An item passed along to Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators makes us wonder if we may have found the first woman to manage an elevator.
“With a new 100,000-bushel, fire-resistive elevator now in operation, in addition to an older plant which adjoins it, Mrs. A. L. Luty goes about her managerial duties with renewed effort. Pictured at her desk in the new elevator of the O.K. Cooperative Grain & Mercantile Co., at Kiowa, Kansas, Mrs. Luty maps operations for the heavy run of grain which the plant will handle this summer. At the right is the new elevator. Antirfriction bearings throughout; standard electric power, including surge protection; modern dust control equipment and lighting protections–a splendid example of construction and engineering.”
Note: This is not a claim that Mayer-Osborn or Tillotson built the elevator at Kiowa.
We wanted terrific in Wahoo. The fifth and final stop on our Jan. 2 road trip in eastern Nebraska called for it, in keeping with the unusual name of the seat of Saunders County and the town’s colorful history. We are told “wahoo” is taken from a shrub, the eastern wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), and the name was also given to a navy sub, the USS Wahoo.
Wahoo happens to have produced more than its share of notability. Wahoo Sam Crawford twirled his way into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Howard Hanson composed his way to a Pulitzer Prize. Darryl F. Zanuck swept up three Academy Awards. Geneticist George Beadle shared a Nobel and took over Chicago U.
There must be something in the water: Wahoo had fewer than 3,000 people until after World War Two. A greater concentration of talent, where?
Electrodes on the brain.
Tillotson Construction Co. built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg concrete elevator there in 1950.
I had passed through Wahoo many times without understanding the elevator’s provenance and would not have thought to see Tillotson embossed on the manhole covers.
Notes in the construction record say our Wahoo house followed the busy year’s Imo, Okla., plan. It means five grand tanks of 16 feet in diameter and 120 feet in height. There’s a 13 x 17-foot center driveway, and the note says, “Split 4 bins over Dr.”
Construction consumed 1,492 tons of reinforced concrete, 40 tons of plain concrete for the hoppers, and 72.34 tons of steel.
The slab, 21 inches of reinforced thickness, covered 54 x 51 feet.
Our excitement soon diminished on seeing the subject and its neglect. What a shame to Wahoo. The use as an antenna tower is a terrible disappointment.
Things could be fixed up in a cute robotic way. Lay out a note of history, then rachet up each paying guest in the manlift, serving Wahoo wine on the dining deck. Block the wind and electromagnetic radiation, and it’s a regional phenomenon. People will come all the way from Loup City.
We visited late Saturday. The taverns had filled. Naught else moved. We extracted no information and must imagine circumstances of the elevator’s degradation.
Wahoo produces all-stars, but the big star amidst, is disheveled and in duress. Like Prometheus, bound to a rock, an eagle preying his liver, Tillotson’s Wahoo house awaits Hercules.
Before Prometheus could be freed, he received a visit from straying Io, garbed as “a most lovely white heifer.” She recognized him, saying:
“Wet pit,” notes the Tillotson Construction Co. record in its details of the David City job of 1951.
A Tillotson crew put up a single-leg, 180,000-bushel, reinforced-concrete elevator in the seat of Butler County during one of the wettest periods ever recorded in the prairie region.
“Most of Kansas and Missouri as well as large portions of Nebraska and Oklahoma had monthly precipitation totaling 200 percent of normal in May, 300 percent in June, and 400 percent in July of 1951,” says a report by the National Weather Service.
But the work went on. The new David City elevator was built on an original plan with five tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. There was a 13 by 17-foot center driveway, eight bins over the drive, and a total of 15 bins and overflow. “Dust Bin @ Ext.” observes a further note.
The elevator required 1,716 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, 20 yards of plain concrete for hoppers, and 81.16 tons of rebar.
The 21-inch-thick main slab extended over 60 by 55 feet, covering an area (“Act. Outside on Ground”) of 3,057 square feet. It sat over a 17-foot-deep pit. The design incorporated a full basement.
The slab supported 3,513 tons of reinforced concrete and 40 tons of plain concrete. With grain weighing 60 pounds per bushel, there was capacity for 5,400 tons of grain. Along with structural steel and machinery as well as hoppers, the the elevator was rated at 9,458 tons total loaded weight.
An elegant rounded cupola, or headhouse, sat atop the tanks. Its dimension were 19 feet wide, 38 feet long, and 27 1/3 feet high. With the moderately tall cupola and moderately deep pit, the centers of the leg’s head and boot pulleys were 154.83 feet apart.
The pulleys were 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches (boot) and 72 x 14 x 3 5/16 (head) and turned the at 42 revolutions per minute.
Calumet supplied the 330-inch, six-ply belt that was 14 inches wide. Cups of 12 x 6 inches were spaced at nine-inch intervals.
A 30-horsepower Howell motor delivered a theoretical leg capacity of 7,140 bushels per hours. Operating at 80 percent, it needed 27.6 hp to deliver actual capacity of 5,700 bushels per hour.
A 1.5-hp motor ran the manlift. The truck lift operated with a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.
A further note indicates, “300 Bu. Dryer Split Bin #7 for Dryer.”
David City, a gorgeous town of about 2,900 people and the seat of Butler County, is unapologetically named for David Butler, the state of Nebraska’s first governor (1867 to 1871) and the only one to date ever to be impeached. It was alleged that he had used school funds to engage in property speculation when he moved the capital from Omaha to Lincoln. The state legislature reviewed the impeachment in 1877 and expunged it from the record.
Founded right in the middle of all this controversy, in 1873, David City has a large courthouse square with streets wide enough for islands of parked cars in the middle of the pavement. There is also an impressive municipal park at the south edge of this splendid burg.
Even before our visit on a clear but chilly January afternoon, I had been to David City many times to visit the Horaceks–my aunt, uncle, and cousins on my father’s side of the family. In the summer of 1966, when I was 11 years old, I spent a week with them. Having just acquired a transistor radio as a premium for my work selling magazine subscriptions in the National Youth Sales Club, I spent quite a bit of time walking up and down the sidewalk groovin’ to “Bus Stop,” by the Hollies and “Summer in the City,” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. Omaha was 65 miles away, but station KOIL (“Mighty 1290”) came through just fine even in the daytime.
At the end of my visit I rode the bus back to the big city. We stopped in the village of Brainard with time to look around, so I went into a pharmacy and bought an affordable gift for my mother, a small jar of Vaseline, which seemed practical and useful. She was, as one might suppose, nonplused.
In all my visits to David City, it never occurred to me that my Grandfather Reginald Tillotson, on my mother’s side, had built there. But records of Tillotson Construction Co. show a 180,000-bushel elevator in 1951, and the purpose of our present visit was to study it.
There are two concrete elevators on the Frontier Cooperative site along the tracks at the southwestern edge of town. Each one has a related flat-storage building. Our problem lay in determining which was the 1951 job and whether the second structure was also by Tillotson. Even with zoom photos of the manhole covers over openings in the tanks, or silos, there’s nothing conclusive to share. The rusty cast-iron plates bear the imprint the Hutchinson Foundry & Steel Co., a regular Tillotson supplier, but because the manholes are so high off the ground, and the plates are rusty, I’ve been unable to read the remaining lettering at bottom.
Nevertheless, the north elevator is elegantly crowned with a curved cupola, the Tillotson signature headhouse that was perfected by about 1950. Dimensions are 19 feet wide, 38 feet long, and 27 1/3 feet high. Built on an original plan with five tanks rising 120 feet, this elevator has a 13 by 17-foot driveway. Other external features such as doorways with lintels and external lamps are very much in the Tillotson style.
The question then is about the south elevator. It has a stepped, rectangular headhouse. Who built this elevator and when?
Both headhouses are labeled “Farmers Co-Op Grain Co.” An explanation is given on Frontier’s website: “Over the years, the predecessors of both Frontier and Midwest (Cooperative) completed many mergers and acquisitions, growing their territories across southern and central Nebraska. The Frontier name came into being in 1990, following the merger of Farmers Cooperative Co. of Brainard with Farmers Union Cooperative of Mead.”
A 2015 news report says Farmers Cooperative purchased the David City elevators in 1985.
Deeper insight into the history comes from the State Elevator News roundup in the June 1919 edition of The Co-Operative Manager and Farmer: “Wells Howe has resigned his position as manager of the Nye-Schneider-Fowler Elevator in David City, his resignation to take effect as soon as his successor has been secured. Mr. Howe has been connected with the company fourteen years, and with the David City Elevator eleven years.”
A note on the Nebraska Memories page of the state’s official site says Nye Schneider Fowler Co., of Fremont, “was organized in 1902 as successor to the former grain and lumber business, Nye Schneider Company. Frank Fowler joined Ray Nye and Rudolf B. Schneider as a named partner.”
The elevators show scars from hard use, with spalling on the exterior walls and no recent whitewashing, but evidently they remain in good operating order.
As it was Saturday afternoon when we visited, no one was around the facility. There was only a grain dryer’s roar, even stronger than that of the wind: it must be a curse for people in the nearby houses.
The Consumers Fuel Association in Canyon has let the contract for the construction of a 320,000 bushel grain elevator in Canyon. The above is a picture of the new construction, which will be completed in time for the 1950 wheat harvest. The building will be west of the old elevator.
YORK, Neb. (AP)–Another part of a grain elevator collapsed Friday, one day after two elevator silos split open spilling grain that crushed a building and injured one worker.
There were no reports of injuries or anyone being trapped after the collapse about 4:30 p.m. Friday at Farmers Co-op Elevator, said Clay Stodieck, a York firefighter.
“All I know is we had another collapse,” he said. “They were attempting to unload the grain today. I don’t know how far they got.”
Meanwhile, LeRoy Vanicek, elebator manager, confirmed the co-op began removing grain from the elevator earlier this month.
Radio station KAWL in York quoted an unidentified source close to the co-op as saying the grain was being removed prior to the collapse on Thursday.
The source told the station concrete chips and dust had recently appeared in grain stored at the facility and co-op officials were concerned there could be a problem with the structure. Vanicek would not confirm whether co-op officials were concerned about any problems.
A secretary who was pinned beneath a desk when thousands of pounds of grain spilled out of the elevator silos Thursday escaped the accident with bumps, bruises and scrapes, officials said.
Ruth Jones, 36, said she heard a loud roar when the 61,000 bushels of grain flattened the one-story building.
The lower halves of the 130-foot concrete silos filled with milo broke open about 3:50 p.m. CST, York Fire Chief Mark Grosshans said.
The silos are two of 18 units at the Farmers Co-op Elevator in northwest York. The silos are divided into three rows of six. The elebator is just west of U.S. Highway 81.
State Fire Marshal Wally Barnett said the bins “split from about halfway up to the base.”
Branch manager George Makovicka said he was on top of the elevator doing some routine maintenance when the grain began spilling out.
“I heard a whooshing sound, like sucking air,” he said. “I looked over the edge and saw all the grain on top of the building. It looked like a tidal wave.”
Engineers from Omaha and Lincoln inspected the building Friday morning and determined that the integrity of the structure is in question, Grosshans said Friday.
Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star, Sunday, Oct. 8, 1950
AURORA, Neb–Bountiful grain crops here have forced the Aurora Co-Operative Elevator company to expand by adding a new 250,000 bushel elevator.
F.E. Henson, manager of the elevator, points to hybrid corn and the development of deep-well irrigation in Hamilton county as two of the reasons for the demanded extra storage space.
* * *
“We have 225 irrigation wells in this county,” he said. “We handled from 750,000 to 1,000,000 bushels a year.
“This Co-Op has grown steadily over the years,” he added. “It started in 1980 with less than 100 stockholders. Now it has 950.”
The new elevator, near the Burlington station, is an imposing building. It has eight round bins, 18 feet in diameter and 115 feet high. There are 14 other bins.
D.L. Grimes, superintendent for Tillotson Construction company of Omaha, said the elevator is supposed to be ready to receive grain by Oct. 15. But delivery will be accepted the first week of October.
He said he expects to have everything installed within a month. The elevator will cost about $150,000.
Hansen said the company started out in 1908 with a 20,000 bushel elevator called the west Aurora elevator.
In 1913 it built at Murphy, five miles west of Aurora. About a year ago–Sept. 27–the east Murphy elevator of 20,000-bushel capacity burned down. However, Co-Op sill had a 40,000-bushel west Murphy elevator. In the last year it has added 35,000 bushel capacity there.
* * *
In 1913, it constructed the flour mill in Aurora just east of the new concrete elevator. Its daily capacity was 75 barrels, but the big flour mills and chain store buying was too much competition, Hensen says.
So in 1938, the flour mill became a feed mill, with a 10,000-bushel capacity.
“With the growth of the company and competition, we just had to go modern and get an elevator with a drier and cleaner and those things,” Hensen said.
With its new elevator, the Aurora Co-Operative will have a 355,000-bushel capacity for its grain handling business.
The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), Sunday, Feb. 16, 1947
POTTER, Neb. (AP). One of Nebraska’s largest grain elevators–a quarter-million bushel structure of reinforced concrete–will be built here this spring.
The huge elevator is expected to be completed in time for the 1947 harvest season in the wheat-rich panhandle. The first dirt will be turned in March.
The Potter Co-Op Grain company, which will build the structure, said it will be on the Union Pacific right-of-way about two blocks west of the Potter depot. Contract has been let to the Tillotson Construction company of Denver. Estimated cost of the elevator is $100,000.
* * *
STEEL ALREADY is being delivered at the site. The elevator will be about 130 feet high and will be built in one compact unit containing 26 individual storage bins. A gravity feed storage system and other new operating features will be installed.
Normal capacity of the elevator will be 225,000 bushels but storage up to 256,000 bushels will be possible. The Co-Op also will retain control of the 16,000 bushel elevator it already is operating here.
* * *
FUNDS WERE borrowed from farmers in this area under a plan whereby the lender gets 1 1/2 bushels of reserved storage for each dollar invested up to a maximum of 7,500 bushels. The storage space will be reserved during the peak harvest season at a time when many farmers are forced to pile their wheat in the open.
Huge scales capable of handling a truck and semi-trailer loads up to 50 tons will be installed.
The Potter Co-Op serves one of the state’s largest wheat territories including farms in Cheyenne, Kimball and Banner counties. It has more than 400 patrons.
Aside from a larger structure at Chappell, which has a storage capacity of close to 300,000 bushels, the new Potter elevator will be the largest in western Nebraska.
As long as agriculture has existed, food storage has been essential to human survival. Grains could be stored without substantial spoilage more easily than other foods, so societies engineered grain storage very early, which enabled people to congregate in cities. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, the story of Joseph relates how he helped Egypt store grain against periods of famine. It was a successful strategy.
48 During those seven years, Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt and stored it in the cities. In every city he laid up the food from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance, like the sand of the sea, that he stopped keeping track of it; for it was beyond measure.
The practice of grain storage that was credited to Joseph in the Bible was indeed part of the long-standing economic system in Egypt.
Surviving ancient Egyptian city sites, while fairly rare, have drawn renewed interest as archaeologists explore how urban societies developed. A prominent feature of Tell Edfu, an Egyptian city studied by the University of Chicago, is a courtyard containing seven circular mud-brick silos, built together to store surplus grain. Each silo measures 5.5-6.5 meters across. The 3500 year-old site was built beside an administrative center, a feature that points to a period of prosperity measured in grain, which was the currency of the time.
Another example of early grain storage was discovered in Lancashire, England, in Ribchester. This location was an early Roman outpost where a garrison was stationed. Stored grain was needed to provide for the soldiers and their livestock. When the Roman soldiers abandoned the fort, evidence shows that the remaining stores were burned and the storage site destroyed.
Every grain operation has to contend with temperature, humidity, and spoilage when storing grain. The Romans found ingenious solutions to the same problems we encounter. Their granaries had thick walls with column-supported floors, leaving void areas underneath, and drainage gutters to keep rain diverted away. These measures kept the grain cool and dry. Building the granaries above ground level also helped keep rats and mice out.
All that remains at the Ribchester site are the thick wall bases, outlining the footprint of two rectangular bins, and the support columns that held the old flagstone floors above the ground. Signs of burned grain and broken flagstones tell the story of the abandonment of the outpost.
I was curious whether ancient Greece used similar storage. Accounts I read pointed out that they used amphorae, or large pottery jars, to transport commodities including grain. They imported their grain supply across the Mediterranean Sea using these vessels, while prohibiting grain exports, to ensure their food security. Amphorae were convenient because they could be stored, but they were also portable. They were an ideal solution for foodstuffs moving through a major trading center. I wonder if consumption kept up with supply to the point that large-scale permanent storage was not needed. It is a good topic for further exploration.
Grain is such an ordinary part of life for us that it goes mostly ignored, though the history of grain is compelling. I am forever curious. Perhaps more of this remarkable history will be uncovered. I will share whatever I find.
BELLWOOD–One man died under tons of grain and concrete and two others were listed in critical condition Wednesday in an explosion that ripped through the Farmers Co-Op grain elevator late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
The body of Gary Roh, 20, of Linwood was pulled from the debris Tuesday by rescue teams working under floodlights and using heavy equipment, including a bulldozer.
Hospital and elevator officials said Joe Stastny, 58, a rural Bellwood farmer who was unloading grain when the blast was triggered, and elevator employee Larry Navrkal, 28, of Bellwood were in critical condition Wednesday morning at Lincoln’s St. Elizabeth Community Health Center’s burn center.
“It was a pretty big boom,” the elevator’s grain department manager Bob Bell said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was here in the office, which is about 50 yards from the elevator. It looked like night outside and we just dived on the floor until the debris stopped flying. Then we called the emergency number.”
Roh was reported missing after the blast, which destroyed parts of the elevator and hurled huge chunks of concrete into nearby streets and homes. Elevator officials had hoped Roh might be trapped alive, but optimism faded as the hours passed.
His body was found about 9:45 p.m.–more than five hours after the blast–in an alleyway pit inside the elevator where Stastny was unloading grain.
John Navrkal of Bellwood, an elevator supervisor and Larry Navrkal’s father, also was injured, but did not require hospitalization.
“We had a farmer (Stastny) in the elevator in a truck unloading grain,” said co-op office manager Maxine McDonald. “We had three employees there, too. The farmer was covered with grain, and they had to dig him out.”
Rescue workers used the Jaws of Life to remove him from his truck.
Witnesses said the blast apparently was triggered somewhere in the south end near Stastny’s unloading truck.
Mrs. McDonald said the 1.5 million-bushel structure was about half full of a mixture of grains and that there had been no fires. She said damage was extensive.
The blast’s cause had not been determined Wednesday morning, and damage estimates were unavailable.
Bell said insurance investigators, State Patrol officers and State Fire Marshall’s office investigators were at the scene Wednesday to try to determine the blast’s cause and whether the facility is structurally sound enough to remove remaining grain.
State Fire Marshall Wally Barnett said Wednesday the cause never may be determined “because it went from one end to the other, blew out the top and even blew out some of the bins.”
Joe Wilson, who owns a barbershop near the elevator, said there were holes measuring 25-by-50 feet in the elevator’s walls.
“The north headhouse is completely blown off,” he said. “A tank on the northeast side of the elevator was split from top to bottom.”
Wilson said the blast shook the area around the elevator, damaging homes on both sides and sending concrete fragments flying for two blocks.
“The house on the east side was riddled with concrete chunks the size of basketballs, and windows were broken,” he said. “Another house a half a block away has holes the side of footballs in the walls.”
The damage to the elevator was so extensive that at one point, the search for Roh was called off because rescue workers feared moving the grain would cause the damaged structure to collapse. Mrs. McDonald said digging resumed after a structural engineer brought in by the co-op’s insurance company examined the elevator.
There were no reports of other serious injuries.
Bellwood’s elevator is the third Nebraska elevator to explode in 1 1/2 months. In late February, an explosion rocked the Southeast Nebraska Farmers Co-op in Beatrice, injuring three men. Then slightly more than two weeks ago, a series of explosions and fires extensively damaged the McMaster Grain Co. in South Sioux City. No one was injured, but damage was estimated at $1 million.
Bellwood, a community of 361 residents, had another explosion Feb. 19 when an explosion and fire at the Farmer’s Co-op service station injured three employees and flattened the garage. None of the men were injured seriously, and the station was back in business soon after the explosion.
Mrs. McDonald said she had worked at the Bellwood elevator for 24 years, and there was another explosion there in 1959.
“But it wasn’t anywhere like this one,” she said. “We are just all in a state of shock. This is a terrible thing–one that you hope you never have to see again.”
Thank you to Susan Allen for providing this article.