In 1954, near the boom’s end, Albert City, Iowa, had a gleaming concrete elevator

Albert City, Iowa

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.

Mike Tillotson remembers Flagler (1953), Albert City (1954), and Lincoln (1955)

By Mike Tillotson

I don’t have access to a computer nor know how to use one. I barely get a radio signal, and my tin-can barb-wire phone is not always clear here in the hills either.

As for the elevators I was thirteen on my first summer with my brothers. I just graduated from Grade School. Our Father helped his Father build Wood Elevators, and often was told to put out that cigarette.

Mike stands at the center of the frame while Tim captures Charles just after he has taken a rest break on the way to Flagler.

Mike stands center-frame while Tim Tillotson captures Charles after a rest break en route to Flagler with the ’53 Ford and mystery trailer.

We headed for Flagler, Colorado; seventy five miles East of Denver. Charles was driving a 53 Ford 4-door our Father bought for him. Two-tone tan that Charles had nosed, and added fender skirts, and a continental kit. We were pulling a sixteen foot trailer that we lived in for the summer.

We were paid $1.00/Hr.–60 Hrs./Week with time and one half over 40 hours. I was the time keeper, and drove a tractor with a front-end loader. I filled up the three-bag concrete mixer with sand. Someone else put the cement and limestone in the hopper. We mixed our own concrete because we were in the middle of no-where.

I remember the Super catching me putting pennies on the rail track, and helping me with the time-sheet so I could go to Denver with my brothers for the week-end.

Tillotson Home

The Tillotson home in the Ponca Hills north of Omaha. Mike still lives there. 

I remember Charles had a girl-friend, and when we came back to Omaha in September; she came in to visit him. When Charles went to meet her at the place she was staying; Sharon went with him. When Charles and Sharon met her she said she forgot something in her room, and went back to get it. After waiting about one half hour Charles sent the door man to the room. He returned and said the room was empty, and the window was open.

You have to remember this was 1953 when we were at the age of innocence, and life was pure and simple.

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.

The winch guy went to work on another elevator the Company had going in a town about 30 miles away. This was an addition to an existing elevator–an add-on.

At noon one day he went to the top with new boots on. There were four or five planks at the top from old to new grain bens.

No hand rails or anything. They were not required at the time. I doubt OSHA even existed. He either fell or jumped going from old to new.

Some said he might have tripped with the new boots.

Charles and I bought a nice 40 Ford sedan for $75.00 off a used car lot. He didn’t want to use the 53 any more than necessary. Coming back to Omaha one week end we were zipping down a country road with corn as high-as-a-sky and started through an intersection with no stop signs.

It could be Mike waving at the photographer in this photo from atop the Flagler annex. The Ford and 16-foot trailer are also evident.

It could be Mike waving at the photographer, who is perched atop the Flagler elevator, built in 1950. The foundation for the new annex is seen at lower left.

We got broad-sided by some farmer who put us in a ditch; up side down. Later in the day when we crossed the Mormon Bridge in North Omaha; one of us reached through the front of the car to pay the Toll. The windshield was gone.

The next summer (1955) I worked in Lincoln, Nebr. by myself. My sister Mary’s future brother-in-law Merle worked on the job also.

The Elevators at that time required about 12-15 men per shift. Two shifts per day–twenty four hour continuous pour. Usually about 18-20 days to get to the top of the tanks. The jacks that raised the forms were all manually operated. Today with the advanced electrical operated jacks the number of men required is probably half.

That is the story of my teenage years in MAYBERRY.