Mayer-Osborn Construction completes 450,000-bushel elevator in Burley, Idaho

Burley, July 22–Charles Barnes, manager of Union Seed company here, announced Friday that work is nearly completed on the new grain elevators and storage tanks west of town. He said the tanks, built to store all types of grain, have a capacity of about 450,000 bushels,

Eash of the 23 tanks is 135 feet tall and is made from six inches of reinforced concrete. The head house is 165 feet high, equivalent to a 16-story building. The tanks will be used to handle individual and Union Seed storage needs.

Barnes said that about 20,000 sacks of cement had been used in the construction under contract by Mayer-Osborn Construction company, Denver. He said the latest grain cleaning machinery has been installed, along with scales large enough to weigh the largest trucks, and that there are conveyer belts in both the head gallery and the basement tunnel.

Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho, July 22, 1955


Tillotson Construction’s elevator at Dalton, Nebraska, shows unique features

Gary Rich contributed these photos from Dalton, Nebraska, along with the following analysis:

Tillotson Construction’s elevators were unique, with some features that I have not seen from other elevator builders. One major feature was the curved head house. I have only seen one other company that produced an elevator with the curved headhouse. Another feature was that Tillotson put windows for light into the basement. Of course they had electric lights in the basement. I have not seen another builder put windows in the bottom part of the elevator. This must be a Tillotson trademark. This elevator has the year of construction added to the manhole covers. It shows 1958. Tillotson did a great thing by adding this. All the elevators that I have been inside, I have not seen another company put the year on the manhole covers. The date was on each manhole cover inside the elevator.

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

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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.

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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.

Painting a concrete grain elevator in Lincoln, Nebraska

Merle Ahrens, uncle of Ronald Ahrens, has written an account of his summer of 1955, which was spent on a scaffold with another of Ronald’s uncles, Michael Tillotson, youngest son of Reginald and Margaret Tillotson:

After graduating from Omaha North High School in 1955, I went to work for Tillitoson Construction on a grain elevator in Lincoln, Nebraska, with Michael Tillotson. I was paid $1.25 an hour.

Merle at home

Merle Ahrens in 2011, at home in Titusville, Fla.

I remember the first day on the job we had to go to the top of the grain storage tank—at least 100 feet—on a bucket that was used to haul up concrete. The bucket was connected to the swinging boom at the top by a wire cable. The cable went to a stationary, manually operated, rotating spool, which wound up the cable to lift the bucket. The operator let it free-fall down, seeing how close to the ground the bucket and riders could get before hitting the brake. It was a scary ride with four or five other workers standing on the rim of the bucket, especially the free fall down. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get used to.

At the top, there were no rails around the edges nor any safety provisions like you see today, just one jack rod sticking out of the surface to hold on to as you got on and off of the bucket. The first day, I spent a lot of time holding onto that rod looking over the side.

When Michael and I started work, all the concrete pouring was complete and we were given the task of painting the outside of the whole elevator. We painted it using a lime-base whitewash. We had to crawl over the edge of the top of the tank onto a flying scaffold. The scaffold was held up by a pair of rope block-and-tackles connected to a pair of wood beams that were extended about two feet over the edge of the tank. The wood beams extended about ten feet inboard and were weighed down with sandbags to keep the scaffold from falling. The scaffold was made up of a pair of two-by-twelve boards with a metal frame at each end and two-by-four railings around it. The rope block and tackles were attached to the scaffold on the ground. We had to pull the scaffold up to the top every time for each ten-foot width we painted. There was an old man on the ground who mixed the paint and pulled it up to us in a five gallon bucket. He had a harder job than we had. All we had to do was brush on the paint and pull the rope to release the half hitch that held up the scaffold and let gravity work to lower it. The “flying” part of flying scaffold was when the wind was blowing. You would fly halfway around the tank.

Every night we would take off our Levi’s and stand them in a corner. There was so much paint on them! Yet one pair lasted all summer.

After a couple of months we finished painting the elevator in Lincoln and went to David City to paint another grain elevator. This time we used a new latex paint. It was very slow-drying and the wind kicked up a lot of dust. The elevator ended up white with grey stripes.

We kept hearing of accidents at other sites. One man was said to have fallen from a plank used to walk between the top of two tanks. He was wearing new boots and slipped. Another was killed when roofers removed the sandbags holding the beam for the flying scaffold so they could hot-tar the roof. A couple more were hurt while riding on a bucket and the clamps holding the cable slipped. The clamps were installed wrong. I do know for a fact that one worker at Lincoln was hit in the face when a five-gallon bucket with concrete in it fell while he was using a rope and pulley to lift it overhead.

At the end of the summer, Michael went back to North High, and I went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Merle Ahrens

January 9, 2012

Ports and plaques provide clues about an elevator’s builder

A good quick way to identify the builder of a grain elevator is to check the grain ports. At their first project, in McCook, Nebraska, Mayer-Osborn used these forged steel ports from the Hutchinson foundry. A nice touch was the bronze plaque inside the elevator. It identifies the people responsible for its construction.





Settling and cracking leads to suit against Tillotson Construction

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

Dayton—Farmers Elevator Company has filed suit in federal court at Fort Dodge, Iowa, asking $92,120 from Tillotson Construction Co., Omaha, Neb.

The cooperative also is seeking a court order for the removal by the construction firm of a new 150,000-bushel elevator at Dayton. An alternate request included in the petition asks that if the court does not grant the damages and order the structure removed, that it should determine amount needed to place elevator in condition to conform with the contract between the companies and to grant that amount to the Dayton cooperative.

The petition charges that “due to faulty plans and construction the elevator is unsafe for use and in dangerous condition and is liable at any time to collapse.” The elevator was completed in September 1954 and less than a month later “settled, cracked and broke in numerous places,” the Dayton company alleges in the petition.

At the time the elevator was found to be damaged it was loaded with 110,000 bushels of corn and 30,000 bushels of beans.

Farmers’ Elevator Guide, v.48-50, 1953-55 p. 61 

130-foot fall claims Larry Ryan’s life in Pochahontas, Iowa

Worker Is Killed in Fall From Elevator

Pochahontas, Iowa –(AP)–A 130-foot fall from the top of the Farmers Co-operative Elevator, under construction here, claimed the life Wednesday of Larry Ryan, 20, of Cassville, Mo.

Ryan, an employe of Tillotson Construction Co., Omaha, was operating a hoist used to raise supplies to the top of the elevator. Cause of the accident was not immediately learned.

Muscatine (Iowa) Journal

Thursday, July 29, 1954

Virginia Engel Slusher recalls working at Tillotson Construction

I worked at Tillotson when the office was in the boondocks, I worked with Ted, Bob and can’t remember the other one’s name. I was receptionist, helped with bookkeeping and just stuff. I remember when Mary brought her boxer to work with her. What ever happened to Johnny? I went from there to OPPD Credit Union, then quit working to raise a family. Now I live in Kansas.

Virginia Engel Slusher

October 31, 2011