellite view reveals the annex and main elevator quite clearly amid Crossroad Coop’s complex at 501 Lincoln St. and ought to satisfy reader Suzassippi’s desire to match the two-dimensional drawing with a photographic view.

Readers may please feel free to contribute their own interpretations via the comments feature.

Drawings for a 100,000- to 129,000-bushel grain elevator with detailed plans for all amenities

Among the most detailed drawings in our possession is this print, from the records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, for a 100,000- to 129,000-bushel, single-leg reinforced-concrete grain elevator.

We assume that Ted Morris executed the drawings for the company. We do not see notations for the scale of these drawings in inches to feet, as in others previously posted. Otherwise, the drawings are meticulously rendered.

To the left above is the cross-section of the structure. The main house has four tanks (silos) with internal diameter of 14 feet six inches and, with 100-foot drawform walls, a 102,500-bushel capacity is achieved. At 120 feet, the capacity increases to 128,900 bushels.

The cupola is marked as 22.0 feet high and 34.0 feet wide. Special markings indicate the dimensions of segments within and atop the cupola. A notation at the roof indicates the centerline of the driveway far below. We also see inscriptions for the head pulley, top of manlift travel, an interior ladder nearby, and to the far left, a 10-inch-diameter, 14-gauge spout.

In the main house, bins are numbered. From left to right, we see internal Bins 5, 11, 12, and 15.

Above the driveway and work floor, a space that extends 17.0 feet accommodates the 12.0-foot steel overhead-curtain-type door and electric truck-lift rails. The grate is 9.0-feet wide. The pit goes 12.0 feet below the main slab. A note indicates “Typ. Base Sash Elev.,” the meaning of which is open to interpretation although it obviously refers to a window. An entry in the Standard Machinery list includes, “Industrial steel windows & Doors @ Cupola & Work Floor.”

Below the cross-section is a Boot Pit Plan showing two pits and a ladder up, with dimensions given.

The Bin and Foundation plans give the various specifications and dimensions, including a 44.0 x 44.0 slab and 9 foot 9-inch radius from center of a tank to the outside perimeter.

The Bin Roof & Cupola Floor Plan includes such juicy details as the dimensions of wall openings under the roof and louvres under eaves and indicates three “B24141 cpd” windows. A key to symbols explains markings for “C.I. 24-inch manhole [with] ladder below,” “C.I. 20-inch roof scuttle,” “S.M. 20-inch removable grate and cover,” and 10-inch 14-gauge spouts. The scale is rated for 10 bushels.

The Work Floor and Driveway Floor Plan shows the driveway curtain door is 11.0 feet wide and opens to an area with 13.0 feet of clearance. The two dump grates are indicated. No. 1 is 9.0 x 3.5 feet )or it could be 5.5 feet), and No. 2 is 9 x 15 feet. Doors are 3070 doors.

The Distributor Floor Plan depicts 18 funnels at 16-inch centers, and a radius of 4 feet 7 inches from center. There are four of the B24141 C.P.O. windows.

The Scale Floor Plan shows the scale, a ladder up, and the load-out spout, as well as various dimensions.

The list of Standard Machinery includes the following:

  • Head & Boot Pulley 60 x 14-inch C.I.
  • Belt 14-inch, six-ply
  • Cups 12 x 6-inch Calumet at 9-inch centers
  • Leg capacity 5,000 bushels/hour
  • Head drive 25 or 30 H.P.
  • Truck Lift 7 1/2 H.P. Elec.
  • Manlift 2 H.P. Elec.
  • Dust col. System 3 H.P. Fan @ Head, Disch[arge] to Bin
  • Leading Out Scale 10 Bu. Richardson
  • Leading Out Spout 8 1/4-inch well casing
  • Cupola Spouting 10-inch-diameter, 14-gauge steel
  • Car Unloading Facilities By Gravity, Direct to Boot
  • Distributor 12-inch Radial-Operate from Wk. Floor
  • Dr’way Doors Overhead Custom-Hand Open

Drawings for an elevator of 100,000- to 125,000-bushel capacity with plans for driveway floor and bins and single- or twin-leg configurations

These drawings reproduced from the records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, show the general-plan details of a 100,000- to 125,000-bushel, single- or twin-leg, reinforced-concrete elevator. 

To the left above, seen at the scale of one-eighth inch to one foot, is the cross-section of the structure. The main house has four tanks (silos) with internal diameter of 14 feet six inches and, at 100 feet in height, a 100,000-bushel capacity is achieved. At 120 feet, the capacity would increase to 130,000 bushels.

The cupola is marked as 22.0 feet high with a single leg and 30 feet 6 inches with two legs. Notations inscribed in the cupola space label the dust fan, distributor floor, automated scale, and cupola floor. The diameter of the leg’s head pulley is 60 inches.

In the main house, bins are numbered. From left to right, we see Bin 5, Bin 11, Bin 12, and Bin 15.

Above the driveway and work floor, a space that extends 17.0 feet accommodates the steel overhead-curtain-type door and electric truck-lift rails. The main slab is indicated below.

At the very bottom, we see a 13 foot 6 inch depth for the pit with a single leg or 15 foot 9 inch depth for a twin-leg setup.  

The driveway floor plan (center) is rendered at the scale of one-quarter inch to one foot. To the far left, we see a dock. The measure of 13.0 feet is given between the two tanks (Numbers 1 and 4). The driveway is 47.0 feet long–three feet longer than the main slab. It is 30.0 feet from the initial edge of the second dump grate to the driveway exit. The width is 13.0 feet. On the right are the electrical room, an electrically operated manlift, and a manhole.

The variation drawing, “Dvwy Floor Plan 2 Legs,” at the same quarter-inch scale, includes details for a twin-leg elevator. The note at bottom says, “Remainder of Plan same as with 1-leg.”

The Bin Plan at the right shows a 44.0-foot width. (So the main slab is apparently 44.0 x 44.0 feet.) At top we see a dust bin noted as well as bin draw-offs in the interior bins. A number of those bins are marked as 10 feet 4.5 inches across. Number 12 is 7 feet 11 inches wide. Number 16 is 12 feet 10 inches.

At lower right, the twin-leg variation drawing shows the distribution-control cable well–not indicated in other drawings we’ve posted–and the manlift and ladder well and manlift weight box.

The large tanks Numbers 1 to 4 are shown in counter-clockwise order from the upper right. At 100,000-bushels overall elevator capacity, Numbers 1 and 4 hold 11,996 bushels. Numbers 2 and 3 hold 12,066 bushels. At 125,000-bushel capacity, Numbers 1 and 4 hold 14,770 bushels. Numbers 2 and 3 hold 14,840 bushels.

The internal bins are at 100,000/125,000-bushel ratings as follows for single and twin-leg configurations: 

  • Bins 5 & 6: 4,555/5,7770 bushels
  • Bins 7: 2,207/2,400 bushels
  • Bin 8, 13, 14: 4,217/5,400 bushels
  • Bin 9 & 11: 6,030/7,730 bushels
  • Bin 10: 4,790/6,140 bushels
  • Bin 12 (scale): 4,452-4,014 (1-2 leg)/5,800-5,460 (1-2 leg) bushels
  • Bin 15: 4,858 (1-2 leg)/6,150 (1-2 leg) bushels
  • Bin 16: 4,790-4,465 (1-2 leg)/6,070-5,655 (1-2 leg) bushels 
  • Total: 103,042-102,279 (1-2 leg)/128,160-126,405 (1-2 leg) bushels

General Notes:

  1. If cleaner is installed in Bins #7-8-9 & 10 above the dv’y, add 2′ to D.F. [drawform] ht. to maintain capacity.
  2. Bin 5-6-8-13 or 14 can be used in conjunction with drier by placing hopper bottom half way up in bin.

The initials “TWM” in “DR BY:” box at bottom right indicate that Tillotson’s Ted Morris executed the drawings.

Drawings for an elevator of 150,000-bushel capacity with plans for work floor and bins

These drawings reproduced from the records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, show the general-plan details of a 150,000-bushel, single-leg, reinforced-concrete elevator.

To the left above, seen at the scale of one-quarter inch to one foot, is the cross-section of the structure. The main house has five tanks (silos) with internal diameter of 16.0 feet and achieves a height of 120 feet. No dimensions are shown for the cupola; the only notation in the plan says “automatic scale.”

In the main house are notes saying, “Up Leg” and “Down Leg. Other say, “Elect. Truck Lift” and “Dump Grate.” The driveway door is 13.0 feet high.

A precisely rendered rail car provides a fanciful touch on the far right, where it’s positioned at the load-out spout to receive a cargo.

At the very bottom, we see a 21.0-foot depth below the main slab.

The work floor plan (center) is rendered at the scale of three-sixteenths inch to one foot. We see that the whole structure sits on the slab measuring 50.0 x 47.0 feet. Internal diameter of the tanks is 16.0 feet. Notes show the locations of the electrical room, two manholes, dump grates, and at far right the dock.

The bin plan, also three-sixteenths to one foot, shows the five large tanks with Number 1 in the lower-right and the progression going counter-clockwise to Number 5 on the lower-left.

Sandwiched inside are Bins 6 through 16. We see that Bins 6, 8, 10 and 12-16 are marked as being 10.0 feet wide. Bin 9 is 7 feet 6 inches across. Bin 14, on the far right, is 13 feet 9 inches across. Bin 16 is labeled “Dust Bin.”

The large tanks Numbers 1 to 5 have capacities of 17,650 bushels. The internal bins are as follows:

  • Bins 6-7: 5,300 bushels
  • Bins 8 & 10: 6,790 bushels
  • Bin 9: 6,000 bushels
  • Bin 11: 6,540 bushels
  • Bin 12: 2,640 bushels
  • Bin 13: 5,300 bushels
  • Bin 14: 8,220 bushels
  • Bin 15: 7,980 bushels
  • Bin 16 (Dust Bin): 930 bushels

Unlike any of the other plans we have, this one is dated. One entry in the lower-right says, “Rec’d 3-3-58.” There are two other illegible dates, but at very bottom another date shows 3/31/58.

The initials “TM” would seem to indicate that Tillotson’s Ted Morris executed the drawings.

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!” 

Goltry hails the new grain elevator in July 6, 1939 issue of the Leader newspaper

Grain Building Is the Work Of Omaha Firm

One of the largest wheat crops ever yielded by this section of the northwestern Oklahoma wheat belt was dumped into Goltry’s new 60,000 bushel elevator built for the Farmers’ Exchange of Goltry by the Tillotson construction company of Omaha, Nebraska,

The construction company operated by R.O and J.H. Tillotson, brothers, designers of modern concrete buildings, both of whom were in Goltry at various times during the progress of the building, was awarded the contract March 15. Shortly afterwards a crew of local workers began digging the pit, the first step in the actual construction of the new building.

Wheat was being dumped into the elevator at a time when the harvesting of wheat in this section was only beginning while electricians and skilled workers for the construction company were giving the building its finishing touches.

After the pit had been dug, a crew of 45 men–part of them local persons–was put to work by the company. Carpenters were building slip forms into which concrete was poured. The forms were four feet in height. As concrete was poured, the forms were moved upwards.

The forms were raised with jacks of which there were 48. All 48 jacks were turned by four men. Two turns of the jack screw raised the forms an inch and the jacks were turned in almost continuous operation.

The level of the forms was checked every hour in an effort to insure absolute accuracy. The Tillotson construction company used a new style of checking device in their job here. The company already had used five different kinds of checking devices during its various construction jobs. Employees of the company reported that the new device was the most accurate they had yet used.

The forms were raised an average of six feet every 10 hours. In the new checking device, targets were used in measuring distances with plumbs to keep the forms absolutely level all the way around at all times during their progress upwards.

The new style of checking system was not designed and made available until a short time previous to the date upon which the company began the Goltry job.

Before superintendent W.B. Morris, whose home is in Kansas City, left the job, 150,000 bushels of wheat had been put through the elevator. More than 85 carloads had been loaded from the elevator before Morris left. Each carload amounts to an average of 1,800 bushels. The machinery and equipment in the elevator were operating perfectly before the last of the company’s workers and the superintendent left the job.

“Everything ran smoothly with never a touch of trouble,” Morris, superintendent of the Goltry job for the Tillotson construction company, said.

A large amount of the responsibility for seeing that the day by day progress of the building was not interrupted at any time was delegated to Morris. However, Morris gave a great deal of the credit to the entire group of workers which included a number of local men. Morris said his company had “the best cooperation among the men working for us. We appreciate the interest shown by the people of the community and the efforts the men put forth endeavoring to keep the job going at the proper speed at all times,” Morris said.

The new elevator is 120 feet from the bottom of the basement to the top. The basement is four feet below the ground level and seven and a half feet below the floor. The capacity is 60,000 bushels.

A truck lift on the first floor of the elevator picks up trucks with ease in the process of dumping grain from the trucks into the pits. The new style of truck lift will not catch the radiator or damage the truck in any way.

Two pits into which grain is dumped hold 1,200 bushels. The first pit holds 850, the second 450.

Legs motivate the belt and cups and such a speed that the grain is elevated upwards into the bins at a rate of 60 bushels per minute.

At the top of the building, an automatic scale dumps 60 bushels per minute. The scale hold 10 bushels and automatically drops six times per minute.

A blowing system cleans wheat and sends the dust and chaff and foreign particles down a chute and into a compartment just above the first floor. At intervals this compartment is dumped into a truck and hauled away.

A fast cage type man lift–one of the fastest man lifts to be found in an elevator of the size of the new Goltry building–hoists the workers upward to the top of the building at a time saving rate of speed.

Among the various types of men working on the job–of which there were as many as 45 at the time the crew was running slip forms–were electricians, concrete workers, steel men, jack men, hoisting engineer, concrete mixer operator, finishers who smoothed the walls and the floors, painters, buggy men and wheel barrow men.

Front page caption:

Goltry’s new modern elevator building (above), built for the Farmers’ Exchange of Goltry by the Tillotson construction company of Omaha, Nebraska, is 120 feet in height, rising 116 feet above the ground level and falling four feet below the level of the ground. The capacity of the new building is 60,000 bushels and its modern machinery and equipment, all brand new, enable the operators of the Farmers’ Exchange to dump grain into the pit, elevate it, clean it with a modern blowing system, weigh it and load it into waiting box cars as rapidly as modern high speed trucks can bring it in. Photo exclusively for The Goltry Leader by Cochrane commercial photographers.

Inside page caption:

Approaching Goltry from the west a person would be afforded this view of the new Farmers’ Exchange elevator building (above) towering 116 feet toward the sky, its smooth, white walls reflecting with added brilliance the dazzling rays of the midsummer, afternoon sun. (Photo exclusively for The Goltry Leader by Cochrane commercial photographers).

In 1939 letter, Joe Tillotson asks about wheat allotment, reports on new concrete elevator

July 22, 1939

Dict. July 21

Mr. Warren Tillotson

Shields, Kansas

Dear Uncle Warren:

We have thought several times about writing to you to ask if there would be any possibility that we could get an allotment for not raising wheat on that land of Dad’s down there in Kansas.

Now of course it doesn’t seem right to us that the government should pay for this land being idle when there is really no intention of farming it, but we keep hearing of similar cases like this and even understand that where the local agent knows the owner of the land they are solicited and offered an allotment for this unused land.

We feel that you are probably familiar with this subject and if you have a few moments to spare, might drop us a line and let us know what you think about it.

We thought we would get out to see you and John sometime this summer but haven’t had a call anywhere near you so far. Most of our work this year has been down in Oklahoma, Kansas in the eastern part, Missouri in the western part, and eastern Iowa. We are enclosing a local newspaper from Goltry, Oklahoma which shows a job that we just finished. This is our first attempt at concrete construction and out of five similar jobs built in this same neighborhood our concrete by test shows to be the strongest, the machinery the best and fastest, and the insurance rate on this job is lower than any of the others; and as long as we didn’t lose any money on our first attempt at this line of work we feel that we would like to have more of this reinforced concrete construction work.

Don’t believe we answered John’s letter of April 5, as it came in right when we were the very busiest, but we still have hopes of getting out there to see both of you before the year is over.

We hope your wheat crop was good and that you may be coming up this way sometime soon and will stop and see us.


Your nephew,


Rain delays and balky formwork hindered Grain Storage Construction Co. at Ceresco, Neb.

Lincoln Journal Star, Friday, Sep. 18, 1959

Grain Storage Construction Co. benefited from the expertise of Ted Morris, who had been employed by Tillotson Construction Co. As Tillotson’s activities declined in the late-1950s, the GSCC, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, stepped in to undertake construction of new grain elevators.

Here is news from the Fremont (Neb.) Tribune on July 24, 1959 as the company’s crew built an elevator of reinforced concrete next to a traditional wooden elevator at Ceresco, a village just 20 miles north of the Nebraska Capitol building in downtown Lincoln.

Weather, Difficulties Delay Bin Construction at Ceresco

CERESCO–The Farmers Cooperative Association’s new, 250,000-bushel capacity grain elevator being constructed here by Grain Storage Const. Co. of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is expected to be completed by Sept. 1, according to project foreman Doyle Elliott.

The elevator will have 120-foot high storage tanks, topped by a 42 1/2-foot scale house. Tank construction is one third complete.

* * *

Construction of the new elevator started April 1, but work progress was hampered by a lengthy rain spell during the initial weeks. Difficulty with the hydraulic hoists, which raise the movable wood form after concrete has been poured, caused a brief shutdown of pouring operations.

The wood frame held too tightly in some places and left a few unfilled pockets in the concrete shell of the storage tank walls. Construction workers are patching up the pockets and new concrete pouring should begin sometime next week.

Once the pouring begins the tank walls can be built up at the rate of 16 feet every 24 hours. “Most people judge progress in elevator construction by the outside appearance,” said Elliott. “They do not realize how much inside work has to be accomplished before you can proceed safely with the exterior work,” he added.

“We hope the elevator will be ready by Sept. 1,” said Farmers Co-op Assn. manager Leonard Palm. “We would like to get this year’s corn crop in. I think we will make it as there have been no serious construction flaws or delays so far,” he added. 

Editor’s note: Based on the Sep. 18, 1959 date of the Lincoln Journal Star’s photo and caption (top), GSCC did not manage to complete the elevator by the date the Co-op had hoped for.

We thank our friend Susan Allen for unearthing the clippings.