The 1945 vintage elevator at Lodgepole, Nebraska, and the death of Bill Morris

DSC_0446Story and photo by Kristen Cart

A newspaper article recently came to light that upended our elevator construction timeline, causing us to reconsider the story of the Lodgepole, Neb., elevator and the careers of Joseph H. Tillotson and my grandfather William Arthur Osborn.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, said that the death of Bill Morris, the superintendent on the Lodgepole job, and that of Joe Tillotson, the owner of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, came within a month or so of each other. Now it appears likely that the season was the same, but both fatal car accidents occurred in different years–1945 and 1947–a fact easily misunderstood by the young boy my father was at the time, as he listened to the adults talk about business.

elevator021

We believe this photo by William Osborn is from Lodgepole, Neb.

The article appeared in the Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 8, 1945:

Omahan dies after car accident

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP). W. B. Morris, 36, an employee of the Tillotson Construction company, of Omaha, was fatally injured Saturday night when struck by a car driven by Howard B. Kirk, 48, of Lodgepole, Neb., Deputy Sheriff Arnold Braasch said Sunday.

The deputy sheriff reported Morris was changing a tire on his car about ten miles east of here when the accident occurred. He died in a hospital about five hours later.

Braasch said Morris’ home was in Texas, but that he was living in Lodgepole while working on the construction of a new grain elevator.

County Attorney R. P. Kepler said he will decide on Monday whether an inquest is to be held.

We attributed the Lodgepole elevator’s construction to J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, the independent company Joe Tillotson started after his parting of the ways with Tillotson Construction of Omaha. We wrongly believed that both Bill Morris and Joe Tillotson had died in 1947 while working on the Lodgepole job. Now we know that Bill Morris died in 1945 while working for Joe Tillotson. The new fact pins down the date of Joe’s departure from the Omaha company–a move my grandfather made at the same time.

When interviewed in 1949 about his first, independent, Mayer-Osborn Construction venture in McCook, Neb., William Osborn named a number of elevators he had built before. We still believe all of the elevators Bill Osborn listed were J.H. Tillotson elevators.

According to the McCook article, Bill Osborn said the elevators in Maywood, Traer, Wauneta, and Lodgepole were built in 1945. If the reporter was right about Bill Morris’ employment, all of the 1945 elevators would be too early to be J. H. Tillotson elevators. However, none of them were recorded in the Tillotson Construction specifications and none built in the Omaha company’s style.

The reporter writing about Bill Morris’ death in 1945 was unaware of the freshly minted company Joe Tillotson had started, and wrongly identified Bill Morris as a Tillotson Construction of Omaha employee.

DSC_0369

An early photo of the Lodgepole elevator was kept at the location.

The fact that in 1945, Bill Morris went from a superintendent job at a verified Tillotson Construction project in Giddings, Tex to a superintendent position at the Lodgepole elevator job, a project demonstrably not built by the Omaha company, precisely dates the time Joe Tillotson chose to go out on his own.

The 1945 construction date of the Lodgepole elevator gives us a much more accurate understanding of the birth of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, a venture that lasted about four years, until my grandfather built the McCook elevator for Mayer-Osborn Construction in 1949.

A tragedy took Morris in his prime, but my grandfather stepped into his place, gaining valuable experience as a builder. To this day, the graceful Lodgepole elevator serves as a fitting monument to Morris’ productive career.

Maywood, Nebraska: another Mayer-Osborn landmark meets its end

Photo by Kristen Cart

By Kristen Cart

The old Maywood, Nebraska, elevator with its annex built by Mayer-Osborn Contruction Company of Denver, Colorado, was demolished in March of this year. I had planned the trip to see the elevator before its scheduled demolition in 2013. When we arrived in town, I expected to see the familiar straight-up J. H. Tillotson, Contractor-designed elevator with its annex beside it, but it was nowhere to be found. But I saw bulldozers and a football field-sized area framed with rubble piles, with corn impacted into the flat scraped ground. Not good.

Inside the Ag Valley Co-op office, business was in full swing. A truck pulled up, and a corn sample was vacuumed up and tested inside the building as I watched. Newer elevators were handling all of the grain. Turena Ehlers and Charla Werkmeister, employees of the co-op, told me how it went.

Photo by Julie Cox Hazen

The old Mayer-Osborn annex had a pretty good lean and some leaking problems, so it had been slated for destruction first, with the status of the main elevator left in question. But the main elevator was losing chunks of concrete and was deemed a hazard, so it came down soon after the annex. Forest River Colonies, of Fordville, North Dakota, a Hutterite-owned company, tore down the elevator and its annex, with the scrap going to Columbus Metals in Kearney, Nebraska. My hopes were dashed for recovering an intact manhole cover with my grandfather’s Mayer-Osborn company name on it.

Photo by Julie Cox Hazen

The demolition was quite an event for the town. Carol Wood put together a photo montage and hung it at the Maywood town offices. Bill Schnase picked up pieces of the rubble for his daughter to paint, to preserve the image of the elevator on concrete. Everyone had photos of the demolition. Julie Cox Hazen, Bill Schnase’s niece, shared hers with me.

Luckily, Gary Rich visited the elevator last year, taking photos of it in its last year of useful service. It’s type had been surpassed for a long time by newer, faster grain storage facilities of all kinds.

Most of Grandpa’s smaller projects are reaching the end of their service lives. So we are capturing their last moments, mostly, but not always, in the nick of time.

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.