A slip-formed lesson in character-building at Blencoe, Iowa

Mayer-Osborn pay stubs from August, 1954

Mayer-Osborn pay stubs from August, 1954.

Story by Kristen Cart

Just when you think you know all there is to know about your parent, you find a document that tells you something more. In this case, I found the pay stubs for when my dad, Jerry Osborn, worked for Mayer-Osborn Construction Company in 1954. He wedged a few weeks of hard labor between school in the spring and football in the fall.

The project was a large elevator similar to the first elevator Bill Osborn built with his partner, Gene Mayer, in McCook, Nebraska, in 1949. This example of the type went up in Blencoe, Iowa–and not without incident, as we have related in this blog.

It struck me that his pay rate was just that of a laborer. No cushy job for the son of the boss was offered–he laid steel rebar down during the uninterrupted concrete pour, working his way around the bin top as workers jacked the forms and scaffolding ever higher. Dad mentioned that when he worked for his father, he was paid the same as everyone else–a dollar an hour for back-breaking labor. Not a few times, laborers walked off the job after the first paycheck. It wasn’t easy.

Dad managed to find something to do on the job that was worth even less–he put in a fair amount of time at fifty cents an hour. I can only imagine what that job entailed.

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Jerry Osborn had interests other than building elevators for his dad. He was a champion golfer at Midland College. It seems odd that a good golfer, while cultivating the skill and concentration such sport required, would take time out to heave rebar for a summer job.

I’m not sure which year they won the championship, but I like the juxtaposition between the brutality of the labor and the finesse of golf.

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The summer job added up to a tidy sum for the time. Perseverance paid off.

These days, many of our college-educated young people seem too delicate for such work, especially in exchange for such a meager reward. It would make no sense to them.

But my grandfather, William Osborn, might say that this kind of work built character. Especially if you showed up for that second and third week.

Part of the latest craze, grain elevators get mysterious visitors at all hours

A van drives up, hesitates, and pulls into the lot in front of the town’s towering elevator complex. The vehicle has been seen in town before, roving the streets aimlessly, only stopping in odd spots long enough to be noticed. At the elevator, it pauses in the parking lot for thirty seconds, then it drives off.

Pokemon Elevator 01Not long afterward, a pair of local high school students walk up, dawdle for a moment, then walk on. Then a couple of twenty-somethings perch on a park bench across the street. They stay for about half an hour, studying their smart phones intently, while a few more cars come by and park. No one gets out of their cars, but they stay for awhile. A few more pedestrians gather.

Pretty soon you can count fifteen or twenty people on the sidewalk in front of the elevator, under the trees across the street, or parked here and there. Then, as if an invisible timer went off, the people leave in twos and threes. A similar gathering starts up a few blocks away, at the post office. What in the world is going on?

You guessed it, Pokemon-go has arrived in your town. For those of you who have not encountered it before, it’s a virtual-reality pocket-monster hunt, sort of like a treasure hunt, where people go to designated points to get the needed items to catch the little critters that appear on the screens of their smart phones. If a “lure” is set up at one of those points, the little Pokemon appear on the phones in that geographic vicinity, and people start to congregate to catch them for the half-hour that the lure lasts.

That is the short version. It’s easy to play and gets kids out of the house–which makes it a good thing, in my book.

If you sit back and watch the action in any little town you will see players roving the streets or driving in circles. It can be quite fun to watch (or play, if not taken to extremes).

What does this game have to do with a grain elevator? Not very much, except that a grain elevator makes a mighty big landmark, and a tempting spot for the game makers to place a Poke-point. So, players: take this as a warning–watch out for grain trucks, and don’t wander around the property with your face planted in your cellphone.

I confess that catching the little critters is somewhat like driving around the country hunting for interesting elevators. But you don’t have to burn as much gas.

Another look around Wahoo, Neb., yields treasure beyond reinforced concrete

Story by Ronald Ahrens and photos by La Rose Tillotson

The bend on Route 92 as it entered Wahoo, Nebraska, from the east was always welcome. Here, the road dipped down and crossed Sand Creek at the edge of town, then turned into leafy neighborhoods. It was the first shade for us after more than 30 miles under the sun on the flat prairie.

Wahoo was a frequent waypoint when our family visited relatives in David City farther west.

A site of interest in Wahoo was the Saunders County Courthouse, where a torpedo was displayed near the curb. Even when I was eight and nine years old, the torpedo seemed incongruous, being so far from the sea. But we Nebraskans were starved for variety, and leftover munitions from a distant war were deemed tasty morsels.

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Never did it occur to me that the Wahoo grain elevator had been built by my grandfather’s company. We knew he built elevators but assumed they were in far off places like Iowa.

Kristen Cart has already visited Wahoo and written one post.

But there’s new reason to think about the town after Aunt La Rose Tillotson drove there on a recent tour of the countryside. She forwards the pictures you see here.

As a young woman, Aunt La Rose lived in Wahoo for a short time. While going about her daily business, she never gave much thought to the elevator that stands along North Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth.

This isn’t a surprise, as a form of amnesia touched many family members after the family business faded out. Grandfather Reginald died in 1960.

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Here are some particulars of the Wahoo elevator:

Tillotson Construction Company used the same plan as from Imo, Okla., which had also been built in 1950. That meant a 150,000-bushel elevator rose from a 54- by 51-foot slab over a pit nearly 16 feet deep. The drawform walls were 120 feet high, and the cupola topped out after another 26.5 feet.

From atop of the Wahoo elevator, you could probably see all the way to Swedeburg, looking south, and Malmo, looking northwest. (Prague–home of Czech Heritage Days–was just a bit northwest of there.) It’s doubtful, though, you could see as far as Valparaiso, in southwestern Saunders County. Ulysses, way to hell and gone in Butler County, was out of the question.

Some other noteworthy aspects of the Wahoo’s single-leg elevator were its use of 3,056 tons of reinforced concrete and its gross weight, when loaded with as much as 4,500 tons of grain, of 8,216 tons.

I don’t see anything else in the specifications that distinguish the Wahoo elevator all that much from Imo, or for that matter, David City, which was built the next year because whatever Wahoo did had to be done in David City, too.

But no other place was like Wahoo. Wikipedia says the name comes from an Indian word for the shrub Euonymus atropurpureus, which yields arrow wood. But who believes it? I think they’re covering up for the day in 1870 when two large casks of beer fell off the delivery wagon.

Remember these four things about Wahoo:

  1. Wahoo Sam Crawford came from Wahoo, play outfield from 1899 to 1917 for the Reds and Tigers, and still holds the Major League record for most triples (309). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957.
  2. A wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri)  is a sport fish in the tropical oceans, but as far as I can tell it isn’t the official fish of Wahoo. Lake Wanahoo is barren of wahoos.
  3. Wahoo was a long-running gag on Letterman.
  4. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Howard Hanson (b. 1896), three-time Academy Award-winner Darryl F. Zanuck (b. 1902), and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist George Beadle (b. 1903) came from Wahoo.

How many towns of Wahoo’s size–about 4,500 souls today–have produced a Hall of Famer as well as Pulitizer Prize, Academy Award, and Nobel Prize winners?

Beyond all that, Wahoo has a Tillotson elevator.

Vandals strike Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator, leaving the owners with an expensive cleanup

644369_10152681898735294_1745767005_nSometime overnight on Wednesday, May 4, vandals struck the Vinton Street elevator, painting “Dump Trump” graffiti on the south annex’s upper run. The message caused a sensation Thursday morning.

Tillotson Construction Company completed the original 382,880-bushel elevator in 1950. Extensive annexes were later added. We don’t know when operations ceased, but for the last eight years the elevator on five acres of land has been co-owned by Ron Safarik and Richard Brock, who attempted to make a climbing facility comparable to those established at old elevators in Bloomington, Ill., and Oklahoma City.

In 2012, the Vinton Street elevator received national attention after the annexes served as the canvas for a public art project; a nonprofit organization commissioned artists to create themed banners that were draped over the silos.

Reached by phone, Safarik said he and Brock have tried to secure the property, but intruders found a way to pry through and gain access to the top. “I would presume they used the internal ladders that still exist,” he said.

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Photos courtesy of SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures. 

Safarik and Brock will now be stuck with the cleanup bill. Since SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures, the partners’ venture, closed in 2013, the elevator has been a burden, he said.

It has been listed for sale since 2014. A post on SILO’s Facebook page says, “The Silos and the 5 acres of industrial land are for sale through Ben Pearson at World Group Commercial Real Estate. Any climbing related buyer will receive the holds, bolts, and supporting gear for starting up a climbing club or business.”

Safarik said the asking price remains $150,000.

Although he said he hadn’t known much of the elevator’s history, he did pass along a story heard from an elderly man named Otto, who lived on Vinton Street and “had intricate knowledge” of events.

According to Otto, the only death that occurred at the elevator happened on a freezing night in an unspecified year. The victim, an elevator employee, locked himself out of the scale house. As he tried to pry back into it, he jammed his arm and couldn’t pull free. Found dead in the morning, he was surrounded by cigarette butts. With his free hand, he had managed to smoke his remaining cigarettes before he froze.

 

 

 

A reader recalls elevator construction and the recent explosion in Hinton, Iowa

By Michael Pelelo

I was born in 1954, the same year the Tillotson headhouse was slipped in Hinton, Iowa. I can see it from my late parents’ farm south of Merrill, Iowa, where I grew up. I knew several local farmers who worked that slip in ’54.

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The Hinton elevator in July 2015. Photos by Kristen Cart.

Within the last month or so, there was an explosion in that workhouse and it looks like the tank walls were breached, so it will probably have to come down. I spent many days in the 70s and 80s working in that complex and remember the old layout quite well.

In the 70s, as a young man, I became a millwright and worked for an outfit out of Oyens, Iowa, that built jump-form silos. Later I worked for D&B Construction out of Sioux City and helped slip workhouses in Oyens and Maurice, Iowa, and the set of tanks to the south of the Tillotson workhouse in Hinton.

I have probably been in every elevator in northwest Iowa at one point or another, and I worked as a millwright out of the sheet metal local, too. A lot of the guys who worked for Dad Sherrill and D&B Construction got their start at Younglove Construction out of Sioux City, which is still slipping elevators today after over a hundred years.

I am now retired and just this afternoon went to look at a pair of very large tanks that are being jump-formed in Sloan, Iowa, by Hoffman Construction. That outfit goes back a long way slipping and jump-forming elevators.

Way back when I was doing that type of work, old guys would come around every day and gawk at what was going on. Now, I am one of the old guys gawking!

* * *

DSC_0455My days in construction are ones I remember fondly, even though the work was hard and dangerous and the hours were long.

One of the companies I worked for was involved in a three-fatality accident at the Ritter, Iowa, Co-op in 1976. We were building 24-foot and 30-foot jump-form silos all up and down the Floyd Valley. I was working on the 24-foot forms in Sheldon, Iowa, south of Ritter at the time.

The March 17 explosion at Hinton was in the main workhouse, which is the Tillotson structure built in 1954.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I was very involved with work on several structures in that complex with two different construction companies. Much has been added since I last worked around there. From pictures in the media, it appears that at least one or more of the tanks in the Tillotson structure have ruptured, as I can see grain spilling out in some photos.

A model Tillotson grain elevator is part of Lauritzen’s Model Railroad Garden

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Photo courtesy of Lauritzen Gardens

We were happily surprised to hear from Rosemary Lebeda, director of development at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, which is located along the Missouri River at 100 Bancroft St. She found her way to Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators when searching for information about Tillotson Construction Company’s Vinton Street elevator. She wrote:

“I thought you might like to know that a model of the grain elevators is a part of our Model Railroad Garden. This particular garden includes miniature sculptures of historical buildings in Omaha built from natural materials. They are on display throughout the summer and then they are brought inside and displayed as part of our Poinsettia show.

“Families really enjoy seeing the buildings, and the grain elevators are easy to spot. I drive by them almost every day! It was neat to discover your historical page on the web and learn more about the company that built them.

“The Garden is fairly new in comparison to other community attractions such as the zoo or museums. The visitors center opened in 2001 and before that it was pretty much open space.

“Lauritzen Gardens is uniquely positioned as the region’s premier botanical center and garden resource. Situated on 100 acres of lush grounds, the garden exemplifies visionary efforts to provide a quiet, tranquil and serene setting for the study, preservation, and pure enjoyment of some of the region’s most precious resources and flora. Beginning with a grassroots effort to build a garden for the Omaha community, the garden has quickly become a regional destination and has substantiated its position as a major Omaha-area attraction.

“Today, more than twenty themed gardens invite guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Nebraska landscape. At Lauritzen Gardens, a diverse palette of plant life combines with fine art, architectural components and water features to create an incredible sensory experience. The grounds change with the seasons and are open year-round for exploration and enjoyment.

“In addition to horticultural displays that inspire, events that entertain and educational programs that cultivate minds of all ages, the garden works to conserve the endangered plants of the Great Plains and to advance the understanding and stewardship of the region’s biological diversity.”

 

 

 

Tillotson Construction kicks off the 1950s with ubiquitous designs

Albert City, Iowa, ca. 1954

Albert City, Iowa, circa 1954.

Story by Kristen Cart

In the last post we studied the oddball Tillotson elevators that sprouted during the 1940s, the most creative period of elevator design. It was a time of multiple plans and innovations, and as the 1950s dawned, unworkable plans were dropped and popular designs emerged.

A surprising number of elevator ideas survived however, some with new names, as the Tillotson brand retained its distinctive features. Advances in engineering dominated the 1950s as elevator styles settled into lines that typified their makers.

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Dallas Center, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart.

You can generally spot a Tillotson elevator by its rounded headhouse. Other subtle details are also telling trademarks. These style points became so common because a large portion of Tillotson’s building in the 1950s followed established designs, tweaked here and there for individual customers, without deviating greatly from the most popular plans.

We will examine the first of these enduring plans, which crossed over from the late 1940s, in this post.

Flagler by Gary Rich

Photo by Gary Rich.

Dike Plan:

This design was rolled out in 1947 with the elevator at Satanta, Kan., which had a 250,000-bushel capacity. No corresponding Dike, Iowa elevator is mentioned in our records, but presumably it was built (although I speculate whether the original Dike proposal sat on a desk without ever being approved, while Satanta’s updated elevator proceeded, thus the naming convention).

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Photo by Kristen Cart.

The basic Dike elevator, with 252,000-bushel capacity, was built at Randall, Iowa (1949); West Bend, Iowa (1949); Pocahontas, Iowa (1949); Bushland, Tex. (1950); Pond Creek, Okla. (1950); Seibert, Colo. (1950); and Flagler, Colo. (1950). They all look like the typical Tillotson elevator, but with a larger-than-usual rounded headhouse.

The Satanta, Kan. (1947), and Gruver, Tex. (1947) elevators were built with a revised Dike plan, which was renamed the Satanta plan. They could be filled to a capacity of 250,000 or 265,000 bushels, respectively–the two elevators differed by five feet of draw-form height. Springfield, Colo. (1948); and Kildare, Okla. (1950); were also built with 250,000-bushel capacity using the Satanta (variously named Dike) plan.

The Pocahontas, Iowa, elevator, built using the Dike plan, got its own plan designation also. Into the mid-’50s, several elevators were built using the Pocahontas plan specifications: Albert City, Iowa (1954); Goldfield, Iowa (1954); Rockwell City, Iowa (1954); Thornton, Iowa (1955); and Dallas Center, Iowa (1955). Each could hold 252,000 bushels of grain.

Pocahontas, Iowa

Pocahontas, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart.

Because we are missing a page of the specifications for elevators built in 1954-1955, we do not know whether other elevators followed this plan, though I suspect some did.

The Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha continued to build for at least four years after our records ended. But reconstructing those records is a project for another time. In the next post, we will look at the Churdan and Jackson plans that originated in the late 1940s.