The Pocahontas, Iowa, elevator remains a lovely monument to Tillotson ingenuity

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Tillotson elevator at Pocahontas, Iowa, first came to our attention as the site of a tragic accident where a young construction worker lost his life. Larry Ryan fell to his death because he tripped while crossing from the elevator to the annex on a makeshift wooden walkway, according to fellow workers. He wore brand new work boots and some speculated that they contributed to the accident. The young hoist operator was twenty years old when he fell 130 feet to his death from the top of the nearly completed annex in 1954.

I finally had the opportunity to see the site for myself this past summer. We took a wide detour north of our regular route from Nebraska to Illinois–it added a good four hours driving time, not counting the stops. My young cheering section (the kids) were not cheering about the extra road time.

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Upon our arrival in Pocahontas, a town along Lizard Creek in north central Iowa miles away from any major state thoroughfares, we immediately noticed the Tillotson elevator and its trademark rounded headhouse. The annex stood beside the original elevator, rising higher (by 10 feet) than its 120 foot companion, and gleaming with clean whitewashed concrete. It showed no sign of its sorrowful beginnings.

Later additions, including an elevator with headhouse, a flat storage shed, old steel hoppers, and modern steel bins with external legs, surrounded the two concrete structures.

The Tillotson elevator and annex were flanked on one side by a quiet street with an old church and ancient maple trees. The bustle of grain trucks was absent on the Sunday afternoon of our visit, and the co-op office was closed. Only the elevator exhaust fans pierced the silence.

We circled the complex, taking a number of photographic views, before going on our way.

We have the specifications for both the 1949 elevator and its 1954 annex. The annex construction record is detailed here.

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The Pocahontas annex was built with six 18-foot diameter, 10-foot spread by 130-foot high bins; with a basement; the bins were flat bottomed, built with 30-inch belt conveyors and tripper.

Planned capacity (with pack) was 222,440 bushels; translating to 1,863 bushels of capacity per foot of height. The total reinforced concrete, per plans, was 1,366 cubic yards. Plain concrete for hoppers, per plans, was 9.5 cubic yards, and reinforcing steel used, including jack rods, was 69.59 tons.

The design specified the average quantity of reinforcing steel used for the whole annex, which was 101.89 pounds per cubic yard of concrete.  Actual planned amounts were then itemized for various components of the structure:

Main slab: 27,017 lbs. steel/219 c.y. concrete

Drawform walls: 30,708 lbs. steel/990 c.y. concrete

Overhead bin bottoms: 9,957 lbs. steel/70.5 c.y. concrete

Bin roof and extension roofs: 6,740 lbs. steel/44 c.y. concrete

Cupola walls: 3,747 lbs. steel/33 c.y. concrete

Cupola roof: included in walls

Bridge/Tunnel: 1,020 lbs. steel/9.5 c.y. concrete

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Dimensions and weight of the annex and its components were laid out also. The main slab was 52′ x 60′, for an actual outside area on the ground of 2,946 square feet.

The weight of reinforced concrete, calculated at 4,000 pounds per cubic yard of concrete plus steel, was 2,801 tons. The plain concrete was also calculated at 4,000 pounds per cubic yard and totaled 19 tons. The weight of the hopper fill sand was 177 tons.

When the weight of grain was added to the specifications, at 60 pounds per bushel (for Pocahontas, the grain load would total 6,660 tons), the planned gross weight of the annex could be predicted. Twelve tons of steel and machinery were added to the total, for a planned gross weight, loaded, of 9,669 tons.

From these figures, bearing pressure was calculated to be 3.28 tons per square foot.

To handle all of that pressure, the main slab was made 24 inches thick. It was built with #8 steel, placed at 6″ c.c. spacing. Tank steel and bottoms (for round tanks) used #4 steel at 9″ c.c. spacing.

The drawform walls, with extension, measured 411 linear feet, and 130 feet in height. Cupola dimensions were 16′ x 56′ x 8 1/3′.

Since this was an annex, distribution of grain was accomplished through the main elevator leg and thence by belt conveyors and a tripper. Many of the items expected for elevator specifications were absent for an annex. For machinery, the annex had top and bottom belts, rated at 600’/min or 3,000 bushels per hour. 7 1/2 horsepower drives were used for a total load rate of 9,000 bushels per hour.

Loading rates are key for grain storage operations, since they determine how quickly trucks or rail cars can unload and be on their way. Slow elevators become obsolete. The Pocahontas operation was at the leading edge of technology with its shiny new 1954 annex, and to this day it provides quick, efficient service.

 

 

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.

 

Tillotson Construction’s Mitchellville elevator is a key part of Heartland’s grain operation

The Heartland Cooperative elevator complex at Mitchellville, Iowa.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Mitchellville elevator is visible from Interstate 80, and the rounded head house drew my attention as we headed through Iowa on our way home from our recent trip out West. “Just one more stop, OK, kids?” I said, and they answered with groans. I think I promised ice cream to quell the protest.

The main elevator built by Tillotson Contruction Company of Omaha, with grain drier.

I parked the van, air conditioner running, in a shady spot and hopped out with my camera. Thunderheads threatened nearby, but the storm seemed to be moving off, and the sun peeked out and illuminated the scene. I took advantage of the beautiful light to photograph the elevator.  As I finished up, I saw a truck rounding the corner from an alley into the gravel lot beside the elevator, so I flagged the driver down to ask if he knew anything about it. We were in luck.

The driver introduced himself as Ed Baldwin, a grain truck driver for Webb Farms. He was more than happy to talk about the elevator, having trucked “at least two million bushels” in and out of Michellville. Bill and Stan Webb own the farm, and Ed purchased his truck from their father who used to truck his own grain. Ed gave me a quick outside tour of the elevator property.

The Younglove annex viewed from the driveway.

Ed explained the Heartland Cooperative operation at Mitchellville. He did not know the builder of the “head house,” as he termed the main elevator, but he knew the adjacent annex was built by Younglove in 1972.  The bins had numbers and he pointed out the function of each one. All the way to the left was a new bin with its own leg that was built in the 1980s and used for damaged corn. Immediately to the right of it, on one end of the Younglove annex, was a bin dedicated to soybeans. The rest of the annex held corn, with the main house taking all the wet corn since it gave access to the grain drier.

The Younglove annex is placarded with the date of construction.

During harvest, the employees kept a grueling schedule filling the bins, especially during a wet year. Jim Dietrich, grain manager for Heartland Co-op at Mitchellville, would pull a twenty-four hour shift to accept the grain into the main elevator and dry it. The drier had a capacity of seven thousand bushels per hour, which would limit the amount of grain that could be taken in. Ed said the main house would take seven semi loads per hour of grain that needed to be dried. Shipments from the elevator were by rail, unless capacity was reached and grain needed to be trucked.  Trucking would be the exception for Mitchellville’s operation.

Tillotson Construction hurries to meet deadline in Aurora, Nebraska

Photo by David Wilson

Contracts for new elevators at Aurora and Murphy were let by the Aurora Cooperative Elevator Co. The Aurora 250,000-bushel concrete elevator will be built by Tillotson Construction Co. of Omaha. The 33,000-bushel plant at Murphy will be erected by Black, Sivalls & Bryson, Kansas City, Mo., bolted steel tank construction company. The cooperative has a government contract to store grains for three years and the elevators must be completed by September 15 to meet terms of the contracts. The Murphy elevator will be in use by mid-July.

Farmers’ Elevator Guide, July 1950 

By January of 1955, it was reported that the co-op was operating a new, 271,000-bushel addition built by Tillotson, bringing overall capacity to 551,000 bushels.

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