Reader shares details of his elevator and mill in southeastern Idaho

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Story by Ronald Ahrens, photos by Kristen Cart

The focus of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators is the reinforced-concrete elevators built by Mayer-Osborn Construction Co., of Denver, and Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha. Anything we can find on J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, is also part of the quest.

But the more we learn about elevators, the more we like all of them–especially old wooden ones. But steel? That’s new for us.

DSC_0037For said reason we present Kristen’s photos of a venerable operation in Downey, Idaho. This is one-of-a-kind hybrid complex of metal-clad wooden buildings and gleaming steel silos. A conspicuous ovalized Oz-like headhouse is freakish-tall but not inelegant.

Ryan Day runs this installation of Valley Wide Cooperative. Mark the company’s locations from Jackson, Wyo., in the east to Chehalis, Wash., in the west, and from Cedar City, Utah, in the southwestern corner of the plateau of the Colorado River, north to Salmon, Idaho, which happens to be a drive of 7 hours and 45 minutes to the Salmon River.

It just so happens that Ryan Day reads this blog. Commenting on one of our Texas-Oklahoma Road Trip posts, he introduced himself: 

“I happen to be a second generation miller at the Valleywidecoop organic mill in Downey, Idaho. I enjoy reading your posts for the reason that I too have elevators in my blood. The old mill I run now was practically a family affair as I was growing up as the Day family is all that ran it haha.

“Sadly, I’m all that’s left to run a worn out wooden crib mill and a steel tanked 123,000 thousand bushel elevator that time seems to have forgotten. I took over from father so he could finally retire 3 years ago and have loved every minute of it!”

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It’s a amazing coincidence that Kristen had gone there. Too bad she and Ryan hadn’t met, but she saw no one during her visit.

Oh, and we have to share Kristen’s photo of the filling station-in-ruins across the street from the mill and elevator. The lighting conditions were hard to match for drama. Besides, in a way, feed and fuel go together.

Listen on KOSU, from Stillwater, as we talk about road trip discoveries

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By Ronald Ahrens

Kelly Burley, news director of KOSU, called me up from Stillwater to talk about the recent road trip, focusing on the sites I visited in western Oklahoma.

He requested a couple of photos (seen here) with captions for KOSU’s home page.

Burley said the full interview would post on the station’s site, and an edited version would run as an insert during a broadcast of “All Things Considered.”

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Above, Pond Creek, Okla. Here, Tillotson’s first concrete elevator (right), 1939, Goltry, Okla.

Indeed, he was true to his word. The link to the 25-minute version is embedded here. The page will open in a new window.

Kristen and I have been blogging since December 2012, but this is our first media coverage and we’re pleased.

Omahan’s ancestor ran 2 elevators–perhaps even Vinton St.

William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933

Kim David Cooper, a friend of Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators, has shared not only his oil paintings depicting Tillotson’s Greenwood, Neb., elevator but also some family history.

As he explains …

Since we’re talking grain elevators … my Great Grandfather, William Leslie Temple, managed them. It was most of his life’s work. William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933 detail 2

Two different large ones in Omaha. One on 16th street near Carter Lake and one just north of I-80 and west of I-480. 16th one still active, I believe the other one is not.

Here’s the group picture from 1933. Quite a group of characters. Looks to be many different nationalities represented.

William died in 1963 at the age of 85–on his birthday, working in his garden.

We believe the one just north of I-80 and west of I-480 is the Vinton Street elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co. in 1947.

It would be a remarkable coincidence if Cooper’s great-grandfather ran a Tillotson-built elevator.

William Leslie Temple Farmers National Grain Coop, Omaha, NE Oct 3, 1933 detail

As we see in this inset photo, the 16th Street elevator was part of Farmers National Grain Corp.

Cargill: Trading the World’s Grain, by Wayne G. Broehl, tells us more:

Farmers National was formed in 1929 as “a new central organization to bring together cooperatively owned elevators, terminals and wheat pools and farmer-directed sales agencies into a single unified marketing organization. In early 1930 centralized units also were formed for cotton and livestock, and later, similar national associations were formed for wool, beans, pecans, sugar beets, fruits and vegetables.”

The 16th Street elevator will require further investigation.

Many thanks to Cooper for sharing this family photo and revealing the probable link between our families.

 

 

 

 

 

Tillotson’s Greenwood, Neb., elevator appears in another Cooper oil painting

Corn and Cathedrals, 16x20, oil on canvas, Plein Air, 2015, Kim David Cooper

“Corn and Cathedrals,” used with permission. Copyright Kim David Cooper, 2015.

By Ronald Ahrens

Yesterday we showed you a painting titled “Greenwood Cathedrals,” a 48 x 60 work in oil by Kim David Cooper, a high school classmate.

The Set UpIt depicts the 129,000-bushel single-leg elevator built in 1951 by Tillotson Construction Co.

Here are images of another painting, “Corn and Cathedrals,” a 16 x 20 canvas that Cooper did in 2015.

This time the view is from the Greenwood cemetery and places the Tillotson elevator on the right.

Although “Corn and Cathedrals” was sold, “Greenwood Cathedrals” is on display at Cooper Studio & Gallery, 1526 Silver St., Ashland, Neb.

 

Tillotson’s 1951 Greenwood, Neb., elevator depicted in oil on canvas

Greenwood Cathedrals Full Painting

This copyrighted image is used with permission of Kim David Cooper.

By Ronald Ahrens

It has come to our attention that high school classmate Kim David Cooper, an artist, has completed a numinous landscape that depicts the Greenwood, Neb., grain elevator built in 1951 by Tillotson Construction Co.

In this view from the north, it’s the elevator on the left of the canvas.

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Detail view. This copyrighted image is used with permission of Kim David Cooper.

Anyone who drives between Omaha and Lincoln on U.S. 6 will notice this elevator, which has a storage annex that was also a Tillotson job.

The 1951 original followed the Churdan, Iowa, plan established in 1949. It had four tanks, or silos, of 14.5 feet in diameter rising 120 feet from the ground.

The smallish headhouse measured 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

We have posted about the Greenwood elevator before; all the specs and photos can be found by using this link.

Cooper, proprietor of Cooper Studio & Gallery, at 1526 Silver St. in Ashland, Neb., titled his painting “Greenwood Cathedrals.”

This oil on a large 48 x 60-inch canvas is now on display.

“We are Cooper Studio & Gallery and have been at this location for almost 17 years,” he wrote in an email. “I do a lot of plein air painting and commission work for customers.  Also framing and some restoration.”

It was my first contact with Cooper since 1972, who was good at baseball as well as art. Nice to come together again after 46 years–all because of a grain elevator.

Update on redevelopment of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Tempe, Ariz.

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We have discovered news in the Arizona Republic about progress at the derelict Hayden Mill and Mayer-Osborn grain elevator site in Tempe.

As the Republic’s story reveals, a developer plans to refresh the buildings and make a multipurpose facility that will entail converting the elevator into a hotel.

We visited Tempe in 2012 and posted this story and photos.

And we spoke a few months ago to John Southard, historic preservation officer for the city of Tempe, discussing some details of the project.

This is a beautiful, sleek elevator that integrates the headhouse into the main house in a singular manner and represents Mayer-Osborn at the top of their game.

We plan to return to Tempe in a few weeks to get the low-down, and of course we will report further right here at Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators.

Final thoughts after 1,800 miles, 20 grain elevators, and one Czech sausage

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By Ronald Ahrens

As Kristen Cart and I have been blogging about Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators since 2012, she has been able to make the most of her Midwestern location by visiting “our” elevators in Iowa and Nebraska. But I live near Palm Springs, Calif., which is much better known for its midcentury modern houses. Down in the southern end of the valley they grow dates, grapes, strawberries, and leafy greens. No need for an elevator there.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I had only been to the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Tempe, Ariz., and Tillotson Construction Co.’s 1947 terminal in my hometown of Omaha. (Also, a superficial look-see at an elevator-mill complex in Colton, Calif., about an hour from my house.)

So I’ve been winging it.

The 1,800-mile road trip from April 15 to 22, 2018, was an education. I had to go about 1,000 before the first visit to one of “our” elevators in Hereford, Tex. But in the next 84 hours I visited 18 more locations, saw for myself the distinctions from one to the next, and learned a great deal.

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Workbench and storage in Pond Creek, Okla.

Subsequent conversations with my uncles, Chuck and Tim Tillotson, have sharpened those distinctions.

And of course, as I’ve been at my desk writing the posts in this series, I’ve pored over the company records as never before.

My takeaway from all this can be distilled into a few points.

  1. The people I met in Canyon, Bushland, and Booker, Tex., are super-smart and know their business inside and out. In Conlen, Tex., an employee named Jamie said the elevator there was “older than dirt.” In Meno and Pond Creek, Okla., I was encouraged by the astuteness of Matthew Thomsen, Tracie Rhodes, and Jeff Johndrow. They’re not so different from the leaders I interview in my assignments as a reporter for automotive and business magazines. I could see them in Silicon Valley or Detroit.
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    Pond Creek basement.

    Seeing the elevators–most of them in pretty good shape–and watching the work is gratifying. The first Tillotson concrete elevator, in Goltry, Okla., has not been operational for about a decade. But the fourth one ever built, in 1941, is still in use at Medford, Okla., and is looking at its 80th birthday in 2021. I’m sure my grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson, would be proud. Kristen’s grandfather, William Osborn–who may have worked on some of these jobs when he was with Tillotson and who built one of the elevators that greeted me in Follett–would be the same. They did a splendid thing.

  3. On the Great Plains of the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma, it’s quite possible to see how these grain castles, some as high as 175 feet, changed the landscape. We know it happened in a 15-year period between Tillotson’s first effort at Goltry and 1954, when most of the building was done. Excepting the intensive effort to out-produce the Germans and Japanese during World War Two–the period from 1942 to 1944 when no elevators were built–the transformation happened even faster. If at the moment you weren’t in view of a grain elevator, you soon would be.

It was a propitious moment to do this road trip. Most of the elevators were still going about their noble business, but 20 years from now they’ll be reaching what we conceive as their maximum life-cycle. I fear that more and more of them will stand as decrepit monuments. Someone asked if they’ll be knocked down. The answer is that I didn’t hear any of the farmers’ cooperative employees mention a budget for pulverizing, in the case of Tillotson’s 350,000-bushel elevator at Farnsworth, Tex., 1,875 cubic yards of concrete and 127 tons of reinforcing steel.

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Tillotson Construction Co. manhole cover and other detail from Pond Creek.

Perhaps a good lesson comes from the news that Ford Motor Co. has acquired the Michigan Central terminal in Detroit. This building, abandoned for decades, became the chief emblem of “ruins porn,” those photos of the Motor City’s decrepitude. Ford will restore the building over four years and devote some space to its expanding innovations hub in the city.

We can only hope for the same with elevators. Not that Ford would be involved, but that the innovators we’ve written about–vertical farmers, property developers, recreation entrepreneurs–will find new uses or refine old ones.

Here I extend a big salute to the readers who’ve followed along on our road trip series. Your companionship and comments have been appreciated.