By Ronald Ahrens
Looking at this photo of Tillotson Construction Company’s 252,000-bushel elevator, completed in 1954, it’s easy to imagine the pride and awe of a small town’s few hundred residents.
Albert City is in northwest Iowa on a spur from Route 3, not far from Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. The Tillotson’s had also built that same year in nearby Pocahontas, where there was tragedy.
The Albert City job went more smoothly as the structure rose far above the tallest elms, although Uncle Charles Tillotson, who recently dug up this photo, has written about his frightening dismount from the formwork during a storm.
Uncle Michael Tillotson has also recollected about working here:
“The following summer (1954) we went to Albert City, Iowa, 75 miles North of Council Bluffs. We rented rooms in a private home. We worked with a 20 something guy that ran the winch pulley bucket to the top of the elevator as it progressed, and brought building materials down. We also rode the bucket up and down to get on deck. The elevator bens were 125 feet to the top with a Head-House of 75 on top of that.”
Company records show the elevator was built according to the same plan used in Pocahontas. This entailed eight outer bins that were eighteen feet in diameter and, contrary to Uncle Mike’s reckoning, 120 feet tall. Altogether, some 2091 cubic yards of concrete were reinforced by 106.57 tons of steel.
The bins rose from a main slab 21 inches thick and 60 x 72.5 square feet in area. It supported a gross loaded weight of 12,974 tons.
The cupola, or headhouse, was 23 feet wide, 58 feet tall, and 40 feet long.
Albert City was a single-leg elevator. Its head pulley was 72 inches in diameter and turned at 42 rpm. A 40-horsepower Howell motor supplied more than enough energy to turn it.
Twelve-inch-wide cups on a six-ply, 14-inch-wide belt carried up the grain that was dumped by incoming trucks. The 12-foot-wide driveway had two dump grates: 9 x 6 feet and 9 x 14 feet.
In 1954, Tillotson also built in Dacoma, Lahoma, Orienta, and Weatherford, Okla.; Booker, Tex.; Ensign and Montezuma, Kan.; Bellwood, Neb.; and Glidden, Goldfield, Newell, Manson, Pocahontas, and Iowa Falls, Iowa.
These were among Tillotson’s last elevators–the records close out with work in 1955–and they represented nearly everything the company knew about building.
A visit to Google Maps shows the elevator is still standing, which is to be expected given the Herculean effort needed to knock down all that reinforced concrete. But it appears idle. Given what we’ve learned about the limitations of midcentury elevators and today’s need for greater storage capacity and quicker unloading, that would make sense.
Nevertheless, it endures as a handmade monument, and a rich human history goes with it.