The elevator and its Tillotson annex preside in sleepy Dike, Iowa

The old elevator sits beside its wooden predecessor, as it did in 1946

The old elevator sits beside a wooden elevator, as it did in 1946

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

We took a number of elevator detours on our return home from a Nebraska trip, where we delivered our daughter to her summer veterinary camp. During the four-day program presented by Oxbow Animal Health, she learned the inner workings of a cow, and lovingly operated on and sutured a stuffed bunny. Apparently there is no such experience offered to children in Illinois.

The trip home was a meandering route with a number of switchbacks, with elevators built by Tillotson Construction, of Omaha, spaced every few miles. One elevator stop on our sojourn was Dike, Iowa, in the central part of the state. This fascinating site was the last one we saw before the light failed. We were racing a line of weather, and as the sun sank the clouds built and made for very flat light.

DSC_0721It is enlightening to see an elevator complex in person and compare it with an early photograph. The changes wrought in almost seventy years can be surprising, but even more unexpected can be the features that remain the same.

At Dike, you immediately notice a wooden structure behind the main structure. Strangely, it does not appear to be the same elevator that appears in the old photograph. Why would the co-op replace a wooden elevator with another one? The obvious answer would be a fire, but if wood was obsolete, why continue to build with that material?

In my travels, I have rarely come across a wooden elevator that was built before the 1940s and still in use today. Technology rendered the old ones obsolete, and wear and tear made them difficult to operate. Fire also took many of them. Now, wooden elevators built as late as the 1970s are coming down as more valuable uses are found for their wood, and as regulations make them harder to license.

The main house of Tillotson Construction's elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

The main house of the elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (Tillotson Construction’s annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

Dike’s concrete elevator was built in 1946, and it came with an unusual (for Tillotson) headhouse. In the one place where we found a similar example, at St. Francis, Kan., the elevator built by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, sported a rectilinear headhouse. Though it was replaced much later, early pictures show that the St. Francis headhouse was built in that style.

Both the old Omaha company and its later offshoots preferred curved architecture because it was more economical to build.

So the Dike elevator was a non-typical construction, and we know from its early photo that it started out that way. Since we have no record of it in our Tillotson company records, we have to assume it was built by another company. But the Omaha company led by Reginald Tillotson built the annex.

DSC_0702Tillotson Construction arrived on scene in 1949 to add the annex just three years after the main house was built. In the late 1940s, when elevators were filled just as fast as they could be built, annexes sprung up almost before the concrete cured on the original elevators.

The Dike, Iowa, annex specifications

Capacity per plans (with pack): 200,700 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,859

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,255 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 3 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (including jack rods): 73.56 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of concrete: 117.2 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete per plans:

Below main slab: None

Main slab: 23,665 pounds steel and 218 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 94,152 pounds steel and 880 cubic yards concrete

Work and drying floor: None

Deep bin bottoms: None

Overhead bin bottoms: 18,156 pounds steel and 56 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof: 4,223 pounds steel and 32 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor: None

Distributor floor: 3,570 pounds steel and 30 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: Steel included in above amount, and 21 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (Boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 500 pounds steel and 4 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway (for Dike plans, lower tunnel indicated here): 363 pounds steel and 14 cubic yards concrete

Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 46 1/2′ x 68′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 2,955 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) Concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard) plus steel: 2,583 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 6 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 25 tons

Weight of grain (60 pounds per bushel): 6,021 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 5 tons

Gross weight loaded: 8,640 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.93 tons per square inch

Main slab thickness: 24″

Main slab steel (size and spacing): 1″ diameter,  5 1/2″ o. c.

Tank steel and bottom–round tanks (size and spacing): 5/8″ diameter, 9″ o. c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 400′ (no drive)

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: None

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 13′ x 93′ x 8′

Pulley centers: None

Number of legs: None

Distributor Floor: None

Track sink: None

Full Basement: Yes

Electrical room: In elevator

Driveway width: None

Dump grate size: None

Columns under tanks: 4 columns 16″ square

Boot Leg and Head: None

Machinery details

Top conveyor: 30″ belt at 500 bushels per minute; 7,800 bushels per hour; 10 horsepower drive; Howell tripper.

Bottom Conveyor: 24″ belt at 600 bushels per minute; 5,800 bushels per hour; 7 1/2 horsepower drive

Remarks

Also built: Extended driveway on elevator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles H. Tillotson straddled the divide between wood and concrete

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

My Great-grandfather Charles H. Tillotson may have been following his trade by instinct, but he opened the way for descendants to distinguish themselves in the business of elevator construction.

I know the Tillotsons saw themselves primarily as carpenters. My Uncle Charles J. Tillotson went to work as an apprentice carpenter for Tillotson Construction, which was founded after the death of his grandfather Charles. My Uncle Michael Tillotson learned carpentry on through the family business and worked as a carpenter throughout his career. When I helped him finish concrete sidewalks on a couple of side jobs in the 1970s, he preached a gospel that carpenters could do it all, whether it be concrete or painting. And in elevator construction, it was true.

Charles H. Tillotson was born in Brunswick, Mo., in 1880. He married Rose Brennan in Riverside, Iowa.

He and my Great-grandmother Rose had an apparently cozy life in Omaha with their three grown children, Joseph, Reginald, and Mary, all of whom became involved in elevator construction. Kristen Cart’s research has found the Tillotsons listed in the 1930 census. They lived at 624 N. 41st.

A 1936 city directory listed Charles H. as president of Van Ness Construction, a company that built mills and elevators. Joseph served as secretary-treasurer and Reginald was a foreman. Mary worked as a clerk-typist at the Federal Land Bank.

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By then, Reginald was married to my grandmother, Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson. Their firstborn Charles J., had arrived in 1935, followed the next year by my mother, Mary Catherine.

Uncle Tim Tillotson, the middle of their three sons between Charles J. and Michael (who was born in a home-built house trailer at a Smith Center, Kan., job site), says a story exchanged among the uncles was that Great-grandfather Charles H. would tell Reginald, “Put out that cigarette,” when they were working on jobs. The danger of fire was constant. How ironic, then, that Charles H. held a cigarette for his portrait.

After the death of paterfamilias Charles H., the Tillotson Construction Company was formed by Reginald, Joseph, and Mary. We would love to learn more about how this proceeded.

Meanwhile, the transition to slip-formed concrete construction was under way, with the Tillotsons’ carpentry skills being readily applied to the formwork.

A search for Van Ness elevator images yields surprising results

Story by Kristen Cart

When hunting for ancient elevators–and by ancient, I mean hundred-year-old, steel-sheathed, wooden construction–you run into a serious problem: most of them no longer exist.

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A 1936 Omaha directory

The elevator you are looking for may have burned down years ago, followed by a replacement that also burned down. The things liked to catch fire, as a search of old newspapers will show.

Concrete construction was meant to reduce the problem, but the new elevators would burn in spectacular fashion when grain dust ignited, throwing debris and victims sky high.

The fertile ground for old elevator hunting remains the Internet, thanks to bloggers, satellite imagery, photographers, and the odd stuff that accumulates online.

Recently, we turned up some truly fascinating finds. We had discovered Charles H. Tillotson was president of Van Ness Construction Company, of Omaha, in the 1930s. He was the original founder of the construction business (and its progeny) that his children and their associates operated into the 1950s, as documented in this blog.

Charles H. Tillotson

Charles H. Tillotson

Now that we had a company name for his earlier efforts, the hunt for Van Ness elevators was on.

Rydal, Kan., was home to an early Van Ness elevator. The town was profiled in the blog Dead Towns of Kansas, a project by the Hutchinson, Kan., journalist Amy Bickel. On her page is a marvelous 1950s vintage aerial photograph of bridge construction showing two 1888- to 1907-vintage elevators, one of which was built by Van Ness. One of the two pictured elevators burned in 1952. We do not know if the fire consumed them both.

Luckily, a Van Ness mill and elevator in Grenola, Kan., was deemed historical, and the Kansas State Historical Society successfully nominated it for the National Register of Historic Places. Since grain was no longer stored there, the greatest threat to its survival was gone.

It is the only example we have found that still stands.

The architect of this elevator, designed and built in 1909, was P. H. Pelkey Company, with the construction completed by the R. M. Van Ness Construction, of Fairbury, Neb.

This company could have been the predecessor to the Van Ness Construction Company that Charles H. Tillotson led, and it may have been his earlier employer. A little more research could tease out the history of the Van Ness building enterprises in Nebraska.

But the elevator is representative of the typical construction of the time, when Charles would have been working in the business.

This old elevator is located in Grenola, Elk County, Kan., on a railroad siding which was formerly on a mainline of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Southern Kansas Division.

This ‘continuous pour’–and the marching band–would delight our grandfathers

By Ronald Ahrens

Photo by AC Martin.

Photo by AC Martin.

A  USA Today insert in my Feb. 6 edition of the Desert Sun newspaper carried this story about the new tower under construction in Los Angeles. The news will be of interest to the concrete enthusiasts among our readers.

The report on the 1100-foot Wilshire Grand project describes how the the foundation slab will be laid on Feb. 15: “The project will attempt to set a Guinness World Record with the largest continuous concrete pour ever… More than 2,100 truckloads will deliver 21,200 cubic yards of concrete weighing 82 million pounds.”

A typical Tillotson elevator–for example, Albert City, Iowa–needed 2091 cubic yards of reinforced concrete. That’s just under one percent of what’s going into the 100-foot-deep hole on Wilshire Boulevard. I’m trying (without success) to picture 100 grain elevators compressed in there.

The USC band will precede the first truck to the site.  It is not recorded that any band ever marched to the opening of an elevator job.

Nor is it believed a swimming pool topped any elevator, as will be the case at Wilshire Grand.

Technical complications will arise during the pour, and a quite amazing means of addressing them has been devised, as you will read in the story.

I mentioned all this to Uncle Chuck Tillotson and shared the clipping with him. He said that my grandfather Reginald had foreseen for Tillotson Construction Company a commercial future beyond elevator construction.

Applying their expertise with concrete in different applications would only have been natural, but it’s doubtful  he foresaw anything quite this big.

And I’m sure he didn’t think about anyone taking a dip while 1100 feet above the city.

With their works in Estill, South Carolina, Tillotson built big in cotton country

Freshly harvested cotton field in central South Carolina

Freshly harvested cotton field in central South Carolina.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The brightly wrapped cotton bales highlighted an otherwise drab landscape as I traveled the 91 miles south from Columbia to visit the Estill elevator, originally built in 1947. Rain and haze flattened the view. Since it was Sunday when I visited the elevator, few people appeared to be about. It was going to be a photography outing, for better or for worse.

DSC_3487

The Estill elevator, greatly expanded since it was built in 1947, was secured behind barbed wire.

I graduated high school in South Carolina. My impression of the place, after growing up in the western desert, was one of endless dark pine woods, with a brief gaudy display of azaleas and dogwood blooms in springtime.  I didn’t appreciate the raw beauty at the time. Now, on a soggy day, it had a mysterious appeal.

DSC_3431When I learned that the Tillotson Construction Company built an elevator in the state, it came as a surprise. We do not know who built the original house in 1947. Tillotson, according to company records, built the 225,000-bushel annex and a second, larger elevator, in 1952 and 1953, respectively. The trademark rounded headhouse rises above the 350,000 bushel elevator, built to finish the concrete elevator complex.

Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. outlined the history of the Estill elevator in his article for the Hampton County Guardian published on December 14, 2010. The article was written to herald the purchase of Carolina Soya by ADM. During its heyday, the elevator stored soybeans for soybean processing, which was part of the operation. Now it is strictly a storage facility for ADM, focusing on soybeans but also accepting corn.

The company laid off staff upon acquiring the facility in 2010, shrinking from 45 to 14 workers, heralding a loss to the community in a time of slow economic growth. ADM promised to hire from the laid off worker pool as needed.

DSC_3406I noticed that the good times had passed during my drive down. The decline of the area was evidenced by empty store fronts and decrepit gas stations, ancient closed restaurants, and tired houses–all along the highway south from Columbia, it was apparent that development chose another corridor and not this one. I wondered if there was one open gas station anywhere along the route.

The histories neglect one of the Estill elevator’s darker episodes. In the ’40s and ’50s, construction safety was not mandated as it is now. In one of the accidents that was all too common for elevator construction, Wayne Eugene Baker lost his life in a fall while working on the storage addition, or annex, built in 1952. For all of the heartache, Wayne helped build a thing of beauty that sustained its neighborhood for many years and still brings economic benefit to its region.

A mystery is solved with the discovery of elevator builder Van Ness Construction

The wooden elevator at Wymore, Nebraska, is representative of the style of Van Ness Construction

The wooden elevator at Wymore, Neb., is representative of the style of Van Ness Construction.

Story and photo by Kristen Cart

When we began investigating the elevators our grandfathers built, we had no idea how far the project would take us or what surprises would unfold. With the discovery of Van Ness Construction Company of Omaha, we have learned about the beginnings of the Tillotson family enterprise, and have entered a new phase of our search.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938

The Nebraska State Journal, June 19, 1938

We knew that Charles H. Tillotson, patriarch of the family and great-grandfather of Ronald Ahrens, built elevators before the days of slip-formed concrete. We found only one Tillotson elevator, made of wood, that predated the elegant concrete structures that sprang up all over the Midwest in the ’40s and ’50s–at least we found its obituary in a news video of its fiery demise. That 1940 vintage elevator, in Hawarden, Iowa, was built two years after Charles died. It burned down in 2006. We didn’t find, at the time, a project that we could attribute to Charles.

Then we had a breakthrough, thanks to Ancestry.com.

Ancestry has a wonderful collection of city directories. I had seen listings for the Tillotson family in Omaha before, but I missed a significant data point. While searching for Sylvia (Mayer) Tillotson, the wife of Joe and sister of Eugene Mayer, I discovered an Omaha directory for 1936 in which Charles H. Tillotson was listed as president of Van Ness Construction Company. Further Internet searches revealed some of the sites where Van Ness built its small steel-cased wooden elevators, but as yet we have found none that have survived.

Now we hope to find an existing elevator from the days before Joe and Reginald Tillotson dreamed up their slip-formed concrete designs. So far the closest we have come is an elevator that perished in a fire in Scribner, Neb., in 1971 , a nightmare that repeated itself in June, 2013.

Also, in a Google satellite image of the town of Diller, Neb., another identified site, a square concrete pad with a grain spout lying alongside it is located near new steel bins, right where an old elevator should have been. In Rydal, Kan., you can see a concrete pad with concrete pits near a horizontal storage building, with the remains of a rail siding alongside. I was a little surprised to find evidence of earlier elevators at these sites, but of course digging up tons of concrete for no special reason would be unnecessarily expensive, so there are remains.

Everywhere we looked for these ancient elevators, we found evidence of obsolescence and ultimate destruction, with little left to identify the sites. Newspapers were the only way to find the locations. Fire certainly destroyed some of them. For those that remained, the adoption of concrete and much larger storage facilities turned these old Van Ness elevators into relics and ultimately spelled their doom.

The Tillotson elevator at Vail, Iowa, is fully explained in builder specifications

The ubiquitous curved headhouse exemplifies the Tillotson style at Vail, Iowa

The curved headhouse exemplifies the Tillotson style at Vail, Iowa.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

DSC_2984

An overexposed image brought out the Tillotson name on the blue port cover.

During our travels, we are always on the lookout for a Tillotson elevator, so coming across the Vail elevator in the eastern part of Iowa during a Thanksgiving visit was a pleasant surprise.

The trademark curved headhouse came into sight at a distance, and with some excitement we pulled over near the elevator, hoping to find an embossed manhole cover to confirm the builder. Painted blue, about halfway up the side above a loading spout, was a steel cover with its stamped name, “Tillotson Construction Co., 1955, Omaha Nebr.,” faintly visible in the late afternoon shadow.

We needn’t have looked. The Vail elevator is among the structures detailed in the Tillotson concrete elevator specifications, which span over fifteen years.

In a brisk, chill wind, I took some quick photographs (interrupted briefly when a railroad employee warned me to keep a respectful distance from the tracks), and then I dashed back into the warmth of the truck. “Vail, Iowa,” was a familiar name. When I checked, I found it was listed in the rich store of information that Tim Tillotson provided.

Eureka!

DSC_3006Below are the specifications for the elevator at Vail, Iowa, built in 1955.

The elevator was built using the “Manson plan,” which specified 5 bins with a 16 ft diameter and 120 ft height, a 13 x 17 ft driveway, a dust bin and fan, a dryer bin, and 16 bins and overflow.

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 152,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 1,551 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 1,552 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers) 27 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 69.5 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 89.8 pounds

 

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 5,457 lb/64 cu yd

Main slab 19,460 lb/186 cu yd

Drawform walls 88,017 lb/1087 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1,988 lb/18.5 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 5,261 lb/28.5 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 2,949 lb/22.1 cu yd

Bin roof & Extens. roofs 5,287 lb/35.8 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) 292 lb/4.8 cu yd

Cupola walls (including leg and head) 5,590 lb/63.0 cu yd

Distributor floor 1,530 lb/11.0 cu yd

Cupola roof 1,760 lb/14.0 cu yd

Miscellaneous (track sink, steps) 1,107 lb/15.0 cu yd

Construction details

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 54 x 51 ft

Main slab area (actual outside on ground, less pit) 2,482 sq ft

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4,000 lb/cu yd + steel) 3,173 tons

Weight of plan concrete (hoppers 4,000 lb/cu yd) 96 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lb/cu yd) 615 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 lb per bushel) 4,560 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 18 tons

Gross weight loaded 8,462 tons

Bearing pressure 3.4 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 24 in

Main slab steel (bent) number 9 at 7 inches

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) number 4 at 12 inches

Lineal feet of drawform walls and extensions 526 ft

Height of drawform walls 120 ft

Pit depth below main slab 16 ft 3 in

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.) 22.25 x 42.5 x 26.5 ft

Pulley centers 152.75 ft

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 ft

Dump grate size 5 x 9 and 15 x 9 ft

Columns under tanks size 16 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

 

Machinery Details

Head pulley size 72 x 14 x 4 9/16 in

Boot pulley size 72 x 14 in

Head pulley rpm 42

Belt 330 ft, 14 in 6 ply calumet

Cups 12 x 6 in at 10 1/2 in

Head drive Howell 30 horsepower, 4

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 6,440 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 5,150 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 23.8 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower Ehr

Load out scale 10 bu

Load out spout 8.25 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Bin

Cupola spouting 10 inch diam.

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor Provision

 

Also Built

Main slab includes 3 in pile cap 23 cu yd

Split one overhead bin

Dust bin and fan

Hang pit 3,126

Special track sink

Piling