An old-time mill in Billings, Mont. sports a wooden scale

A wooden scale lies beside the old brick scale house.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

This old mill in Billings, Montana was too good to pass up. A trip around all sides revealed its current occupation as a tire company or body shop–old cars and an old wood elevator inhabit the yard beside it, but a large quantity of tires are piled adjacent to the road on the other side. But the area pictured above shows that it once handled grain.

The door to the scale house admits no one.

I have never seen a wooden scale before. The scale house next to it is shut up tight with iron bars–it could have been a jail, perhaps, in a later life. The mill itself shows signs of repeated brick repair. The story of these buildings invites a more thorough investigation.

The mill is in a historic part of Billings and sits across the street from the railroad lined with coal cars. If you could imagine it opening up to a brick-paved street illuminated with gas lights, this structure would fit right in. But it is a bit odd in its present setting.

The modern look undoubtedly bears no resemblance to the original view.

The mill appears to be well maintained and will, with care and good luck, grace this historic street for another hundred years.

Cars in the adjacent yard await restoration.

 

An unused elevator completes the scene.

A 1981 explosion at Bellwood, Neb., blew the headhouse of a Tillotson elevator to pieces

profileIn a previous post, Uncle Tim Tillotson recalled an elevator repair job at Bellwood, Neb., after an explosion in 1959, where Tillotson Construction Co. built a 320,000-bushel elevator on an original plan in 1950. 

Nebraska 2020Company records also note construction of a 340,000-bushel annex in 1954. And we discovered the Tillotson name on the manhole covers of a second, equal-sized annex our visit on January 4, 2020.

Meanwhile, as the following story details, we have found evidence of a subsequent mishap at Bellwood.

United Press International, Wednesday, April 8, 1981

BELLWOOD, Neb.–One man was killed and two others were critically injured in an explosion at a grain elevator that hurled debris over a wide area.

Rescue workers retrieved the body of Gary Roh, 20, from a 10-foot pit about five hours after the explosion at the Bellwood Farmer Co-op Tuesday afternoon.

Hospital authorities said Larry Navrkal, 28, an elevator employee, and Joe Stastny, 58, an area farmer, were in critical condition at St. Elizabeth’s Community Health Center.

Witnesses to the blast said it apparently was triggered somewhere in the south end near the unloading truck. The explosion shook the entire elevator, ripped out one wall and threw the headhouse, a structure on top of the elevator, completely off.

Roh, an elevator employee, was helping unload a farmer’s truck near the site where the explosion was apparently triggered.

The David City Banner-Press reported Stastny was inside the cab of a truck being unloaded inside the south end of the elevator when the explosion occurred. Rescue workers used the “jaws of life” to remove him from the truck which remained buried inside the elevator.

Roh’s body was discovered near Stastny’s truck just as authorities were ready to halt the search. The elevator remained standing but was riddled with holes. Authorities considered calling in a building inspector to determine the stability of the structure.

Bellwood and David City fire officials said there was not much of a fire after the explosion, which also damaged nearby houses and businesses. Rubble was spread for blocks and vehicles in the area were damaged by flying objects.

Workers from the state Fire Marshal’s office and the Nebraska State Patrol supervised the area Tuesday night. They said they didn’t know the cause of the blast, and there was no damage estimate available.

How a Tillotson family member escaped the Omaha ax murderer’s attack in 1928

By Charles J. Tillotson

Another tidbit of info on the Tillotson family I wanted to mention was about the attack in November of 1928 by the ax murderer otherwise known as the Chopper.

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Mom used to tell the story of how Grandpa’s sister Mary Alice‘s daughter, Mary, and her husband, Harold “Guy” Stribling, were attacked by the Chopper in the middle of the night in their home near Carter Lake.

Harold was beaten severely about the head with a blunt instrument thought to be an ax, an Mary was also struck by the intruder with the same instrument.

Harold suffered a huge head depression and other lacerations, and Mary was beaten and cut up–but both of them survived.

Mary begged the intruder to save her baby girl, Minerva and somehow talked him into leaving the house.

The intruder, later on named as Jake Bird, agreed to let them all live if Mary would walk with him. It is said that after about three miles of walking, Jake let Mary go.

Jake Bird was accused and convicted of other Chopper murders in and around Omaha.

Both Harold and Mary eventually recovered, but Mom used to say that Guy was never the same.

She knew how to scare us with stories like this. I’m sure it was as a means of making us realize that danger lurks everywhere. She was so right!

Note: Thanks to blogger Brianna Wright for delving into the archives of the Omaha World-Herald to revive this story.

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 Construction Co. summons workers to Fremont, Neb. job in 1942

“Workers Needed,” proclaimed the ad in the Oct. 29, 1942 edition of the Fremont (Neb.) Tribune. “Wage, 60¢ Per. Hour. Duration two to three months.”

Workers Needed

Tillotson Construction Co. was summoning prospects to report at the Updike Grain Corp. Elevator, 1st and Broad Streets, in Fremont.

Company records show no construction of reinforced-concrete elevators during 1942 and 1943, so it seems reasonable to surmise that in this period of wartime scarcity the Tillotsons were returning to their tradition of building and repairing wooden elevators.

An illuminating post on the blog Lost America Found describes Updike Grain Corp. in the following terms:

“The Updike Grain Co. was a large grain storage and trading company, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, and which operated grain elevators throughout the mid-west. Nelson Blackwell Updike (b. Dec. 2, 1871 Pennington N.J.) first bought a grain elevator in Eldorado Neb. shortly after his marriage in 1895. With the success of that elevator, he began to purchase more country elevators, and built terminal elevators in Omaha.”

Additionally:

“It’s hard to determine when the Updike name disappeared. After 1932, it was no longer needed by FNGC [Farmers National Grain Corp.] to trade on the exchange, but how long it continued to be used at the local level with the various grain elevators is not clear.”

We see from this ad that the Updike name continued in use at least until 1942.

Thank you to Suzassippi, a follower of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators, for supplying this clipping and others to follow.

 

 

 

Although feeling the strain, Tillotson’s elegant 1948 elevator stands tall at Richland, Neb.

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By Ronald Ahrens

The handsome 52,000-bushel elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built in 1948 at Richland, Neb., has “pretty much turned into an OSHA nightmare.” 

Nebraska 2020So reported Todd Henke, who manages the Richland location for Cooperative Supply Inc.

“They’re so concerned about dust explosions,” Henke said. And it’s no surprise, not “with the electrical and how they [elevators] were built.” Keeping clean inside is a big emphasis. 

The old elevator–rated at 3,169 tons gross weight when fully loaded–was full at the time of our phone call on Feb. 3. Henke described its intermittent use, which he attributed as much to limited capacity as to general creakiness.

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Rose Ann Fennessy paces off the driveway on the chilly morning of Jan. 4.

The leg, for example, is “very slow,” running at 2,000 bushels per hour. Original specifications indicate a theoretical maximum of 5,700 bushels and actual capacity (80 percent of theoretical) of 4,555 bushels.

“If we max it out we maybe could do 2,500,” Henke said, pointing out the elevator was built in the day of 100-bushel wagons and 300-bushel trucks. It’s more common for today’s truck to bear up to 1,200 bushels, making for tight accommodations in the 13-foot-wide driveway.

The heavy rigs, as well as massive trains rumbling by, shake and stress the whole building.

And days of loading rail cars at the siding have ended.

“Years ago the main problem was loading six cars. Now that feature, we had to take that spout down from cracking.” The insurance company requested it. 

Not to mention that the scale of things has changed so much. “These days, if you don’t load 100 cars, it isn’t worth doing.” 

Do people ever comment about the cupola (headhouse) being rounded at the south end? 

“I’ve been here a very long time and don’t notice it,” Henke said. He started as a bookkeeper in 1990. “I imagine they kept that north side more square because of the leg.”

Tillotson was still experimenting with rounding the cupola in 1948 and gradually extended this design to general use.

Our other question concerned the note in company records saying, “Water.” We take this to mean groundwater seeped into the 10-foot 6-inch excavation. So is there any problem with moisture in the basement?

Henke said no–another indication of a well-built Tillotson elevator continuing to do the job.