Making sense of a chimney near a wooden elevator in Alta, Iowa

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Commentary by Tim Tillotson, photo from the Neil A. Lieb archive

Note: What follows is from a phone interview on May 14. Uncle Tim is speculating about the reason why some Tillotson Construction Company employees stayed behind for this small job after completing the concrete elevator at Alta, Iowa, in the summer of 1950.

That chimney is probably about 30 inches in diameter. They’ve got a mortar mixer down there for masonry, a hand line going up, and the framework is scaffolding. The building in front is eight-inch block. Every three blocks is two feet. The building is 12 foot to the eaves.

There’s a reason for that damn stack, and it’s got to have something to do with fire down below. [Brother] Charles [Tillotson] said it could’ve been an iron-working shop.

Why does that car have chock blocks front and rear? Is it some kind of an anchor? It’s a 1935 or 1936, possibly DeSoto.

If you were burning coal, you wouldn’t get sparks. Maybe they were baking bread, cornbread. They’re carrying that stack high enough to get above the wooden elevator. What the hell it could be made of to be that thin and not be braced?

I don’t understand what’s with the masonry mixer down there. If that stack, for example, was a heavy metal tube, I don’t know that you could plaster it.

Mechanization and the Russian wheat deal caused elevator construction booms

AuroraBrad Perry

Story and photos by Brad Perry

These photos are from my travels across Highway 34: Aurora Cooperative and their branch at Murphy. The workhouses would indicate Tillotson. The new two-tank annex at Aurora was done by Todd & Sargent. I believe the four-tank annex at Murphy was T&S as well.

You’ve gotten me thinking about all the construction I was involved in.  Here comes some more history.

Prior to the past eight to 10 years, there were two boom periods of elevator construction in the Midwest. The first is well documented by your blog— early ’50s thru mid 60’s. That was the mechanization age of United States agriculture.

By the ’60s, however, we were building flat storage buildings for the Commodity Credit Corporation. This and the United States Department were our market–and our only market. I still remember being in St. Edward, Neb., in 1975, and being told that the co-op had just gotten shipping orders on 250,000 bushels of wheat that had been in storage there for 12 years.

That’s what paid for the monster terminals in Hutchinson, Salina, Wichita, and Enid.

MurphyBradPerry

The second boom period followed the Russian wheat deal of 1972 and 1973. After that purchase, the USDA eliminated diverted acres and we went to wall-to-wall production. It created the need for new, and faster capacity.

This boom lasted into the early 1980s. It was assisted in Nebraska by center-pivot irrigation.

Most of the elevators were built by co-ops. Cargill, Continental, and a few local privates built in Nebraska, but not many. Peavey was a purchaser rather than a builder.

Farmland Industries served as the general contractor on virtually all of these elevators and annexes. At the Bank for Cooperatives, we waived the need for a performance bond if Farmland was the general contractor.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it looks like it could be a Tillotson elevator.

An aerial view of Utica, Neb. With the round headhouse, Brad Perry thinks it could be a Tillotson elevator. Existing records don’t indicate company activity there. 

That saved a ton of money for the client, and also Farmland paid patronage dividends on the project. Farmland then subbed out the contracts to the major builders that they used.

These were Mid-States, Jarvis, and Borton as the main players. Farmland also brought Wilson, Venturi, and Jordan into Nebraska when demand heated up.

Todd & Sargent did several projects in Nebraska, but mainly stayed in Iowa—lots more grain (and new elevators built) over there.

Quad States built a few facilities (Rising City, Shelby, Benedict, Hooper, and Milford) in Nebraska as well.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial,  headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters to it are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

The old house at Tamora, which is just off Route 34 between Utica and Seward. Note the stepped, or partial, headhouse. The feed mill beside it was kind of a standard blueprint as well and would have been 1950s or 1960s construction. Sisters are found in Leigh, Minden, Holdrege, and Beatrice, Neb., and Red Oak and Shenandoah, Iowa.

There are a couple of odd ones that occurred when the general manager had had experience with a contractor from a different state.

For example, the big elevator at Tamora was built by Conger, a Minnesota company, and the newer workhouse at Plymouth by Weigel, also of Minnesota.

During this period, most facilities–elevators and annexes–were built with 24- to 28-foot diameter tubes.

Toward the end of this boom time, we started seeing en masse conveyors used on annexes, replacing Texas headhouses and open belts with trippers.

We also saw the movement away from small tube elevators to 40 ft and larger diameter tubes.

This was due to two factors: the producers’ yields and harvest speed and the movement to outbound unit trains.

Tillotson Construction employees share playful moments outside the company’s Omaha office

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Story by Tim Tillotson, photos from the Virginia Slusher archive

Editor’s note: The story is from a May 14 phone interview.

On the top pic, second from left, Ted Morris? It don’t look like him at all to me. Wayne Skinner, I believe that’s his Olds they’re leaning against.

In the background is Fairmont Ice Cream. They brought refrigerated rail cars in there. One of them, Dad rammed the ass-end of his ’56 imperial into, backing out of the front of the office and I don’t know where he was going in such a hurry. Second day he had it. A four-door Southhampton, pink and white, Mother drove it most of the time. The air conditioning system—they were coming into the picture then—the condenser unit was in the front of the trunk in a big metal box.

When he slammed into the tongue of that rail car, you know how high those tongues stick out, it got into the trunk and the back window. He had them working 24 hours a day to fix that thing, the trunk, back window, and roof.

After he had it fixed, you could always hear some broken glass shifting around in the box of that unit.

Wayne was the so-called engineer, he set over there in that drafting room in the other side of the office, did all the structural calculations.

It was a ’49 or ’50 Olds. Wayne is in the middle pic with Bob Rodgers. He was like the bookkeeper.

Top and bottom picture? There’s Virginia (second from right) and I don’t know who that woman is.

Johnny (Hassman) had to be office help. He didn’t really have anything to do with the drawings or plans. I don’t even remember that he even worked on a job. And I don’t remember why he was there. He got his college work done, I think, in Missoula.

Uncle Ralph, Johnny’s dad, helped later in sales. I remember Ralph talking about him almost living in the car, and he ate a lot of pork and beans out of the can to pay for his way through college. I can’t remember his academic agenda.

Ted was the pilot. He worked int the office with Wayne, doing the drawing and getting the specs together. He flew Dad when Dad would go out to the jobs. Ted used to take me flying out to the job. He was a fun guy, good-natured. He tried going into business himself after Dad passed.

In Hampton, Neb., the grain elevator could be from the Tillotson Construction lineage

Brad Perry Hampton Nebr.

Story and photos by Brad Perry

Bradshaw, Neb.

Bradshaw, Neb.

I was a loan officer in Nebraska and financed many of the elevators built from 1975 to 1980. The dominant Nebraska builder was probably Mid-States, out of Omaha, along with Jarvis. Borton wasn’t very active in Nebraska at that time, but Farmland Industries brought more players in. Venturi and Jordan were two of them. Farmland served as the general contractor on the majority of elevators built by co-ops in the 1970s and 1980s. The players in Iowa were Younglove and Todd & Sargent, but the lowest-priced builder was always Quad-States out of Des Moines. It’s easy to tell their elevators—they only had one design! This photo above is from Hampton, Neb. Looks like a Tillotson, but I think it was Sampson. There was a twin to it at Bradshaw, 10 miles east, that was hit by lightning and had to be torn down.

List of Tillotson Construction supervisors includes 2 unfortunate incidents

Flagler by Gary Rich

Flagler, Colo. in 2011. Photo by Gary Rich

By Ronald Ahrens

My uncles Tim and Charles Tillotson have put their heads together and come up with a list of supervisors who directed operations on Tillotson Construction Company jobs. What follows are Uncle Tim’s notes, and we’ve done the best that we can in regard to spelling.

Glen Morrison

Francis Dawson (ranch in New Mexico connected to ours)

Doyle Elliott

Glen Casey

Jerry Grimes

Wallly Farmer (also did the house, Kelby Road)

Bill Russell (had seven [surviving] sons; some ran jobs for us; one [the eighth] was electrocuted dropping a steel measuring tape down one morning to verify height on a deck “story pole”; wind blew tape, which touched bare spot on high-tension power lines)

Jim Sheets (’bout half Native American)

Everett Glen (Chas & I concur Everett was the super on Flagler, Colo., in 1953; I had told you before that Mother found him dead in his car in the parking at the house where he was working on finish trim, cabinet work, et cetera; this unfortunate incident had to be fall or winter of ’53 after the job in the summer.)

Flat storage for corn extends capacity at locations like Mitchellville, Iowa and Traer, Kansas

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Flat storage at Traer, Kan., for farm equipment, and an unused elevator.

During the heyday of elevator building, no sooner did an elevator go up, than it filled up, and left a town wanting for storage. The first option was to add an annex. But where economics dictated, cooperatives resorted to the simple expedient of horizontal storage. In the Farmers Elevator Guide during the 1940s and 1950s, between the slick ads for elevator builders, companies advertized Quonset-style buildings for flat storage.

A common sight in Nebraska and Kansas are long, flat piles of corn covered in tarps held down with old tires. At one grain facility, I saw a front-end loader filling grain trucks from one end of one of these great corn piles. At another, workmen were hurriedly applying tarp and tires in advance of a rainstorm. It seems the demand for ethanol has once again ramped up corn demand beyond the capacity of vertical storage facilities, or at least the ability to pay for them.

Mitchellville, Iowa: the Heartland Co-op elevator with the former feed mill and dryer. One of the two old flat-storage buildings for corn is in the foreground.

At two of the sites I recently visited, where the Tillotson-built elevators became insufficient for their purpose within a few years, I saw examples of  corrugated-style flat-storage buildings that were added after the original elevators were filled to capacity. These  served during a brief stretch of time until replaced by more modern, efficient bins, when the buildings found other uses. They were well suited for many farm needs since they could house virtually anything and were built to endure, once their corn storage days ended.

Mitchellville, Iowa, a site where an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha operates, has two such buildings.  They look like ordinary metal buildings, but the tip-off to their special use is the ladder leading to an opening in the roof where the auger operates. Both buildings have new jobs since the large annex additions were built beside the old elevator–one is a machine tool shed, and the other handles seed.

Idaho corn stored under a tarp is loaded onto grain truck.

 

In Tempe, a Mayer-Osborn elevator complements the historic Hayden Mill

Story and Photos by Ronald Ahrens

Tempe, Ariz.–Ensconced amid sleek office buildings on South Mill Avenue here, the Hayden Flour Mill represents the very origin of this city now best known as the home of Arizona State University.

Charles Trumbull Hayden’s mill was built of adobe in 1874, burned in 1917, and rebuilt in concrete in the following year. In 1951, Mayer-Osborn constructed the elevator beside it, looking up to Hayden Butte, which is famous as the freeloader’s vantage point for watching football games in Sun Devil Stadium to the east.

The mill and elevator fell into disuse in the 1980s.

plan announced in 2011 (with implementation already overdue) calls for the mill building to get a coat of paint and a lawn as the first step in a redevelopment effort.

The elevator could use some new glass while they’re at it. And wouldn’t it be interesting if the lettering on the west side of the seven silos were restored?

I was in Scottsdale last weekend for the Barrett-Jackson auction and made a run down to Tempe on Saturday morning. It was impossible to make out the second name in faded paint on that west side. Is it Hayden Elbup Mills?

At any rate, this is a handsome elevator.

With a little thought–designers, awaken!–it could be an interesting complement to the surroundings.

Leland Ulrich explains some facts about Mayer-Osborn’s elevator in Burley, Idaho

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Burley, Idaho, January 18—I spoke to Leland Ulrich, manager here for the past seventeen years, and learned some particulars about this town’s Mayer-Osborn elevator. Mr. Ulrich replaced the old manager, Ivan, long since passed, who apparently had the building’s plans and pictures and history. That investigation is for another visit, since their whereabouts is unknown.

Mr. Ulrich took me for a short tour. I had to put on a hardhat to go inside. The vertical, rectilinear part of the building houses the headhouse way on top, with a “run” protected by a tin roof that went out from it to all of the round bins. The tin roof was a bit of an oddity, he said, but it was original. Most are concrete. The elevator was designed for seed, both barley and wheat, for farm planting.

Formerly a wood and metal elevator was beside it, but it burned in the late-1950s. Some of the big metal parts in the new building might have been that old, salvaged, but there was no way to be sure.

But the elevator built by Mayer-Osborn was all original. The number one bin, closest to the part that houses the head house and the man lift, was empty and I could look inside, but it was too dark to see anything. The bins have sloped floors at a pretty good angle so the last of the seed could be emptied down below, in the “pit.” Whether it was carried out of there by conveyor or some other means is something I missed. The “leg,” he said, in the bin adjacent to the number one bin, went all the way to within eight inches of the top, to facilitate proper distribution between the bins.

(Maybe Gary Rich can add a comment explaining what on earth that means.)

I did ask Mr. Ulrich what the ports are used for, and it is for access—so someone could get into the bins. So “manhole covers” it is. The port cover that was removed on the number one bin, which I’d peeked into, was only identified as Hutchinson foundry steel.

But there were Mayer-Osborn ports inside and out, painted and unpainted.  It’s a big elevator—much bigger than anything I’ve seen of theirs before, perhaps even as big or bigger than Tempe, Arizona.

Mr. Ulrich remembered another visitor who took pictures about ten years ago and sent him some prints. He thought Gary’s name sounded familiar, especially when I mentioned he worked for the railroad.

There is an old citizen in town named Lou Dilley, whose father, known as Pop, built the older flour-mill elevator. Mr. Dilley is said to be in his eighties and loves to tell about the history of the town. He apparently worked on his dad’s construction jobs. So if I can get back, he would be the one to see.

Comparing Mayer-Osborn elevators in Byers, Colorado, and McAllaster, Kansas

By Gary Rich

It is somewhat strange that you can have a company build an elevator, but there can be differences between two separate models. The Byers, Colorado, elevator was built by Mayer-Osborn. This model has the manhole covers on the outside of the bins, whereas the McAllaster, Kansas, elevator has the manhole covers on the inside. You will notice the manhole covers on the outside of the bins in the Byers view. Plus, there is a walkway door about halfway between the bins. The window arrangements are slightly different between these two elevators. Basically the driveway is the same on the two models.

One thing stands out like a sore thumb: whoever painted the Byers elevator painted the manhole covers. This is the only elevator where I have seen this done. Generally the manhole covers are not painted.

It would be the option of the Co-op what was wanted in the elevator. If the owners chose more options, of course the price of the elevator would increase, too.

There are two sides of an elevator. One is the track side, where the railroad tracks are located. The other side is known as the drive way, where the trucks will dump their loads.

I do not believe that the McAllaster, Kansas, elevator has been used for some years. The steel bins were empty, when I photographed here on November 14, 2011. The weeds were fairly high, and the rail spur has been removed. 

Gary Rich analyzes the leaning Maywood, Nebraska, elevator and storage annex

Ever since Kristen got me interested in the history of elevators, I am always looking for new avenues. One thing that I have noticed that Tillotson Construction Company, J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, and Mayer-Osborn Construction built grain elevators in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. However, I never knew them to build the storage annexes. There are cases in which one of these companies built the grain elevator; then another company called Chalmers & Borton would be in the same town within three to five years building a storage annex.

I was very excited when I walked up to the annex at Maywood, Nebraska. I saw the manhole covers had Mayer-Osborn on them. I knew that I found my first annex that was built by one of the three companies.

There is a major problem with this annex at Maywood. You can see the cracks in the annex and where they have tried patching them. I drove back to Maywood several days later. Part of the annex still has grain in it. I talked with a person at the office. They are planning on tearing down the annex sometime this year or 2013. They have not made up their mind if they will save the elevator or not. When you are standing looking at both the elevator and annex, it is hard to say which is leaning the most. It looks like the elevator is leaning towards the annex. But on the other hand, the annex is leaning towards the elevator. The image that shows the grain dryer, the bin nearest the elevator, has been emptied, as well as the center bin. The north side still has grain in the all the bins, as well as the bin on the southwest corner (the image that has the sunlight on it).

I finally found a grain annex that these companies built, but it will be history soon.