A 1990 collapse at Tillotson’s York, Neb., elevator causes minor injury

Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun, Saturday, Feb. 24, 1990

YORK, Neb. (AP)–Another part of a grain elevator collapsed Friday, one day after two elevator silos split open spilling grain that crushed a building and injured one worker.

There were no reports of injuries or anyone being trapped after the collapse about 4:30 p.m. Friday at Farmers Co-op Elevator, said Clay Stodieck, a York firefighter.

“All I know is we had another collapse,” he said. “They were attempting to unload the grain today. I don’t know how far they got.”

Meanwhile, LeRoy Vanicek, elebator manager, confirmed the co-op began removing grain from the elevator earlier this month.

Radio station KAWL in York quoted an unidentified source close to the co-op as saying the grain was being removed prior to the collapse on Thursday.

The source told the station concrete chips and dust had recently appeared in grain stored at the facility and co-op officials were concerned there could be a problem with the structure. Vanicek would not confirm whether co-op officials were concerned about any problems.

A secretary who was pinned beneath a desk when thousands of pounds of grain spilled out of the elevator silos Thursday escaped the accident with bumps, bruises and scrapes, officials said.

Ruth Jones, 36, said she heard a loud roar when the 61,000 bushels of grain flattened the one-story building.

The lower halves of the 130-foot concrete silos filled with milo broke open about 3:50 p.m. CST, York Fire Chief Mark Grosshans said.

The silos are two of 18 units at the Farmers Co-op Elevator in northwest York. The silos are divided into three rows of six. The elebator is just west of U.S. Highway 81.

State Fire Marshal Wally Barnett said the bins “split from about halfway up to the base.”

Branch manager George Makovicka said he was on top of the elevator doing some routine maintenance when the grain began spilling out.

“I heard a whooshing sound, like sucking air,” he said. “I looked over the edge and saw all the grain on top of the building. It looked like a tidal wave.”

Engineers from Omaha and Lincoln inspected the building Friday morning and determined that the integrity of the structure is in question, Grosshans said Friday.

Bountiful grain crops forced Aurora, Neb., elevator expansion in 1950

Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star, Sunday, Oct. 8, 1950

AURORA, Neb–Bountiful grain crops here have forced the Aurora Co-Operative Elevator company to expand by adding a new 250,000 bushel elevator.

F.E. Henson, manager of the elevator, points to hybrid corn and the development of deep-well irrigation in Hamilton county as two of the reasons for the demanded extra storage space.

* * *

“We have 225 irrigation wells in this county,” he said. “We handled from 750,000 to 1,000,000 bushels a year.

“This Co-Op has grown steadily over the years,” he added. “It started in 1980 with less than 100 stockholders. Now it has 950.”

The new elevator, near the Burlington station, is an imposing building. It has eight round bins, 18 feet in diameter and 115 feet high. There are 14 other bins.

D.L. Grimes, superintendent for Tillotson Construction company of Omaha, said the elevator is supposed to be ready to receive grain by Oct. 15. But delivery will be accepted the first week of October.

He said he expects to have everything installed within a month. The elevator will cost about $150,000.

Hansen said the company started out in 1908 with a 20,000 bushel elevator called the west Aurora elevator.

In 1913 it built at Murphy, five miles west of Aurora. About a year ago–Sept. 27–the east Murphy elevator of 20,000-bushel capacity burned down. However, Co-Op sill had a 40,000-bushel west Murphy elevator. In the last year it has added 35,000 bushel capacity there.

* * *

In 1913, it constructed the flour mill in Aurora just east of the new concrete elevator. Its daily capacity was 75 barrels, but the big flour mills and chain store buying was too much competition, Hensen says.

So in 1938, the flour mill became a feed mill, with a 10,000-bushel capacity.

“With the growth of the company and competition, we just had to go modern and get an elevator with a drier and cleaner and those things,” Hensen said.

With its new elevator, the Aurora Co-Operative will have a 355,000-bushel capacity for its grain handling business.

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.

Peering into ancient grain storage practices from Tell Edfu to Ribchester

By Kristen Cart

As long as agriculture has existed, food storage has been essential to human survival. Grains could be stored without substantial spoilage more easily than other foods, so societies engineered grain storage very early, which enabled people to congregate in cities. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, the story of Joseph relates how he helped Egypt store grain against periods of famine. It was a successful strategy.

Genesis 41:48-49:

48 During those seven years, Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt and stored it in the cities. In every city he laid up the food from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance, like the sand of the sea, that he stopped keeping track of it; for it was beyond measure.

The practice of grain storage that was credited to Joseph in the Bible was indeed part of the long-standing economic system in Egypt.

Surviving ancient Egyptian city sites, while fairly rare, have drawn renewed interest as archaeologists explore how urban societies developed. A prominent feature of Tell Edfu, an Egyptian city studied by the University of Chicago, is a courtyard containing seven circular mud-brick silos, built together to store surplus grain. Each silo measures 5.5-6.5 meters across. The 3500 year-old site was built beside an administrative center, a feature that points to a period of prosperity measured in grain, which was the currency of the time.

Archaeologists find silos and administration center from early Egyptian city

Another example of early grain storage was discovered in Lancashire, England, in Ribchester. This location was an early Roman outpost where a garrison was stationed. Stored grain was needed to provide for the soldiers and their livestock. When the Roman soldiers abandoned the fort, evidence shows that the remaining stores were burned and the storage site destroyed.

Ribchester Roman Granaries

Every grain operation has to contend with temperature, humidity, and spoilage when storing grain. The Romans found ingenious solutions to the same problems we encounter. Their granaries had thick walls with column-supported floors, leaving void areas underneath, and drainage gutters to keep rain diverted away. These measures kept the grain cool and dry. Building the granaries above ground level also helped keep rats and mice out.

All that remains at the Ribchester site are the thick wall bases, outlining the footprint of two rectangular bins, and the support columns that held the old flagstone floors above the ground. Signs of burned grain and broken flagstones tell the story of the abandonment of the outpost.

I was curious whether ancient Greece used similar storage. Accounts I read pointed out that they used amphorae, or large pottery jars, to transport commodities including grain. They imported their grain supply across the Mediterranean Sea using these vessels, while prohibiting grain exports, to ensure their food security. Amphorae were convenient because they could be stored, but they were also portable. They were an ideal solution for foodstuffs moving through a major trading center. I wonder if consumption kept up with supply to the point that large-scale permanent storage was not needed. It is a good topic for further exploration.

Grain is such an ordinary part of life for us that it goes mostly ignored, though the history of grain is compelling. I am forever curious. Perhaps more of this remarkable history will be uncovered. I will share whatever I find.

1981 report: 1 dies, 2 critical as Bellwood explosion destroys headhouse

Lincoln Journal Star, April 8, 1981

BELLWOOD–One man died under tons of grain and concrete and two others were listed in critical condition Wednesday in an explosion that ripped through the Farmers Co-Op grain elevator late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

The body of Gary Roh, 20, of Linwood was pulled from the debris Tuesday by rescue teams working under floodlights and using heavy equipment, including a bulldozer.

Hospital and elevator officials said Joe Stastny, 58, a rural Bellwood farmer who was unloading grain when the blast was triggered, and elevator employee Larry Navrkal, 28, of Bellwood were in critical condition Wednesday morning at Lincoln’s St. Elizabeth Community Health Center’s burn center.

“It was a pretty big boom,” the elevator’s grain department manager Bob Bell said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was here in the office, which is about 50 yards from the elevator. It looked like night outside and we just dived on the floor until the debris stopped flying. Then we called the emergency number.”

Roh was reported missing after the blast, which destroyed parts of the elevator and hurled huge chunks of concrete into nearby streets and homes. Elevator officials had hoped Roh might be trapped alive, but optimism faded as the hours passed.

His body was found about 9:45 p.m.–more than five hours after the blast–in an alleyway pit inside the elevator where Stastny was unloading grain.

John Navrkal of Bellwood, an elevator supervisor and Larry Navrkal’s father, also was injured, but did not require hospitalization.

“We had a farmer (Stastny) in the elevator in a truck unloading grain,” said co-op office manager Maxine McDonald. “We had three employees there, too. The farmer was covered with grain, and they had to dig him out.”

Rescue workers used the Jaws of Life to remove him from his truck.

Witnesses said the blast apparently was triggered somewhere in the south end near Stastny’s unloading truck.

Mrs. McDonald said the 1.5 million-bushel structure was about half full of a mixture of grains and that there had been no fires. She said damage was extensive.

The blast’s cause had not been determined Wednesday morning, and damage estimates were unavailable.

Bell said insurance investigators, State Patrol officers and State Fire Marshall’s office investigators were at the scene Wednesday to try to determine the blast’s cause and whether the facility is structurally sound enough to remove remaining grain.

State Fire Marshall Wally Barnett said Wednesday the cause never may be determined “because it went from one end to the other, blew out the top and even blew out some of the bins.”

Joe Wilson, who owns a barbershop near the elevator, said there were holes measuring 25-by-50 feet in the elevator’s walls.

“The north headhouse is completely blown off,” he said. “A tank on the northeast side of the elevator was split from top to bottom.”

Wilson said the blast shook the area around the elevator, damaging homes on both sides and sending concrete fragments flying for two blocks.

“The house on the east side was riddled with concrete chunks the size of basketballs, and windows were broken,” he said. “Another house a half a block away has holes the side of footballs in the walls.”

The damage to the elevator was so extensive that at one point, the search for Roh was called off because rescue workers feared moving the grain would cause the damaged structure to collapse. Mrs. McDonald said digging resumed after a structural engineer brought in by the co-op’s insurance company examined the elevator.

There were no reports of other serious injuries.

Bellwood’s elevator is the third Nebraska elevator to explode in 1 1/2 months. In late February, an explosion rocked the Southeast Nebraska Farmers Co-op in Beatrice, injuring three men. Then slightly more than two weeks ago, a series of explosions and fires extensively damaged the McMaster Grain Co. in South Sioux City. No one was injured, but damage was estimated at $1 million.

Bellwood, a community of 361 residents, had another explosion Feb. 19 when an explosion and fire at the Farmer’s Co-op service station injured three employees and flattened the garage. None of the men were injured seriously, and the station was back in business soon after the explosion.

Mrs. McDonald said she had worked at the Bellwood elevator for 24 years, and there was another explosion there in 1959.

“But it wasn’t anywhere like this one,” she said. “We are just all in a state of shock. This is a terrible thing–one that you hope you never have to see again.”

Thank you to Susan Allen for providing this article.

1959 news photo shows rounded headhouse of Tillotson's Bellwood, Neb., elevator

Lincoln Journal Star, Saturday, March 28, 1959

BELLWOOD BLAST–A basement explosion in the Bellwood grain elevator knocked out windows and a door at the top of the tubes. One spokesman speculated it might have been a dust blast, sparked by a hot motor. Two men were injured.

Editors’ note: Thank you to Susan Allen for providing the clipping.

News item from 1951 reports that Tillotson's York, Neb., elevator proceeded well

A contributor in Lincoln, Neb., dug up this archival item from the Lincoln Journal Star of Friday, June 15, 1951:

York Grain Elevator Work Proceeds Well

YORK, Neb. (UP). York’s new grain elevator had reached a height of about 95 feet and is continuing to grow about 6 feet each 24 hours.

Heavy rains of the last few weeks have hindered work somewhat, but progress was considered “good.”