Uncle Chuck affixes a generator to his memory, and Van Ness Construction comes alive

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Great-grandma Margaret’s general store, Shields, Kan., 1910. Margaret A. Tillotson was Grandpa Charles’s mother. I don’t know why Mother (Margaret Irene) thought it was my Great Aunt Mary’s store. Maggie was a nickname for Margaret, and my Dad would call Mom “Maggie” every once in a while to tease her because he knew she didn’t like it.

By Charles J. Tillotson

I forgot to add in my comments [on company origins] what little I know about Grandpa Charles’s experience with Van Ness Construction.
I’m really stretching the memory, and I have to start with Grandpa Charles’s father:
Charles H. Tillotson was the son of John Wheeler and Margaret A. (Jackson) Tillotson.
John and Margaret to my knowledge had at least six children: Raymond, Charles (grandpa), Bertha, Mary Alice (known as Lovie), Walter, and May.
  1. Raymond took over the homestead.
  2. Charles worked as a carpenter.
  3. Bertha married a telegraph operator.
  4. Mary Alice (Lovie) married Ralston Van Ness, elevator builder.
  5. Walter worked as a landscaper.
  6. May married Zomer Dryden and lived on a farm in Ohio.
My mother used to call Mary Alice, Aunt Lovie, so that is how I remember her. Aunt Lovie married Ralston Van Ness (he was 26 years old) in 1902 in Shields, Kan., where he operated his wooden grain elevator construction business. However, within a year’s time, they had relocated to Omaha where their daughter Mary was born. The couple also had twin daughters who died at birth in 1906 and a son, Ralston, who also died at birth in 1908.
By 1930, Ralston and Mary had built up quite a reputation for the construction of wooden grain elevators, and it was about then that Grandpa Charles went to work for them. I know for sure that Dad also went to work for Ralston as a laborer. (I don’t know about Uncle Joe). I have no exact date for when Ralston passed away, but I think it was around 1935 when I was born. Around 1935 Ralston died and left Aunt Lovie with the business.
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Very interesting that, on my birth certificate from 1935, Dad is listed as a laborer employed by Van Ness Construction, and he had been employed in this work for a period of three years. Dad was listed as 26 years of age and Mom at 31. Place of residence for them (and me) is listed as 624 N. 41 St., Omaha, Neb. That is where Grandpa Charles and Grandma Rose lived and where Dad and Mom bunked up when they were not on a construction job using Dad’s trailer as home.
From what I can determine, Aunt Lovie wanted to continue in the building business, but she wanted to build homes for the growing Omaha community. So Grandpa and Dad gradually finished up the Van Ness contracts and in 1938 decided to form their own company.
Aunt Lovie eventually moved out to California where she built homes in Mill Valley and San Rafael. Although Mom and Dad fell out of contact with her, after my discharge from the Army, in 1957, I  managed to track her down and had a nice visit over the phone. She was in her early 70s by then and wanted to retire. Her daughter, Mary, stayed in Omaha, married Guy Stribling, and they had three children, the youngest was born in 1940. I don’t know if the offspring are still living.
Van Ness Construction Co. built wood grain elevators. Their field of influence was centered in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and a portion of Texas.

Formation of Tillotson Construction Co. pinned down thanks to news clipping

By Ronald Ahrens

We knew Tillotson Construction Co. was formed in 1938 after the death of my great-grandfather, Charles F. Tillotson. Family records show that he died in June of 1938 in New CorpsConcordia, Kan.

Sons Joseph H. Tillotson and Reginald O. Tillotson decided the future lay in reinforced-concrete elevators.

While they may have continued construction and repair of wooden elevators, the company’s construction record shows the first concrete elevator went up at Goltry, Okla., in 1939.

A notice of “New Corporations” in the Sep. 9, 1938 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star announces:

“Tillotson Construction company (sic), Omaha. The construction, erection, repair, reconstruction and rebuilding of grain elevators, storage warehouses and buildings of similar nature and description, $5,000. Joseph H. Tillotson, Reginald O. Tillotson, Rose A. Tillotson.”

Born in the late 1880s as Rose Brennan, Rose A. Tillotson, was the surviving widow of Charles and mother of Reginald and Joe. She died in the 1950s. 

These details help us to construct a timetable while also showing the Tillotson brothers took bold steps to embrace new techniques and processes, moving the family enterprise forward.

Thank you to blog follower Suzassippi for passing along this clipping.

Although feeling the strain, Tillotson’s elegant 1948 elevator stands tall at Richland, Neb.

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By Ronald Ahrens

The handsome 52,000-bushel elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built in 1948 at Richland, Neb., has “pretty much turned into an OSHA nightmare.” 

Nebraska 2020So reported Todd Henke, who manages the Richland location for Cooperative Supply Inc.

“They’re so concerned about dust explosions,” Henke said. And it’s no surprise, not “with the electrical and how they [elevators] were built.” Keeping clean inside is a big emphasis. 

The old elevator–rated at 3,169 tons gross weight when fully loaded–was full at the time of our phone call on Feb. 3. Henke described its intermittent use, which he attributed as much to limited capacity as to general creakiness.

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Rose Ann Fennessy paces off the driveway on the chilly morning of Jan. 4.

The leg, for example, is “very slow,” running at 2,000 bushels per hour. Original specifications indicate a theoretical maximum of 5,700 bushels and actual capacity (80 percent of theoretical) of 4,555 bushels.

“If we max it out we maybe could do 2,500,” Henke said, pointing out the elevator was built in the day of 100-bushel wagons and 300-bushel trucks. It’s more common for today’s truck to bear up to 1,200 bushels, making for tight accommodations in the 13-foot-wide driveway.

The heavy rigs, as well as massive trains rumbling by, shake and stress the whole building.

And days of loading rail cars at the siding have ended.

“Years ago the main problem was loading six cars. Now that feature, we had to take that spout down from cracking.” The insurance company requested it. 

Not to mention that the scale of things has changed so much. “These days, if you don’t load 100 cars, it isn’t worth doing.” 

Do people ever comment about the cupola (headhouse) being rounded at the south end? 

“I’ve been here a very long time and don’t notice it,” Henke said. He started as a bookkeeper in 1990. “I imagine they kept that north side more square because of the leg.”

Tillotson was still experimenting with rounding the cupola in 1948 and gradually extended this design to general use.

Our other question concerned the note in company records saying, “Water.” We take this to mean groundwater seeped into the 10-foot 6-inch excavation. So is there any problem with moisture in the basement?

Henke said no–another indication of a well-built Tillotson elevator continuing to do the job.

 

In Richland, Neb., Tillotson made a handsome, early experiment with a curved headhouse

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By Ronald Ahrens

Located between Schuyler and Columbus on U.S. 30, Richland is a blowing-away little hamlet with nothing of interest save for the handsome grain elevator at 310 E. Front Street. Rose Ann Fennessy and I pulled in just before lunch on Jan. 4 to look it over.

Nebraska 2020Cooperative Supply Inc. operates the location, and the elevator appears to be in good working order. 

Records show this as one of the first four elevators Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, put up in Nebraska. Minatare, in Scotts Bluff County, was built in 1941. It has been documented in our blog by Kristen Cart.

To the far northwest, Rushville came along in 1947.

Polk and Richland, built in 1948, were based on the plan of Goltry, Okla.–Tillotson’s first elevator of reinforced concrete, put up nine years earlier.

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Other Tillotson elevators of 1948 were in Moscow, Rolla, and Montezuma, Kan.; Manchester, Okla.; Springfield, Colo.; and Cavalier, N.D. 

The Goltry plan as modified for Richland included four tanks (silos) 12 feet in diameter rising 86 feet in height. (The tanks at Polk were 10 feet taller.) Richland’s shorter tanks meant 52,000 bushels capacity instead of 60,000. This is one of Tillotson’s smallest elevators. Eva, Okla., of 1947, is the smallest at 13,500 bushels.

But Richland, unlike Cedar Bluffs, Neb., was a full-featured elevator. The center driveway measured 13 x 18 feet, and six bins were positioned over the drive. In all, there were 14 bins and a dust bin.

A full basement, electrical room, and motorized manlift were included. One curiosity is that we did not find manholes on the outside of the tanks, so there were no embossed plates to offer their confirmation of the builder’s identity. We suspect the cleanout holes are located on the interior, as at Booker, Tex., and elsewhere.

After 1946, our records omit information about cost, but we do know that Goltry (without an electrical room) was a $21,522.97 total-cost job less commission.

One note on Richland says only, “Water.” In the Platte Valley, this is no surprise and means that the modest pit depth of 10 feet 6 inches was likely an ordeal to achieve, requiring much pumping.

A second note is significant for architectural progress. “One End Round on Cup.,” it says. As we see, indeed, the cupola (headhouse) does have a rounded end on the south. We have tried to pin down the origin of Tillotson’s signature design, and now we know Richland is a contender for the honor.

The cupola’s windows each have a lintel to add character.

Cavalier, also a 1948 job, was “Winter Const.,” according to a note, leading us not only to shudder at the thought of a continuous pour in a northern Great Plains winter but also to surmise that what was learned at Richland was applied in full at Cavalier. The photo shows a fully rounded cupola.

It was rewarding to find the significant Richland elevator in good condition. The next post will include more specifications.

A quick look at the Aurora, Neb., elevator built by Tillotson Construction in 1950

Our friend Rose Ann Fennessy passed through Aurora, Nebr., recently and stopped to take photos of the Tillotson elevator there.

Aurora was built at 246,070 bushels following the Palmer, Iowa, plan established that same year of 1950. This entailed eight tanks (silos) of 18-foot diameter and rising 120 feet.

There were 22 internal bins and a dust bin.

The cupola (headhouse) was 23 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 40 feet high. Being so tall, the elevator had a leg with pulley centers at 160.5 feet apart, and it could move a lot of grain–7,500 bushels per hour in theoretical capacity, 6,000 bushels per hour when running at 80 percent.

It’s obvious that additional storage has been built since the main house went up.

We thank Rose Ann for the photos.

Tillotson’s Cedar Bluffs, Neb. elevator did without such luxuries as a central driveway or full basement

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By Ronald Ahrens

The reinforced-concrete elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built for Farmers Union Cooperative Association for $60,000 in 1950 did without expensive options like an integrated central driveway, a full basement, and an electrically operated manlift. But it was still a substantial and well-made structure that continues in operation in Cedar Bluffs, Neb.

Nebraska 2020Today, according to Randy Carlholm, the co-op’s general manager and CEO, an electrically driven manlift serves in place of the original hand-operated one. Farmers deposit grain in the external enclosure, and it is conveyed below ground to the leg.

Our records say this elevator had four tanks, or silos, of 16 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. Storage capacity was 130,675 bushels. There were nine internal bins. From outside it appears there are more tanks. Without a walk-through, we are unable to reconcile this discrepancy. Are we talking apples and apples here?

The construction process consumed 1,024 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 44.19 tons of steel.

Another 2.3 yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

The main slab was 21 inches thick and covered an area 46×46 square feet to support a gross loaded weight of 6,365 tons. The pit was 16 feet 7 inches deep.

Atop the tanks, the cupola, or headhouse, measured 14 feet wide, 24 3/4 feet long, and 21 1/2 feet high.

This is a single-leg elevator with the boot and head pulleys spaced 150 feet apart. The boot pulley was 60 x 12 x 2 3/16 inches while the head pulley was 1 1/4 inches wider. The head turned at 40 rpm thanks to a 25-horsepower Howell motor. The pulleys carried an 11-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt with cups 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep spaced 7 1/2 inches apart.

IMG_20200104_100430644_HDRTheoretical leg capacity rated at 5,972 bushels per hour; actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, which rounded off to 4,780 (4,777.6) bushels per hour. This required just 22.3 horsepower.

J.B. Ehrsam and Sons Manufacturing Co. provided the hand-operated manlift.

The dump grate was 6 x 5 feet.

With the 10-bushel load-out scale and 8 1/4-inch spout, we can’t guess how long it would take to fill a rail car with corn, but a fascinating document we found suggests that filling a car with wheat would take about 80 minutes.

 

Farmers Union Cooperative operates a well-preserved Tillotson elevator in Cedar Bluffs, Nebr.

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By Ronald Ahrens

Ace scout Rose Ann Fennessy and I visited five Tillotson elevators in Nebraska’s Saunders and Butler Counties on Jan. 4. 

IMG_20200102_163303436The first was at Cedar Bluffs, a village of 600 overlooking the Platte River. The Farmers Union Cooperative Association location was quiet when we arrived around 9.30 a.m., so we invited ourselves to walk the site and take photos.

Cedar Bluffs is a smart-looking operation, as might be expected from “Nebraska’s Oldest Cooperative Since 1888.” The main house, about to celebrate its 70th birthday, and the annex that came along nine years later appear to be in fine shape.

Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, completed this 130,675-bushel elevator in 1950–a big year in eastern Nebraska: my grandfather Reginald’s company also built elevators in Bellwood, Aurora, Omaha, and Wahoo.

Nebraska 2020The Cedar Bluffs job is noteworthy for its rectangular headhouse. The company’s graceful signature, the oval headhouse, was still to be perfected.

Other elevators built in this same year–namely, Wahoo and Richland–reflect the movement toward ovalization.

Another unusual circumstance is the lack of a central driveway going through the structure. A note with the entry says, “Truck Dump Grate No Dr’way.”

A history on the co-op’s website shows that “Elevator C, the first concrete elevator” was built in 1950 for $60,000. The co-op, which dates from 1888, had paid $10,000 for a steam-powered elevator and sheds in 1915. In 1934, the 40,000-bushel Elevator A was constructed. Six years later, Elevator B was acquired from Updike Grain Co. for $5,000 but was “disposed of” later.

The co-op lists capacity of Elevator C at 110,000 bushels–a discrepancy when compared to Tillotson records.

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Without an integral central driveway, an outside dumping grate serves the elevator, now starting its eighth decade.

Cedar Bluffs was built on an original plan that included four storage tanks of 16 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height.

In 1950, a concrete elevator was a big splurge for a small co-op. Besides no central driveway, Cedar Bluffs did without the luxury of an electrically operated manlift–it was hand-operated.

The 300,000-bushel annex and the grain dryer were added in 1959 for $150,000. It is unknown who did this job; the manhole plates are blank. We do know that Tillotson was pretty much finished with new construction by then.

We hope to learn more. Meantime, this is the first of two posts from Cedar Bluffs. Complete specs will follow.