History of Tillotson’s massive Bellwood, Neb., elevator includes details of 1959 explosion that injured two

 

By Ronald Ahrens

At 320,000 bushels, Bellwood, Neb., and Canyon, Tex. were the second-biggest jobs for Tillotson Construction Co. when they were built in 1950, some 12 years after the company’s first elevator of reinforced concrete.

There was the early, huge 350,000-bushel facility at Farnsworth, Tex., in 1945.

Otherwise, the 310,000-bushel elevator at Dalhart, Tex., in 1949, was next-largest.

We now find this welcome history of the Bellwood elevator complex–which presents slightly different figures from those in the company record–from a local source:

The first concrete elevator was built in 1950 with a capacity of 324,000 bushels and a cost of $141,000. The first addition followed in 1954 costing $133,000 and holding 344,000 bushels. The second annex of 343,000 bushels followed in 1958 with a price tag of $116,000. The third annex, being the north elevator with the headhouse, was built the next year for $179,000 and has a capacity of 290,000 bushels. Twenty years later, in 1979, two large diameter tanks each holding 165,000 bushels, were built at a total cost of $333,000. This brings the companies (sic) licensed storage capacity to 1,685,000 bushels.

As reported in the previous post, we found the Frontier Cooperative location to be surviving quite nicely after 70 years and two explosions.

Here is this detail of the first one:

An explosion ripped through the first concrete elevator on March 27, 1959 causing considerable damage to the basement and headhouse areas. Seriously injured in this explosion were Jim Mick and Walker Meyers, both employees of the Farmers Co-op Grain Co.

The original house was built with 2,436 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 20.3 yards of plain concrete for the hoppers.

Reinforcing steel amounted to 143.3 tons, which worked out to 115.3 pounds per cubic yard.

 

The structure sits on a main slab of 66 x 77.5 feet. We work that out to 5,115 square feet, but the construction details in the company records note, “Act. Outside on Ground” and give the figure of 4,806 square feet.

The reinforced concrete and steel weighed in at 5,069 tons, and the tanks could accommodate 9,600 tons of grain. Incorporating other factors like 28 tons of structural steel and machinery, as well as 40.3 tons of concrete for the hoppers, the gross weight loaded was an impressive 14,964 tons.

All this massiveness was quite a testament of progress. We have to remember that just 12 years before–with the period of inactivity during World War Two intervening–the Tillotsons were building cribbed wooden elevators.

The main slab covers a pit of 15 feet 9 inches deep.

Way above the pit, the cupola (headhouse) was quite a specimen at 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 39 feet high–identical to Canyon and pretty comparable to the 300,000-bushel elevators that were also built in 1950 at Burlington, Colo., and Hartley, Texas. All of these elevators were built on the same plan that was original to Bellwood, yet the tanks at Burlington and Hartley rose to 115 feet instead of 120 feet and the cupolas were five feet taller than those at Bellwood and Canyon.

The single-leg Bellwood house boasted 72-inch-diameter head and boot pulleys that were 166 feet apart; the 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt stretched an impressive 360 feet. The record shows that the belt’s cups, of 12 x 6 inches, were spaced 8.5 inches “o.c.”

Powered by a 40-horsepower Howell drive, the head pulley could turn a 42 rpm. It provided a theoretical leg capacity of 7,920 bushels per hour. Actual leg capacity at 80 percent of theoretical used 32 horsepower for 6,350 bushels per hour.

The 1981 explosion destroyed the cupola and, we presume, all its contents. We hope to find period photos of before and after.

Records show the 1954 annex with capacity of 340,000 bushels. It consumed 2,129 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 119.5 tons of steel.

The 24-inch-thick slab–same thickness as at the main house–spread over 45.5 x 107 feet for “Act. Outside on Gd.” of 4,569 square feet.

The 10 tanks of 20 feet in diameter reaching 130 feet high required 4,377.5 tons of reinforced concrete and yielded a gross loaded weight (with 10,200 tons of grain) of 15,628.5 tons.

The cupola, or run, atop this annex was 13 feet wide, 100 feet long, and 8.4 feet high.

Top and bottom belts were 30 inches wide and moved at 600 feet per minute. A 10-horsepower drive at top and 7-horse drive at bottom enabled movement of 9,000 bushels per hour.

As we saw for ourselves, the second annex, a 1958 job, bears manhole covers embossed with the Tillotson Construction Co. stamp. Alas, our records stop at 1955.

The headhouse is long gone, but the Frontier Cooperative elevator at Bellwood, Neb., may be Tillotson’s largest build

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By Ronald Ahrens

We arrived on a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Frontier Cooperative elevator in Bellwood, Neb., knowing a 1981 explosion had taken off the headhouse. By the account of Uncle Tim Tillotson, we were also alerted to the possibility of another explosion there in the late-1950s.

Nebraska 2020Nevertheless, we expected to see an elevator with a replacement structure at its crown.

We found an impressive complex: mighty, smart-looking, and meticulously maintained. Yet it operates with external legs to serve the huge complex–no headhouse whatsoever. The leg over the main house is mantis-like and a little spooky. 

Of course, there was no hint whether the original headhouse was a squared-off rectangle or a curved volume in keeping with the characteristic Tillotson style that was developing after World War Two.

Tillotson Construction Co. built the main house, a 320,000-bushel elevator, in 1950 and followed up with a 340,000-bushel annex in 1954. The main house followed an original plan with eight tanks (silos) of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet high.

There was the typical central driveway, 13 x 17 feet, for unloading trucks.

Other notes in the company record say “5 bin dist. under scale” and “Prov. for hopper scale.” There were 22 bins and a dust bin.

The 1954 annex, also on an original plan, featured 10 tanks of 20 feet in diameter and reaching 130 feet high. It had a basement, 30-inch belt conveyors, and a tripper.

We also found the Tillotson name embossed on the manhole covers of the second annex, which appears to match the first annex in size and capacity. But company records make no mention of this second annex.

Nevertheless, it appears possible to credit Tillotson with an even 1 million bushels of capacity.

A close look at surfaces on the main house shows patchwork that must represent filled holes from the big blowout.

While preparing this post, I phoned Frontier Cooperative branch manager Justin Riha, who knew of this 1981 explosion.

The elevator works fine with the external legs. “I think it’s better,” Riha said. 

Overall capacity at the location is 2.4-million bushels, a tidy amount at such a small town.

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.