Could Tillotson’s elevator in Gruver, Tex., have taken on the monster tornado of ’71?

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By Ronald Ahrens

In 1971 a monstrous tornado just missed Gruver, Tex., veering away from the town at the last minute.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The funnel cloud was as great as two miles wide, and we can’t help wondering what would have happened if a direct strike had engulfed the town of 1,100 souls and its fine Tillotson elevator.

Besides breaking windows, ripping out doors, twisting spouts and ladders and sending them flying, the tornado might have played hell with some of the elevatotr’s internals as they became exposed.

The reinforced-concrete structure would have looked tattered, but it might well have withstood the fierce storm. Anyone sheltering in the basement would have been rattled but OK.

IMG_9053Records kept by Tillotson Construction Co. reveal this single-leg elevator was built in 1947 and was, as a note says, “Similar to Satanta (but 125′ D.F. walls).”

That’s the Kansas town where Tillotson built earlier the same year. To decode that sentence: Satanta is a town 100 miles away in southwestern Kansas; D.F. stands for drawform, and Satanta’s silos were 120 feet high. 

Both elevators succeeded from the Dike, Iowa, plan of 1946.

The basics are that this 265,000-bushel elevator had eight tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter–two feet less than Tillotson would later offer as the standard dimension.

Gruver had an extra attached driveway, a hopper scale in the cupola, and double distribution floors.

The entry for Satanta notes some 2,072 cubic yards of reinforced concrete were used, and 25 cubic yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

Steel used for reinforcing the concrete amounted to 107.50 (including the amount used for jack rods).

The 21-inch-thick main slab sprawled over an area measuring 57 x 69.5 feet. The records say that amounted to 3,754 square feet “outside on ground.” Again, as with other Texas elevators, we get 3,961.5 square feet and can’t account for the difference.

If the tornado bumped against the elevator, it would have realized this structure had 4,251 tons of reinforced concrete and weighed 12,351 tons when fully loaded. The confrontation would have been interesting.

The cupola, or headhouse, measured 21.5 feet wide, 48.5 feet long, and 40.25 feet high.

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With a pit reaching 16 feet in depth, the pulley centers of the leg were 166.75 feet apart. Pulleys were standard size: the boot was 72 x 14 x 3 3/16 inches while the head pulley was .75-inch deeper. The head turned at 42 rpm.

The 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt stretched over a distance of 360 feet and carried 12 x 6-inch cups. Two 40-hp Howell motors were installed to turn the leg. Theoretical capacity was 8,450 bushels per hour, but actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, coming to 6,750 bushels per hour.

The man lift rose and dropped with a 2-hp Ehrsam motor. The truck lift had a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

After 71 years, this Tillotson elevator appeared to be in good working condition and maybe even ready to take on the next monster storm that approached Gruver.

 

 

 

Groovin’ in Gruver, Tex., at a ’47 Tillotson elevator with plenty of storage

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By Ronald Ahrens

By the time I got to Gruver, in the early evening of April 17, I’d visited seven grain elevators in the Texas Panhandle. The day started with a pre-dawn dash from Hereford to Canyon, where I spent much of the morning (even visiting Tim Ritter, editor of the twice-weekly Canyon News). The news, he said, was wildfires and drought. High school sports filled much of the rest of the paper.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Whenever it was that I got to Gruver, I was feeling a little weary. If there had been a motel, I would have checked in.

Instead, I found an elevator that seemed outside the usual Tillotson design vocabulary.

This 1947 job held 265,000 bushels and had a medium-long complex of storage annexes. It reminded me of a locomotive and a train of identical cars.

A note in the records says, “Similar to Satanta (but 125′ D.F. walls).” Of course, the “D.F.” refers to drawform. Satanta was the Kansas town where they had built another elevator in ’47. The next year brought a similar one at Springfield, Colo. Together, they derived from the Dike, Iowa, job of 1946.

IMG_9042The cupola, or headhouse, was rectilinear on one side, with sharp corners and splendid moldings to cover the raggedness. But the other end of this 48.5-foot-long headhouse had an articulated curve.

A remarkable feature was the abundance of windows. Four cluster together in the upper-right corner on one side, and three more are in a line at the bottom.

Smaller windows are integrated into the curved part.

Ladders and platforms cling to the side of the headhouse, and the rooftop is populated with at least three parabolic dishes serving Lord knows what purpose.

IMG_9057Formerly, some large letters spelled out a legend, presumably the name of the co-op that ran the elevator. I couldn’t make out what it said. 

I looked around and found manhole covers bearing the name of Tillotson Construction Co. They weren’t painted or polished; as with other details, there was need of some loving attention. 

No one was around, so when I had taken my pictures I cleared out of Gruver, following Route 15 to Spearman. Navigation directed me to a motel. For the same $55 paid for the previous night’s dump in Hereford, I checked into the Nursanickel Motel, taking a bright and clean room with a real mattress and bath towel.

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There were two choices for dinner: pizza or Mexican. I chose the latter, having a chicken enchilada for $8.65. While paying my tab, I asked the two girls at the register what there is to do in Spearman.

“Nothing,” one said, feeling no need to elaborate.

I might have suggested going out and looking at grain elevators, but who wants to be regarded as a madman?

Storage and more storage at the sprawling complex in Sunray, Tex.

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By Ronald Ahrens

The next stop on my road trip was Sunray, Tex., which I reached from Dalhart by minor roads through the cotton and grain fields. It was a warm afternoon and very windy, and I had a pleasant drive going east, away from the sun.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I had already heard about Sunray as a key location in the Ag Producers Co-op network.

And I knew Sunray was in the construction records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha.

What I didn’t know is that Tillotson only built a storage annex–not the main elevator–at Sunray. This occurred in 1950 or 1951. The record is smudged on that line, but I think it says 1951. Sunray is placed with other 1951 jobs. At the same time, Tillotson was building in Malta Bend, Mo.; Greenwood and David City, Neb.; and Hereford, Tex., which I had visited at the beginning of the trip.

The storage annex was a big one: 550,000-bushel capacity. There were 14 tanks, or silos, of 20 feet in diameter reaching 120 feet in height. A note mentions a full basement.

The job demanded 3,297 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 196.39 tons of reinforcing steel. Both figures significantly exceed the amounts needed for the 250,000- to 300,000-bushel elevators that Tillotson built.

The 24-inch slab for these 14 tanks was 56 x 148 feet and the main slab area is listed at 7,880 square feet.

All this reinforced concrete weighed 6,790 tons, and the annex’s gross weight when loaded was as much as 15,048 tons.

IMG_9033Up in the run, a conveyor belt turned on two pulleys, one being 16 x 32 inches and the other being 18 x 32 inches. The pulley turned at 127 rpm, so the 30-inch, four-ply belt moved at the rate of 600 feet per minute.

What I found was not one but two annexes by the elevator; both had 14 tanks, and the manhole covers said Tillotson Construction Co. Sunray appears nowhere else in the records, so it’s impossible to say for sure that Tillotson built identical, twin storage annexes.

However it went down, Tillotson contributed substantially to the sprawling elevator and storage complex at Sunray.

Trying to trace the sweep of Tillotson’s hand in Dalhart, Tex.

By Ronald Ahrens

IMG_9022Tillotson Construction Co. had yet to perfect its signature style of the curved headhouse when it first built in Dalhart in 1947.

Before the late 1940s the headhouses were rectangular with a sort of molding, of concrete, extending up the full height at each corner. 

In ’47, Tillotson built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg elevator along the busy railroad tracks of this market center, the seat of Dallam County.

In specifications it adhered to a unique plan with four tanks, or silos, each measuring 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height. There were eight bins. The attached driveway was 13 x 16 feet.

The surprise is that Tillotson built a 98,000-storage annex in the very same year. Notes in the company records show two tanks of 25 feet in diameter reaching a height of 120 feet.

A further note says “Direct spouts from elev.–Gravity flow to Elev. Pit. Ring footing 3 bins.”

When I visited last month, I hadn’t realized there were two elevators. Maybe I missed something. I think I paid a call to the 1949 job.

Here’s what Uncle Chuck contributes: “I remember Dad having to make a number of trips to Dalhart, but if the annex was finished in ’47, like you say, then he must have been there to close out and inspect the finished project.

“My recollection was that the job was either finished or in the final punch-list stage. But like you on your trip, we had visited a bunch of jobs or prospective jobs before we got to Dalhart.

“Also, my young mind in those days wasn’t necessarily concentrated on the job status in each stop but probably more interested in the secretarial staff!”

At last he reveals the truth!
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Except for a railroad employee familiar from down the road in Hartley, no staff–and especially no secretaries–could be located.

Looking through the scale-house window, I saw a plate of uneaten food and an open bag of chips on the counter. Yes, another mystery.

I would leave Dalhart with more questions than before my arrival. 

Photo details of Tillotson’s 300,000-bushel elevator in Hartley, Tex.

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However you express it, there’s no smoking at the Hartley elevator.

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The metal-clad wooden elevator remains intact in Hartley.

 

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A closer view of the metal-clad wooden elevator at Hartley. Note the modest eaves, which reduced the chance of catching sparks from a passing train.

 

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Detail view of the run that surmounts silos, here bridging from the main house to the storage annex at the Tillotson elevator in Hartley, Tex.

In Hartley, Tex., the Tillotson elevator keeps good companions in a big operation

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By Ronald Ahrens

The elevator at Bushland was the third of 10 Tillotson jobs I intended to visit in the Texas Panhandle. It was still midmorning when I hightailed it out of there, heading 58 miles north and a little west through the rolling scrub country of Potter, Oldham, and Hartley Counties.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The next destination was Hartley, a town of about 500 people where U.S. 385 meets U.S. 87. Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, built a twin-leg, 300,000-bushel elevator here in 1950.

Like several others that year–Rock Valley, Iowa; Burlington, Colo.; and Canyon, Tex., where I had been at sunrise–Hartley was built on the Bellwood, Neb., plan. This entailed eight tanks, or silos, measuring 20 feet in diameter and here reaching to 115 feet in height. (Bellwood itself had 120-foot silos.)

IMG_8972Schoolchildren were at recess as I drove through side streets looking for a good view of the elevator. 

Arriving on the scene, I found a big operation. Of course I had recognized the Tillotson elevator’s curved headhouse. This elevator, as it turned out, has a substantial storage annex that likely more than doubles capacity. And there is a second concrete elevator onsite.

A pleasant surprise was the metal-clad wooden elevator that pre-dated everything else. Wooden elevators often went up in flames because of grain dust explosions, sparks from passing trains or short circuits. Finding one standing in good condition is a rare event. 

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Getting out of the truck with my camera, I chatted a bit with an employee and showed him my grandfather’s name on a manhole cover.

Then I looked around, finding the elevator in pretty nice shape after so many years. A previous logo on the headhouse had been covered up and replaced with simple lettering that said, “Dalhart Consumers, Hartley, Texas.”

My notes show that I also peeked into the office and met an employee named Yvette, who said they store corn, wheat, and milo.

The elevators in Canyon and Bushland, Tex., have more dramatic stories to tell. This one in Hartley merely keeps its head up and goes about its job every day.

 

 

 

 

Fave photos from elevators in Hereford, Canyon and Bushland, Tex.

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In Canyon, Tex., the 1950 Tillotson elevator operated by Consumers Supply Co-op receives the graces at day’s dawn, April 17, 2018.

 

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Consumer Supply Co-op’s grain monster. In case you missed it, the name’s MACK.

 

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The beautiful, classic, curved 1951 Tillotson cupola reaches 152 feet in Hereford.