The Tillotson elevator in Boxholm, Iowa, afforded unique photographic possibilities

DSC_0535Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Boxholm elevator located in central Iowa was an intriguing destination, particularly since I had knowingly passed it by, missing it by a few miles on more than one trip. It became imperative to make the detour to see it. I was glad I did, since the elevator made beautiful pictures on that early summer day. I used a wide-angle lens that added pronounced distortion to the scene, causing the buildings on the edges to lean in dramatically. But the leaning lines pointed to the beautifully clouded sky.

You can use a wide-angle lens to include more of the scene from close quarters than would be possible with another lens, but you forfeit realism. This is not a problem for certain artistic photos, but it is not ideal for documentary shots. When photographing buildings where you want to preserve parallel lines, you must stand farther away and use a longer focal-length lens. At Boxholm, I did not have that option.


Wide-angle lens distortion is maximized in this view.

At extremely close quarters, the wide-angle lens exaggerates height and adds drama. But the distortion becomes more pronounced.

The Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Neb., built the elevator in 1955. An annex stands beside it, and an old wooden feed mill is beside that. A much newer elevator with the West Central logo was built later, after it became customary to leave the concrete plain, without the white finish.


A more conventional view of the elevator complex.

The specifications for the Boxholm elevator are among the Tillotson Company construction records. We learned some details about the elevator from a few stray sources before my visit; for instance, the elevator has exactly 96 light bulbs installed. Its construction followed the Drummond plan. Other projects using the same architectural plan were the elevators at Waverly, Neb., and Lahoma and Drummond, Okla.


Capacity per plans (with Dock): 199,400 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 2,002 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,797 cubic yards

Plain concrete (3″ hoppers): 33 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (includes jack rods): 85.71 tons

Average steel per cubic yard reinforced concrete: 95.4 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans:

Below main slab: 6,861 pounds steel, 59.2 cubic yards concrete

Main slab: 25,603 pounds steel, 202 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 103,192 pounds steel, 1,295 cubic yards concrete

Driveway and Work floor : 3,820 pounds steel, 23.8 cubic yards concrete

Deep bin bottoms (including columns): 7,271 pounds steel, 39.3 cubic yards concrete

Overhead Bin bottoms: 6,040 pounds steel, 27.6 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof and Extension Roofs: 7,210 pounds steel, 41.7 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor (or garner complete): 160 pounds steel, 2.5 cubic yards concrete

Cupola walls (including leg & head): 7,257 pounds steel, 76 cubic yards concrete

Distributor floor: 1,560 pound steel, 9.4 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: 2,147 pounds steel, 15.6 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (track sink, steps, etc.): 173 pounds steel, 3.5 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway: none

Bridge and/or Tunnel: none

Pit Liner–plain: 16 cubic yards concrete

Drier Bin Bottom: 134 pounds steel, 1.3 cubic yards concrete

Coffer Dam, Cleaner Floor: Wood

Remarks: 10 Bin Hot spot; 8 Bin Aeration tubes; Dryer bin


The rounded headhouse is a reliable indicator of a Tillotson elevator

Construction details

Like Waverly: construction details were identical to Waverly and not listed separately in the records.

Main slab dimensions (drive length first dimension): 56 1/2′ x 70′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 3,850 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel): 3,747 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers; 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 98 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 732 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 pounds per bushel): 5,982 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 10,579 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.75 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24″ with 3″ pile cap

Main slab steel: straight #9 at 7″ spacing

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): #4 at 12″ spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls & extension: 606′

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: 15’3″

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 22 1/4′ x 48 1/2′ x 35′

Pulley centers: 160.75′

Number of legs: 1

Distributor floor: yes

Track sink: yes

Full basement: yes

Electrical room: yes

Driveway width clear: 13′

Dump grate size: 2 at 9′ x 5′ and 9′ x 15′

Column under tanks size: 16″ square

Boot legs and head: concrete

DSC_0531Machinery details

Boot pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 4 15/16″

Head pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 2 7/16″

R.P.M. Head pulley: 42

Belt: 335′, 14″ 6 ply Calumet

Cups: 12″ x 6″ at 8″ spacing

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower [4 circled here]

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturers rating): 8,440 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical rating): 6,750 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on actual capacity): 32 horsepower

Man lift: 1 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Load out scale: 25 Bushel

Load out spout: 10″ diameter

Truck lift: 7 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Dust collector system: Fan to bin

Cupola spouting: 10″ diameter

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: provision


see page 10 (above)

Insights from a Ralston, Iowa, elevator maintenance worker


At the far left edge of the photo, the annex can be seen behind the similarly sized elevator.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Each time we travel to Nebraska to see our family, I try to investigate elevators, and the kids groan and roll their eyes, pulling electronic entertainment out of their backpacks.

In March, our trip home warranted a stop at Ralston, Iowa, where we hoped to see an annex built by Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha as we trekked eastbound along U.S. Highway 30. Ralston is about midway across the state and lies south of the highway, and is the site of one of the projects documented in Tillotson company records.

The West Central Cooperative elevator complex, silent and lofty, rimmed the edge of town as we approached on a bright Sunday afternoon. Not a soul was in sight as we entered the parking lot near the cooperative headquarters. But a car in front of the office building was open with a shopvac beside it. Someone had to be around.


A much larger group of elevators was behind me, away from the town, as I took the photo.

The elevator group in Ralston is dominated by a large squarish elevator, a multi-bin elevator, and a large, multi-bin, rectangular annex snugged in beside the latter. Between the first elevator and the second is an old wood elevator which immediately attracted my attention. It made a fine photographic subject. While shooting the scene, I looked for signs of a Tillotson project. Nowhere was there any manhole cover with the name of a builder. And no one was present who could give me a look inside.

The annex, slightly narrow than the elevator, is on the left

The annex, slightly narrower than the elevator, is on the left.

In fact, the deserted elevator group so dominated the town, along with its companion group of elevators a mile or so down the tracks, that it seemed intimidating to go near it. So I stood off and took photos from across the street.

DSC_6001Heavy rail traffic attended the tracks alongside the elevators in spite of the sleepy Sunday. I counted several trains, blaring their arrival as they passed through town.

At last, a fellow emerged from the cooperative building and commenced vacuuming the company car. I approached him to ask him about the elevators. Ron Hickey, of Farnhamville, Iowa, waved a friendly greeting. He said he was a bit of a newcomer to the Ralston site, but had worked at Boxholm, Iowa, the site of another Tillotson elevator, for two years before coming here. He said that Boxholm’s elevator had 96 florescent light bulbs, and until recently, he was responsible for cleaning every one of them.

Presently, he was cleaning one of several company vehicles parked in front of the nicely appointed offices. The place had every sign of prosperity. Ron said West Central was one of the largest cooperatives in Iowa, and was very successful.

Once we arrived home, I had to resort to the company records to positively identify Tillotson Construction’s contribution to the site. The specifications for Ralston fit the size of the annex I had seen–a massive structure about twice the size of the average elevator project. Since this structure was an annex, many items normally included in a complete elevator build were not required. The Tillotson construction details are reproduced below.

The Ralston storage was built in 1953 using the “Ralston Plan,” which had eight 28′ diameter, 115′ tall bins with a 2′ spread, flat bottoms, and a screw conveyor.

Capacity per plans: 537,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 4,838 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 2,779 cubic yards

Plain concrete (4″ hoppers and liner): 9 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (includes jack rods): 168.18 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 121.00 lbs.

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab: steel 3,128 lbs.; concrete 29 cubic yards

Main slab: steel 102,340 lbs.; concrete 606 cubic yards

Draw form walls: steel 203,034 lbs.; concrete 1,920 cubic yards

Driveway and work floor: not installed

Deep bin bottoms: not installed

Overhead bin bottoms: steel 4,666 lbs.; concrete 24 cubic yards

Bin roofs and extension roofs: steel 14,284 lbs.; concrete 112 cubic yards

Cupola walls: steel 8,907 lbs.; concrete 20 cubic yards

Distributor floor: concrete 2 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Cupola roof: concrete 3 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): not installed

Attached driveway (in this plan, a gallery, with cross tunnel not included): concrete 63 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

DSC_6010Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 66 2/3′ x 121 2/3′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 7,738 square feet

Weight reinforced concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard plus steel): 5,726 tons

Weight plain concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 18 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 154 tons

Weight of grain (60 lbs. per bushel): 16,125 tons

Weight structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 22,043 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.86 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24 inches

Main slab steel (size and spacing): straight; 1 1/4 square inches and 8 inches o. c.

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 5/8 inch diameter and 6 inches

Lineal feet of draw form walls and extension: 717 feet 7 inches; 39 feet 6 inches

Height of draw form walls: 115 feet

Pit depth below main slab: 9 feet 6 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside width and length and height): 12′ x 14′ x 20′

Pulley centers: 137 1/2 feet

Number of legs: 1 main (see pulley center above) and 1 jack

Distributor flow: yes

Track sink: no

Full basement: no

Electrical room: no.

Driveway width-clear: not installed

Dump grate-size: not installed

Columns under tanks: not installed

Boot–leg and head: steel

Machinery details

Head pulley (main leg): 48″ x 16″ x 4 15/16″

Boot pulley: 48″ x 13″ x 2 3/16″

RPM head pulley: 48 rpm

Belt: 15″-6 ply calumet

Cups: 14″ x 7″ at 10″

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower: 3

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer’s rating): 7,950 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical): 6,350 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity): 26.4 horsepower

Man lift: not installed

Load out scale: not installed

Load out spout: not installed

Truck lift: not installed

Dust collector system: fan into bin

Cupola spouting: not installed

Driveway doors: not installed

Conveyor: 24 inch screws

Also built

Track scale: 50 foot, 50 ton: concrete 35 cubic yards





Boxholm manager foresees timely completion of Tillotson’s new elevator

Photo uploaded to KCCI in 2009 by the station's u local contributor hmuench

Boxholm, Iowa–Manager Bud Lane reported that the new 200,000-bushel Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company’s concrete elevator will be completed on July 15. Tillotson Construction Co. of Omaha is the builder.

The structure will rise 150 feet with storage tanks standing 120 feet high.

The firm will have 256,000 bushels of space with the new unit.

Farmers’ Elevator Guide, 1954-1955 library volume 

♦ ♦ ♦

Note: The Boxholm Farmer’s elevator was founded in 1900, according to a 2004 article in the Dayton Review. On October 25, 2004, the elevator–now expanded–took in 145,422 bushels of grain, the new single-day record at this location. For the entire 2004 harvest season, more than 2 million bushes were taken in.

On November 16, 2009, two workers were injured when a grain dryer exploded at the Boxholm elevator. See the report from Des Moines station KCCI.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

Boxholm is in northwestern Boone County, Iowa.