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.
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.
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.
Heavy 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)
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
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
Track scale: 50 foot, 50 ton: concrete 35 cubic yards