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.

Respectfully,

Your nephew,

Joe

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.

Tillotson Construction Co. alumnus Ted Morris leads new elevator job at Beatrice, Neb. in 1958

Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun, Oct. 28, 1958

The contract to build the 100,000 bushel elevator on the old Wiebe Lumber Co. property has already been let, August Grell said last night. He stated that the contractor is Ted Morris, Grain Storage Construction Co., Council Bluffs, Ia. They have materials on order and are ready to go to work, he stated. The Beatrice Concrete Co. has a sub-contract for furnishing the concrete for the structure, which is to be built at an estimated cost of $250,000.

Editor’s note: There is a discrepancy in capacity of the elevator as recorded in the two articles. We believe the 340,000-bushel figure is more likely correct.

The Lincoln Star, Dec. 27, 1958

Beatrice, Neb. — Construction has begun here on a new 340,000 bushel capacity grain elevator by the Farmer’s Co-Op. Being built by the Grain Storage Construction Co. of Council Bluffs, Ia., the elevator will consist of 8 concrete bins, 120 feet high with a 40-foot high headhouse on top to house lifting machinery.

We thank our friend Susan Allen for unearthing this and other clippings.

 

Beatrice Daily Sun, Dec. 26, 1958

Tillotson family’s 1930s Omaha home at 624 N. 41 St is revealed

By Charles J. Tillotson

“My oh my! The old house is still standing after all these years, which is at least 89 years.

“This is my Grandpa and Grandma’s (Charles H. and Rose A. Brennan Tillotson’s) home and where Dad and Mom (Reginald O. and Margaret I. Tillotson) lived intermittently for three years after they got married.

“I was born in 1935 in Creighton [University]’s St. Joseph Hospital and lived here for my first three years when Dad wasn’t on a construction site too far to come home. Dad built a small house-trailer so that he could take Mom and his kids along with him when going away. 

“When Dad finally decided to settle down three years later [after the death of Charles J. and formation of Tillotson Construction Co. with brother Joe], he bought a house with a fruit orchard located on the northern outskirts of Omaha. 

“I have a bunch of photos of the house while I was standing in front of it with my winter togs on, and of course it was painted white at that time.” 

1947 clipping gives details of the impressive Potter, Neb., elevator by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), Sunday, Feb. 16, 1947

POTTER, Neb. (AP). One of Nebraska’s largest grain elevators–a quarter-million bushel structure of reinforced concrete–will be built here this spring.

The huge elevator is expected to be completed in time for the 1947 harvest season in the wheat-rich panhandle. The first dirt will be turned in March.

The Potter Co-Op Grain company, which will build the structure, said it will be on the Union Pacific right-of-way about two blocks west of the Potter depot. Contract has been let to the Tillotson Construction company of Denver. Estimated cost of the elevator is $100,000.

* * *

STEEL ALREADY is being delivered at the site. The elevator will be about 130 feet high and will be built in one compact unit containing 26 individual storage bins. A gravity feed storage system and other new operating features will be installed.

Normal capacity of the elevator will be 225,000 bushels but storage up to 256,000 bushels will be possible. The Co-Op also will retain control of the 16,000 bushel elevator it already is operating here.

* * *

FUNDS WERE borrowed from farmers in this area under a plan whereby the lender gets 1 1/2 bushels of reserved storage for each dollar invested up to a maximum of 7,500 bushels. The storage space will be reserved during the peak harvest season at a time when many farmers are forced to pile their wheat in the open.

Huge scales capable of handling a truck and semi-trailer loads up to 50 tons will be installed.

The Potter Co-Op serves one of the state’s largest wheat territories including farms in Cheyenne, Kimball and Banner counties. It has more than 400 patrons.

Aside from a larger structure at Chappell, which has a storage capacity of close to 300,000 bushels, the new Potter elevator will be the largest in western Nebraska.

The headhouse is long gone, but the Frontier Cooperative elevator at Bellwood, Neb., may be Tillotson’s largest build

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By Ronald Ahrens

We arrived on a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Frontier Cooperative elevator in Bellwood, Neb., knowing a 1981 explosion had taken off the headhouse. By the account of Uncle Tim Tillotson, we were also alerted to the possibility of another explosion there in the late-1950s.

Nebraska 2020Nevertheless, we expected to see an elevator with a replacement structure at its crown.

We found an impressive complex: mighty, smart-looking, and meticulously maintained. Yet it operates with external legs to serve the huge complex–no headhouse whatsoever. The leg over the main house is mantis-like and a little spooky. 

Of course, there was no hint whether the original headhouse was a squared-off rectangle or a curved volume in keeping with the characteristic Tillotson style that was developing after World War Two.

Tillotson Construction Co. built the main house, a 320,000-bushel elevator, in 1950 and followed up with a 340,000-bushel annex in 1954. The main house followed an original plan with eight tanks (silos) of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet high.

There was the typical central driveway, 13 x 17 feet, for unloading trucks.

Other notes in the company record say “5 bin dist. under scale” and “Prov. for hopper scale.” There were 22 bins and a dust bin.

The 1954 annex, also on an original plan, featured 10 tanks of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 130 feet high. It had a basement, 30-inch belt conveyors, and a tripper.

We also found the Tillotson name embossed on the manhole covers of the second annex, which appears to match the first annex in size and capacity. But company records make no mention of this second annex.

Nevertheless, it appears possible to credit Tillotson with an even 1 million bushels of capacity.

A close look at surfaces on the main house shows patchwork that must represent filled holes from the big blowout.

While preparing this post, I phoned Frontier Cooperative branch manager Justin Riha, who knew of this 1981 explosion.

The elevator works fine with the external legs. “I think it’s better,” Riha said. 

Overall capacity at the location is 2.4-million bushels, a tidy amount at such a small town.

Uncle Chuck affixes a generator to his memory, and Van Ness Construction comes alive

001

Great-grandma Margaret’s general store, Shields, Kan., 1910. Margaret A. Tillotson was Grandpa Charles’s mother. I don’t know why Mother (Margaret Irene) thought it was my Great Aunt Mary’s store. Maggie was a nickname for Margaret, and my Dad would call Mom “Maggie” every once in a while to tease her because he knew she didn’t like it.

By Charles J. Tillotson

I forgot to add in my comments [on company origins] what little I know about Grandpa Charles’s experience with Van Ness Construction.
I’m really stretching the memory, and I have to start with Grandpa Charles’s father:
Charles H. Tillotson was the son of John Wheeler and Margaret A. (Jackson) Tillotson.
John and Margaret to my knowledge had at least six children: Raymond, Charles (grandpa), Bertha, Mary Alice (known as Lovie), Walter, and May.
  1. Raymond took over the homestead.
  2. Charles worked as a carpenter.
  3. Bertha married a telegraph operator.
  4. Mary Alice (Lovie) married Ralston Van Ness, elevator builder.
  5. Walter worked as a landscaper.
  6. May married Zomer Dryden and lived on a farm in Ohio.
My mother used to call Mary Alice, Aunt Lovie, so that is how I remember her. Aunt Lovie married Ralston Van Ness (he was 26 years old) in 1902 in Shields, Kan., where he operated his wooden grain elevator construction business. However, within a year’s time, they had relocated to Omaha where their daughter Mary was born. The couple also had twin daughters who died at birth in 1906 and a son, Ralston, who also died at birth in 1908.
By 1930, Ralston and Mary had built up quite a reputation for the construction of wooden grain elevators, and it was about then that Grandpa Charles went to work for them. I know for sure that Dad also went to work for Ralston as a laborer. (I don’t know about Uncle Joe). I have no exact date for when Ralston passed away, but I think it was around 1935 when I was born. Around 1935 Ralston died and left Aunt Lovie with the business.
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Very interesting that, on my birth certificate from 1935, Dad is listed as a laborer employed by Van Ness Construction, and he had been employed in this work for a period of three years. Dad was listed as 26 years of age and Mom at 31. Place of residence for them (and me) is listed as 624 N. 41 St., Omaha, Neb. That is where Grandpa Charles and Grandma Rose lived and where Dad and Mom bunked up when they were not on a construction job using Dad’s trailer as home.
From what I can determine, Aunt Lovie wanted to continue in the building business, but she wanted to build homes for the growing Omaha community. So Grandpa and Dad gradually finished up the Van Ness contracts and in 1938 decided to form their own company.
Aunt Lovie eventually moved out to California where she built homes in Mill Valley and San Rafael. Although Mom and Dad fell out of contact with her, after my discharge from the Army, in 1957, I  managed to track her down and had a nice visit over the phone. She was in her early 70s by then and wanted to retire. Her daughter, Mary, stayed in Omaha, married Guy Stribling, and they had three children, the youngest was born in 1940. I don’t know if the offspring are still living.
Van Ness Construction Co. built wood grain elevators. Their field of influence was centered in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and a portion of Texas.

Formation of Tillotson Construction Co. pinned down thanks to news clipping

By Ronald Ahrens

We knew Tillotson Construction Co. was formed in 1938 after the death of my great-grandfather, Charles F. Tillotson. Family records show that he died in June of 1938 in New CorpsConcordia, Kan.

Sons Joseph H. Tillotson and Reginald O. Tillotson decided the future lay in reinforced-concrete elevators.

While they may have continued construction and repair of wooden elevators, the company’s construction record shows the first concrete elevator went up at Goltry, Okla., in 1939.

A notice of “New Corporations” in the Sep. 9, 1938 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star announces:

“Tillotson Construction company (sic), Omaha. The construction, erection, repair, reconstruction and rebuilding of grain elevators, storage warehouses and buildings of similar nature and description, $5,000. Joseph H. Tillotson, Reginald O. Tillotson, Rose A. Tillotson.”

Born in the late 1880s as Rose Brennan, Rose A. Tillotson, was the surviving widow of Charles and mother of Reginald and Joe. She died in the 1950s. 

These details help us to construct a timetable while also showing the Tillotson brothers took bold steps to embrace new techniques and processes, moving the family enterprise forward.

Thank you to blog follower Suzassippi for passing along this clipping.