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

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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.

Tillotson’s Cedar Bluffs, Neb. elevator did without such luxuries as a central driveway or full basement

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By Ronald Ahrens

The reinforced-concrete elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built for Farmers Union Cooperative Association for $60,000 in 1950 did without expensive options like an integrated central driveway, a full basement, and an electrically operated manlift. But it was still a substantial and well-made structure that continues in operation in Cedar Bluffs, Neb.

Nebraska 2020Today, according to Randy Carlholm, the co-op’s general manager and CEO, an electrically driven manlift serves in place of the original hand-operated one. Farmers deposit grain in the external enclosure, and it is conveyed below ground to the leg.

Our records say this elevator had four tanks, or silos, of 16 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. Storage capacity was 130,675 bushels. There were nine internal bins. From outside it appears there are more tanks. Without a walk-through, we are unable to reconcile this discrepancy. Are we talking apples and apples here?

The construction process consumed 1,024 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 44.19 tons of steel.

Another 2.3 yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

The main slab was 21 inches thick and covered an area 46×46 square feet to support a gross loaded weight of 6,365 tons. The pit was 16 feet 7 inches deep.

Atop the tanks, the cupola, or headhouse, measured 14 feet wide, 24 3/4 feet long, and 21 1/2 feet high.

This is a single-leg elevator with the boot and head pulleys spaced 150 feet apart. The boot pulley was 60 x 12 x 2 3/16 inches while the head pulley was 1 1/4 inches wider. The head turned at 40 rpm thanks to a 25-horsepower Howell motor. The pulleys carried an 11-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt with cups 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep spaced 7 1/2 inches apart.

IMG_20200104_100430644_HDRTheoretical leg capacity rated at 5,972 bushels per hour; actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, which rounded off to 4,780 (4,777.6) bushels per hour. This required just 22.3 horsepower.

J.B. Ehrsam and Sons Manufacturing Co. provided the hand-operated manlift.

The dump grate was 6 x 5 feet.

With the 10-bushel load-out scale and 8 1/4-inch spout, we can’t guess how long it would take to fill a rail car with corn, but a fascinating document we found suggests that filling a car with wheat would take about 80 minutes.

 

Farmers Union Cooperative operates a well-preserved Tillotson elevator in Cedar Bluffs, Nebr.

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By Ronald Ahrens

Ace scout Rose Ann Fennessy and I visited five Tillotson elevators in Nebraska’s Saunders and Butler Counties on Jan. 4. 

IMG_20200102_163303436The first was at Cedar Bluffs, a village of 600 overlooking the Platte River. The Farmers Union Cooperative Association location was quiet when we arrived around 9.30 a.m., so we invited ourselves to walk the site and take photos.

Cedar Bluffs is a smart-looking operation, as might be expected from “Nebraska’s Oldest Cooperative Since 1888.” The main house, about to celebrate its 70th birthday, and the annex that came along nine years later appear to be in fine shape.

Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, completed this 130,675-bushel elevator in 1950–a big year in eastern Nebraska: my grandfather Reginald’s company also built elevators in Bellwood, Aurora, Omaha, and Wahoo.

Nebraska 2020The Cedar Bluffs job is noteworthy for its rectangular headhouse. The company’s graceful signature, the oval headhouse, was still to be perfected.

Other elevators built in this same year–namely, Wahoo and Richland–reflect the movement toward ovalization.

Another unusual circumstance is the lack of a central driveway going through the structure. A note with the entry says, “Truck Dump Grate No Dr’way.”

A history on the co-op’s website shows that “Elevator C, the first concrete elevator” was built in 1950 for $60,000. The co-op, which dates from 1888, had paid $10,000 for a steam-powered elevator and sheds in 1915. In 1934, the 40,000-bushel Elevator A was constructed. Six years later, Elevator B was acquired from Updike Grain Co. for $5,000 but was “disposed of” later.

The co-op lists capacity of Elevator C at 110,000 bushels–a discrepancy when compared to Tillotson records.

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Without an integral central driveway, an outside dumping grate serves the elevator, now starting its eighth decade.

Cedar Bluffs was built on an original plan that included four storage tanks of 16 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height.

In 1950, a concrete elevator was a big splurge for a small co-op. Besides no central driveway, Cedar Bluffs did without the luxury of an electrically operated manlift–it was hand-operated.

The 300,000-bushel annex and the grain dryer were added in 1959 for $150,000. It is unknown who did this job; the manhole plates are blank. We do know that Tillotson was pretty much finished with new construction by then.

We hope to learn more. Meantime, this is the first of two posts from Cedar Bluffs. Complete specs will follow.

 

 

 

 

Trying to trace the sweep of Tillotson’s hand in Dalhart, Tex.

By Ronald Ahrens

IMG_9022Tillotson Construction Co. had yet to perfect its signature style of the curved headhouse when it first built in Dalhart in 1947.

Before the late 1940s the headhouses were rectangular with a sort of molding, of concrete, extending up the full height at each corner. 

In ’47, Tillotson built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg elevator along the busy railroad tracks of this market center, the seat of Dallam County.

In specifications it adhered to a unique plan with four tanks, or silos, each measuring 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height. There were eight bins. The attached driveway was 13 x 16 feet.

The surprise is that Tillotson built a 98,000-storage annex in the very same year. Notes in the company records show two tanks of 25 feet in diameter reaching a height of 120 feet.

A further note says “Direct spouts from elev.–Gravity flow to Elev. Pit. Ring footing 3 bins.”

When I visited last month, I hadn’t realized there were two elevators. Maybe I missed something. I think I paid a call to the 1949 job.

Here’s what Uncle Chuck contributes: “I remember Dad having to make a number of trips to Dalhart, but if the annex was finished in ’47, like you say, then he must have been there to close out and inspect the finished project.

“My recollection was that the job was either finished or in the final punch-list stage. But like you on your trip, we had visited a bunch of jobs or prospective jobs before we got to Dalhart.

“Also, my young mind in those days wasn’t necessarily concentrated on the job status in each stop but probably more interested in the secretarial staff!”

At last he reveals the truth!
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Except for a railroad employee familiar from down the road in Hartley, no staff–and especially no secretaries–could be located.

Looking through the scale-house window, I saw a plate of uneaten food and an open bag of chips on the counter. Yes, another mystery.

I would leave Dalhart with more questions than before my arrival. 

Onward to Dalhart, Tex., and memories of a wild ride through New Mexico in 1948

IMG_8992After departing Hartley, my next stop, just 15 miles northwest on U.S. 87/385, was Dalhart, a market town with brick streets in the business district and, along the railroad tracks, a whole lot of buildings by Tillotson Construction Co. Dalhart is so remote in the Texas Panhandle that six other state capitals are closer than the Texas capital of Austin. For example, it’s 28 miles shorter distance to Lincoln, Neb., than to Austin.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Mention of Dalhart got my uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, reminiscing about his experience with my grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson. Perhaps from the following anecdotes we understand why Reginald started using light aircraft for his business travels.

Uncle Chuck writes:

Remembering Dalhart brings back memories of one of Dad’s business trips where I had been brought along to help drive (12 years old). I believe this one was during the winter of ’47 or ’48, and Dad was making a big business loop (similar to yours only in reverse) out of Omaha, down through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and then back up through New Mexico, Colorado, and western Nebraska.

IMG_9009Anyway, on that trip, it was getting close to sunset as we approached Dalhart, so Dad had me stop in Amarillo where he secured a hotel room.

I will never forget the night in that godforsaken place. The hotel was not insulated nor fully sealed from the winter wind, and I practically froze to death in that cold room with the wind whistling through the cracks in the wall.

I was still frozen the next morning when we headed out to Dalhart, glad the car had a good heater.

Another memorable thing about that trip was what happened after we left Dalhart. We went north up through New Mexico to our 640-acre ranch in Cebolla. Dad had recently purchased this section at the encouragement of one of his best superintendents, Francis Dawson, who lived on a big parcel not too far west from our place.

Ours didn’t have running water, heat, or utilities. After we got there Dad decided to go out to Francis’s where we could stay overnight. The problem was that most of the road to his home was very poorly graveled. It was more like a pathway. IMG_9019

I was driving the car, but when we got to an area that was somewhat of a bog, Dad took over the wheel to show me how to drive through the mud. Well, it wasn’t very long after that when he got the car high-centered, tore a hole in the oil pan, and lost all the oil. Yet he kept his foot on the gas until we were stuck dead still; then the engine got so hot, it threw a rod.

We had to slog on foot through the mud to Dawson’s house. We arrived by nightfall. The next morning one of Francis’s hired hands got the tractor, fetched the car, and dragged it into the tiny little town of Cebolla (35 miles south of the Colorado border).

As you can imagine, there was no mechanic nor any repair facility. The closest one was well to the south in Espanola. So Dad called around to the various mechanical shops there until he found someone (lucky) that could repair the engine of the fairly new ’48 Chrysler four-door sedan.

Two days later we got under way again, and amazingly the car ran like it had never been through a torture chamber.

All of that trip transpired during my high school winter break and as I recall I only lost a couple of days of the next semester.

A trip I’ll never forget, in the spring of ’49 with me again subbing as a driver, Dad again high-centered a brand-new ’49 Ford and burned up the engine.

He had a thing about willing the car to go forward even though it was hung up with no wheels touching earth.

A postcard reveals Tillotson elevator activity before the big changes of 1938

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We have found what may be a rare record of the Tillotson construction enterprise as it existed before 1938. Back then, Charles H. Tillotson led the company, which specialized in wooden elevators. After he died in ’38, his sons Reginald and Joe partnered in Tillotson Construction Co., and started to experiment, and then build, with reinforced concrete.

This card from July 2, 1936 is penned by Sister Mary Concepta, the older sister of Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson (my grandmother) and sister-in-law to Reginald.

Sr. M. Concepta, born on Sep. 27, 1901, in Emerson, Nebraska, and christened Catherine McDunn, was the second of nine children. (Margaret, born Feb. 9, 1903, was third.) Sr. M. Concepta belonged to the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a motherhouse at Mount Loretto in Dubuque, Iowa.

The parents were William McDunn (b. Feb. 4, 1871, Des Moines, Iowa) and Bridget Loretta Dorcey McDunn (b. March 27, 1872, Luken or Lucan, Ontario). Records show William as a laborer in Omaha in 1891. He became a conductor on the Nebraska Division of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway, and the family became established in Emerson, the town named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, which had come into being in 1881 at a junction on the CSPM&O (known as the Omaha Road). 

The family history comes from These U.S. McDunns: Family Tree of Patrick McDunn and Mary O’Donnell, compiled by John McDunn, of Lodi Wisc., in April 1989. The McDunns homesteaded in Pennsylvania in 1835. 

My Uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, whose name appears in many of this blog’s posts, had kept his grandfather William’s railroad watch–a Hamilton, of course–until a burglar struck in the late-1980s.

Post Card 02Uncle Charles notes that in the mid-1930s Reginald and Margaret lived with the elder Tillotsons at 624 N. 41st Street. They towed a travel trailer to job sites. In early July of 1936 they would also have towed along Uncle Charles, then 18 months old, and my mother Mary Catherine, who was nearly five months old.

On this postcard Sr. M. Concepta addresses her sister Margaret (Mrs. Reginald Oscar Tillotson) at Carlyle, Neb.

Carlisle–note the difference in spelling–is an unincorporated town in Fillmore County.

“I know the name because Mom used to talk about it,” Uncle Charles says.

We presume there was a wooden elevator. Carlisle is an unincorporated community in Fillmore County, about 135 miles southwest of Omaha. It doesn’t appear on our Rand McNally page nor does Google Maps seem to know anything about it. 

MapThe USGS gives coordinates for Carlisle on its Davenport Quadrangle map (named for a town in neighboring Thayer County), and we see a speck on Road X, west of Little Sandy Creek, that could be Carlisle. We called the Fillmore County sheriff’s office, in Geneva, and asked. “Nope,” a very nice woman said. “We don’t have a Carlisle.” 

Whatever.

“Dear Margaret + Reginald + babes,” Sr. M. Concepta begins.

Post Card 03“This card tells you where we are. Saw your Mother and Mary, Reginald. Mary is truly a nice girl and your mother surely is not strong. Won’t be leaving here now until Sat. morning. Just thought you might be coming in for the 4th. Don’t try it just for me though. Love, Sr. M. Concepta.”

Mary Tillotson was Reginald’s sister who became important to the family business and also is named in many posts here.

It’s hard enough to find a trace of Carlisle, but we would love to know if any remnant of a wooden elevator exists there.