The twin of the vanished Glidden, Iowa, elevator still stands at Churdan, Iowa

DSC_0476Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Tucked into a nest of grain bins in the west-central Iowa town of Churdan is an old original elevator built by Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Neb. The annex hard by its side also boasts the Tillotson name.


It is immediately obvious that the old Tillotson structure has been updated at some time in the past with a leg that extends above the headhouse, thereby keeping the machinery most prone to overheating far from accumulations of grain dust.

DSC_0497DSC_0490The annex beside it shows signs of cracking. Stress cracks are an old enemy of elevators, a problem which eventually spelled the demise of the Churdan elevator’s twin at Glidden, Iowa, and also the Mayer-Osborn elevator at Maywood, Kan.

Manhole covers along the side declare that the annex was built by Tillotson Construction in 1955.

DSC_0486An elevator built by Quad States was added to the Farmers Cooperative complex some years later. (Its trademark stepped headhouse is curved only at the outside margins, a usually reliable indicator of a Quad States design. A manhole cover dated 1969 boasts its provenance.)

A white-painted metal bin, served by the Tillotson elevator headhouse, was also added to the site to increase storage capacity.


Click the photo to witness the demolition

After demolition of two faulty bins in 2013, the concrete remnants were bulldozed into the center of an empty lot across from the co-op office.

A large-capacity shiny metal bin across the street completes the scene.

We are fortunate to have the specifications for the Churdan elevator, which is an early example built in 1949, and for its 198,960-bushel annex. The elevator specifications are detailed below.

The “Churdan Plan” was used for a number of Tillotson elevators, including Glidden, Sanborn, Gilmore City, and Thompson, Iowa; Greenwood and Fairfield, Neb.; and Montevideo, Minn. The construction of elevators using this plan spanned from 1949 to 1952. Specifications varied according to an individual customer’s  requirements.

The “Churdan Plan” consisted of four 14 1/2-foot-diameter bins, 100 feet tall, with a 13-by-17-foot driveway and eight bins over the driveway. It had a 13-foot spread. Notations in the company record said “bin split for drier” and “16 bins and dust bin.”


Capacity per plans (with Dock): 102,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,318 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,083 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 25 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (including jack rods): 57.72 tons

Average steel per cubic yard reinforced concrete: 106.5 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans:

Below main slab: 3,133 pounds steel, 29 cubic yards concrete

Main slab: 15,937 pounds steel, 113 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 73,405 pounds steel, 760 cubic yards concrete

Work and Driveway floor (including columns): 3,370 pounds steel, 26 cubic yards concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 3,480 pounds steel, 19 cubic yards concrete

Overhead Bin bottoms: 3,752 pounds concrete, 23 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof (or garner): 3,060 pounds steel, 30 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor (complete): 186 pounds steel, 3 cubic yards concrete

Cupola walls: 3,481 pounds steel, 35 cubic yards concrete

Distributor floor: 886 pound steel, 7 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: 1,129 pounds steel, 9 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 1,036 pounds steel, 20 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway: 600 pounds steel, 9 cubic yards concrete (driveway extension)

DSC_0494Construction details

Main slab dimensions (drive length first dimension): 48′ x 48′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 2,270 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel): 2,224 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 50 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 360 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 pounds per bushel): 3,060 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 15 tons

Gross weight loaded: 5,709 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.52 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 18″

Main slab steel: straight 1 1/4″ square at 10″ o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 3/8″ at 8″ o. c. spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 440 excluding extension

Height of drawform walls: 90′

Pit depth below main slab: 12’0″

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 15′ x 32 1/3′ x 22′

Pulley centers: 115.67′

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 1/2′ and 9′ x 15′

Column under tanks size: 16″ square

Boot legs and head: concrete

Machinery details

Boot pulley: 60″ x 14″ x 2 3/16″

Head pulley: 60″ x 14″ x 3 15/16″

R.P.M. Head pulley: 44

Belt: 272′, 14″ 6 ply Calumet

Cups: 12″ x 6″ at 9″ o. c. spacing

Head drive: Howell 30 horsepower [3 circled here]

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturers rating): 6,540 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical rating): 5,230 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15% for motor): 19.9 horsepower

Man lift: 2 horsepower Ehr.

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 8 1/4″ w.c.

Cupola spouting: 10″ diameter 14 ga.

Truck lift: 7 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Dust collector system: Fan to bin

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: None


Split bin for dryer

All specs, and the Bouncing Czech’s photos, delineate elevators in David City

The Tillotson Construction of Omaha elevator also serves as a satellite antenna tower.  Photo by Tom McLaughlin

The Farmers Cooperative elevator, built by Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, Neb., also serves today as a satellite antenna tower. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

Story by Kristen Cart

My blogging partner Ronald Ahrens said he hoped we would find the motherlode of history about the elevators his grandfather Reginald Tillotson had built. With luck and the help of his family, we finally did it.

Reginald Tillotson’s sons, Charles, Tim, and Mike have all recently shared their memories from the job sites. Tim Tillotson also found and restored a treasure trove of company documents and photos. Best of all was a set of blueprint specifications for over 100 Tillotson Construction Company slip-formed concrete elevators and annexes. Eureka!

A historical image taken in David City, dated October 28, 1964. This is not the Tillotson Construction elevator, but it's neighbor a short distance down the rail line.

A historical image taken in David City, dated October 28, 1964. This is not the Tillotson Construction elevator, but its neighbor a short distance down the rail line.

David City, Neb., is a town due west of Fremont in the eastern half of the state. One of the two elevators in town was listed in the Tillotson blueprints. Armed with our new information, I looked for pictures of the newly found elevator.

I discovered some history, instead.

The grain piled next to the elevator in the 1964 press photo is milo, a feed grain, and the pile-up was attributed to a shortage of rail cars. Scenes like this were observed all over Nebraska that year.

The elevator in the photo didn’t quite have the Tillotson look, so a quick peek at David City on a Google map showed a washed-out image with just the suggestion of a curved headhouse on a second elevator in town. Further search brought me to “The Bouncing Czech” Flickr page and beautiful photos of the Farmers Cooperative elevator I was looking for. With Tom McLaughlin’s kind permission, they are posted here.

Tom McLaughlin likes to stop and check out elevators.

In an exchange of e-mails, he wrote, “A friend of our family owned the Magowan Elevator, in Gordon, Neb., so I’ve been in that one several times. I still remember my first manlift ride–that was the scariest ride I’ve ever taken.

David City's "other" elevator. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

David City’s “other” elevator. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

“Back in the 1950s, my dad used to ‘walk the pipeline’–he literally walked the natural gas pipeline in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, looking for signs of leaks, before they went to aerial photography and control valves.

“So he always liked to wander around the back roads and small towns, and I think that’s where I got the bug. When we would go on a trip, we never knew what route he’d take. I don’t think he did either!”

Tom’s enthusiasm is contagious.

The small towns are peaceful, yet inviting, and the elevators are fascinating. It won’t be too much longer before this blogger takes another grain elevator trip.


Tillotson Construction Company records show the David City elevator was built in 1951 according to the “David City Plan.” This includes five tanks, each one 18 feet in diameter and 120 feet high.

Total capacity: 180,000 bushels

Driveway: 13×17 feet with eight bins over the drive

Bins: 15 in all and overflow, with a dust bin at the exterior

Reinforced concrete: 1716 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 20 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (including jack rods): 81.16 tons

Steel and concrete:

Below main slab: 6632 pounds and 45 cubic yards

In main slab: 22,233 pounds and 180 cubic yards

Drawform walls: 106,320 pounds and 1253 cubic yards

Driveway and work floor: 2543 pounds and 15 cubic yards

Deep bin bottoms: 8081 pounds and 38 cubic yards

O.H. bin bottoms: 2917 pounds and 22 cubic yards

Bin root: 6122 pounds and 44 cubic yards

Scale floor: 285 pounds and 10 cubic yards

Cupola (headhouse) walls: 2830 pounds and 70 cubic yards

Distributor floor: 1494 pounds and 8 cubic yards

Cupola roof: 1586 pounds and 14 cubic yards

Miscellaneous (Boot, leg, headhouse, Tr., sink, steps, etc.): 1273 pounds and 15 cubic yards

Gordon, Nebraska’s elevator was built in a classic Mayer-Osborn style

The Mayer-Osborn elevator, identified by manhole covers inside the driveway, stands in front of Chalmers and Borton additions

The Mayer-Osborn elevator, identified by manhole covers inside the driveway, stands in front of Chalmers and Borton additions.

Story and photos by Gary Rich

Farmers Co-op operates these elevators. The co-op is based in Gordon, Hay Springs, and Hemingford, Neb.

The elevator in the foreground was built by Mayer-Osborn Construction Company, based in Denver. The completion date is not known.

The elevator in the background was built by Chalmers and Borton Construction, based in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1958. The company built a second elevator, west of these elevators, as well as a couple of annexes.

A side view of the Mayer Osborn elevator

A side view of the Mayer Osborn elevator.

By Kristen Cart

This stepped up headhouse design was first rolled out with the elevator in McCook, Neb., built in 1949 by Mayer-Osborn Construction Company. The style was featured in the Mayer-Osborn ad that ran in the early 1950s in the Farmers Elevator Guide.

The Gordon elevator showcased the rounded headhouse construction method adopted by Tillotson Construction for their later projects, but it is not known which company pioneered the cost saving technique.

From his home in Colorado, Gary Rich investigated this elevator on a trip east to photograph a number of Midwestern elevators. Gary has been instrumental in identifying a large number of Mayer-Osborn, Tillotson Construction, and J. H. Tillotson projects, pursuing the history of the elevators with as much passion as he puts into his excellent photography.

We are indebted to him for his relentless pursuit of good information, now contained in this blog.

Mid Kansas and Farmers Co-op employees enjoy their jobs

The Mid Kansas Cooperative elevator at Walton, Kan., produced a new acquaintance and the offer to return.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

An elevator trip sometimes begs for a detour. While driving along the secondary roads that follow the rail lines connecting our grandfathers’ elevators, sometimes I see an intriguing elevator that doesn’t quite look like a Tillotson or Mayer-Osborn structure, but needs to be investigated anyway. Curiosity always wins the day.

Quad-States Construction’s elevator at Waverly, Neb.

Both Waverly, Neb., and Walton, Kan., have elevators unlike those our grandfathers built. I met with employees at both elevators and came away impressed. The people working at these co-ops come from the countryside, where generations of my family farmed, so their stories resonate with a deep familiarity.

Waverly, Neb., has two elevator complexes. The first includes an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, Neb., in their trademark style with a curved headhouse. A little further north is an elevator with a partially rounded headhouse which caught my eye. It seemed an oddity, so my mother and I stopped to visit.

Mike Aufenkamp of Farmers Cooperative Company

Mike Aufenkamp greeted us at the fence as I peered over the gate with my camera. He said the Farmers Cooperative elevator manager was not there, but he was eager to tell us what he knew about the construction of the elevator.

No manhole covers on the outside of the elevator identified the builder, but a single steel plate covering the entry into the pit was embossed “Quad States Const. 1971, Des Moines, IA.” When Farmers Cooperative Company bought the elevator, Mike said they found a pile of discarded rebar in the field behind the elevator. Uh-oh. That could not be good. He said the cooperative had since reinforced the driveway with steel I-beams to prevent problems.

Mike wondered what sparked our interest in elevators, and I told him about my grandfather, William Osborn, and our interest in genealogy that got the whole elevator project going. He laughed and said he’d researched the Aufenkamp family once and found an old cousin in Alaska. Their kinship hadn’t been firmly established yet when the old man died and was flown back to Nebraska for burial, just down the road from Mike’s folks.

“I guess he was my cousin,” Mike said. “There aren’t many Aufenkamps around here.”

An elevator enthusiast and history buff, he directed us to a working wooden elevator in Cook, Neb. He said the Cook elevator was one of the few wooden elevators that kept up its certification. He also mentioned an intriguing set of elevator ledgers, dating from the 1940s, located at Pleasant Prairie, Neb.

Mike exemplifies the kind of sharp, hard working people who work for the co-op. He also likes his job.

Loading a farm truck with grain at Walton, Kan.

An initial visit and the offer to return 

On another trip I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Snyder, the location manager at Walton, Kan., for Mid Kansas Cooperative (MKC). The elevator was such a beauty I could not drive by it, so when I stopped to investigate which company built it, Jeff came out to meet me. He had a similar infectious enthusiasm for his job.

Jeff came from a military family. His grandfather fought in World War Two, in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was captured by the Germans, spending time in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Jeff’s father served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, flying F-105s, F-4s, and F-16s. Naturally, when it came his turn, Jeff also served his country. He joined the Navy and became a Navy swimmer. He mentioned that on September 11, 2001, he was aboard the USS Pearl Harbor, LSD-52, an amphibious warship.

Chalmers and Borton’s elevator at Walton, Kan.

When he left the service, he came home and worked for local law enforcement, a job he did not enjoy. So he changed careers, and has worked for Mid Kansas Cooperative ever since. It is a happy arrangement.

The Walton elevator was built in 1958 by Chalmers and Borton Construction Company, and Mel Jarvis Construction finished the first annex in 1961. Another annex was built later on. Jeff told me about MKC’s wooden elevator in Benton, Kan., and said I should visit. While on a layover in Wichita a few weeks later, I did just that. Jeff also said I should come back on a weekend and tour the Walton elevator.

That is an offer too good to refuse.

In Chase County, we meet Gary State, an elevator construction veteran

By Gary Rich

Editor’s note: Gary is recently returned from a fact-finding foray in Nebraska.

I stopped at the Chase County courthouse in Imperial, Neb., looking for the dates when the elevators were built in Imperial, Enders, and Wauneta. They did not have much information about the build dates. The only info they have in their records is that the old office building for Frenchman Valley Co-op was done in 1946. The FVC built a new office across the street from the old one.

The ladies on the courthouse staff told me to stop in at the FVC office and talk with Gary State, who might have the dates. Mr. State went to work for Mid States building grain elevators and feed plants. I do not know if it was just Mid States or Mid States Construction. He was living in Imperial when he started working for them.

Map of Nebraska highlighting Chase County

I explained about Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, and Mayer-Osborn Company. He gave me some leads. He told me that Hugh O’Grady is still alive and lives in Omaha. Mid States was started by a man name Erickson. He had seven sons. Six of the sons ended up working for Mid States. One son died at a construction site. He said Jack Russell was a superintendent. He thought that he was living in Seward, Neb.

Mr. State built the second annex, or elevator number two, at Big Springs, and then elevator number three.

He told me that he built the Woolstock, and Goldfield, Iowa, elevators; the feed plant at Fruita, Colo.; and elevators at Garrison and nearby David City, Neb. At the other end of the Cornhusker State, he built the west elevator in Imperial. After the west elevator was finished, he left Mid States and he went to work for the Co-op. This is the reason that he is working for FVC.

♦ ♦ ♦

Okay, here is another thing. I thought that when a construction company built an elevator that they did everything. This is not true. Mr. State told me about a company based at York, Neb. This company did all the belts inside the elevators, all around Nebraska, no matter who the builder was. So we know the belts were installed by a separate company. Now I am wondering if a separate company was onsite to install the leg as they built the elevator up. Or did the general contractor install the leg?

Approval and completion of a concrete elevator in Pocahontas, Iowa

POCAHONTAS–The Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator has approved final plans for construction of a 250,000 bushel storage plant. The new elevator will consist of eight tanks, 20 feet in diameter and 120 feet high with a cupola to project more than 20 feet above the tanks. Each of 17 bins will hold about 15,000 bushels. Their present elevator has a capacity of 60,000 bushels while the Havelock branch elevator holds 40,000. The new plant should be finished about Sept. 1.Farmers’ Elevator Guide, June 1949
POCAHONTAS–The New 250,000-bushel concrete elevator which cost the Farmers Cooperative association $125,000 is completely filled with soybeans stored for customers and corn stored for the government. The structure is 120 feet high. The Pocahontas cooperative, one of the leading groups in northwest Iowa, plans to build a new truck scale, a new office and a new (illegible) house next spring.Farmers’ Elevator Guide, December 1949
Note: Tillotson Construction Company worker Larry Ryan fell to his death here in 1954.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

Big Springs adds 320,000-bushel storage elevator

Photo by Kristen Osborn Cart

BIG SPRINGS–Work on the 320,000-bushel storage elevator is about completed here, giving the Farmers Cooperative Elevator Association of Denver, Colo., a plant with 20 bins, 130-feet high. The elevator with headhouse is 165 feet high. The building is concrete.

Farmers’ Elevator Guide, September 1951

Note:  It isn’t known at the time of this posting which construction company did the project.

Thompson, Iowa, elevator completed in 1950, torn down in early 1980s

Work Underway on Storage Elevator

Thompson – Work has been started on a 125,000 bushel storage elevator for the local co-operative elevator company by the Tillotson Construction company of Omaha, Nebr.

Mason City (Iowa) Globe-Gazette, June 20, 1950

Mason City Globe-Gazette, September 2, 1950

♦ ♦ ♦

Our call to the Farmers Cooperative elevator in Thompson, Iowa, while preparing this post resulted in a conversation with location manager Lyle Wirtjes, who said he started working at the elevator in 1969. By then, Mr. Wirtjes said, one silo had already “busted out.” After another such incident, a new elevator was constructed across the road and the Tillotson elevator was torn down sometime in the early 1980s.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kristen’s analysis:

This Thompson elevator should not have failed—look at Greenwood, still here after all these years. I would guess there were some corrupt people in the building trades pulling off a scam, and since so many projects were going at once, a few poorly done elevators slipped through. They all looked like carbon copies of one another, so unless soil, water table problems, or fire caused the break, crooked subcontractors could have caused it. Not an uncommon problem when the federal cash spigot is turned on full blast—everyone shows up to the party, whether good or not.  My speculation here.  Nineteen years is not much of a lifetime for an elevator, barring a fire.