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

IMG_20200104_095524269

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.

IMG_20200104_100517742

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.

 

 

 

 

Looking to Greenwood from I-80, we see it, twice as tall as the trees

Co-op from Greenwood from I80 overpass IIII

In this photo, our friend Kim David Cooper shows the same refined sense of composition as in his oil paintings. “A different view of your Greenwood elevator,” he says.

The photo’s slug line notes the shot was taken from an overpass on Interstate 80.

Standing at least twice the height of the tallest tree, doesn’t the elevator make a handsome addition to the landscape?

A glimpse of Firth makes us go forth with speculations and an investigation

Firth, NE Cemetery 2012 II

By Ronald Ahrens

As with yesterday’s post, we’re working from a photo sent by Kim Cooper, a friend of this blog who happens to have grain elevators in his heritage, too. He likes to incorporate them into his superb, plein air landscape paintings.

Sometimes Cooper sends pictures.

“Here’s one from Firth, Nebraska,” he said. “Looks like a rounded top.”

Indeed, the rounded headhouse was the signature on Tillotson Construction Co.’s elevators after about 1950.

But other builders could have used this style. We see no mention of Firth in Tillotson’s records. We see Minatare (1941), Rushville (1947), Polk and Richland (1948), Hordville (1949), Bellwood (1950), Cedar Bluffs (1950), Aurora and Omaha and Wahoo (1950), Greenwood and David City and York (1951), Fairfield (1952), Bellwood (340,000 bushels of storage in 1954), and Waverly (1955).

That’s 15 locations. Tillotson built far more elevators in Iowa and Oklahoma than in the company’s home state of Nebraska. But 15 isn’t bad. Based on anecdotal information we also suspect a couple of other locations. 

But after calling up Dennis Kenning, we’ve ruled out Firth as an unrecorded job by Tillotson. Kenning is sales and marketing manager for Farmers Cooperative, which has headquarters in Dorchester, Neb. and dozens of elevators throughout southeastern Nebraska.

Kenning expressed curiosity, looked into the matter, and emailed his findings:

“Here’s what we found out,” he wrote.

  • Constructed sometime in the ’60s
  • Roberts Const Co.
  • Hutchinson Foundry & Steel
  • Sabetha, Kansas

We found Roberts Construction Co. located in Axtell but were unable to reach them. The question arises about Roberts’ design source–were there any Tillotson connections?

In Waverly, Neb., a Ford is older than the Tillotson elevator of 1955

IMG_0264

Once again, our friend Kim Cooper provides a photo, this time from Waverly, Neb.

Six miles farther southwest on U.S. 6 than Greenwood, featured yesterday, Waverly is very close to Lincoln.

The Tillotson elevator seen on the left in the photo was built here in 1955, a few years after the Ford you see on the lower right.

Waverly is one of the last elevators in the company records, which cover the period from 1939 to 1955.

The elevator followed the plan established at Drummond, Okla., in 1950. This meant a single-leg, center-drive house of 199,400-bushel capacity.

To have so much integrated storage, the plan provided for eight tanks of 15.5 feet in diameter rising to 120 feet in height. The cupola, or headhouse, added another 35 feet.

We can only guess at the meaning of four notes in the record:

  1. Main slab including 3″ pile cap 33 c.y.
  2. 8 bin aerat’n tubes
  3. Dryer bin
  4. Piling

The pit was 15 feet 3 inches deep. Perhaps a high water table or unconsolidated subsurface material at Waverly made the pilings necessary.

The photo shows the elevator in remarkable condition.

We welcome our readers’ interpretation of the notes.

Atmospheric view of a classic Tillotson elevator in Greenwood, Neb.

IMG_0148

Our friend Kim Cooper sent this atmospheric photo from Greenwood, Neb. We see a classic Tillotson grain elevator: single leg, center driveway, rounded headhouse.

It was built in 1951 on the plan established at Churdan, Iowa, some two years earlier. While Churdan was 102,000 bushels, Greenwood–which sits on U.S. 6 between Omaha and Lincoln–had 129,000-bushel capacity.

Each of the four tanks was of 14.5 feet in diameter and rose 120 feet. The cupola, or headhouse, went up another 22 feet.

A note in the records says, “Rainy @ start.” We can imagine the difficulty of excavating the 12-foot-deep pit, setting forms in the mud, and getting the project off the ground.

An additional note is more cryptic: “30-inch slab proj.” I don’t know how to explain it, especially because the main slab was 18 inches thick, as at Churdan.

Yet another note says, “Inside steps. Dryer prov. (split bin).” That one the reader can interpret for himself.

A Tillotson granddaughter connects with family history in Waverly, Neb.

By Kate Oshima

As we drove the Interstate east through Nebraska, a tall grain elevator in the town of Waverly caught my eye. It was shimmering white and rose from the floor of the Great Plains like a lone mountain misplaced by nature. My husband, Roger, offered to stop and explore with me because it was built by my maternal grandfather, Reginald Tillotson.

DSC_0323

Photo by Kristen Cart

I approached the building with excitement at being so close to a place my grandfather had once stood. As I gazed upon the structure I had to crane my neck to view the top. I pictured men working up there to complete it, imagining the winds of the Plains blowing around them to try to topple one of them to the ground.

The building seemed somehow familiar to me. It had the same feeling one got when approaching our grandparents’ home. Grandfather had built a cement house for his family in the 1950s. It was in the style of the grain elevators he constructed.

We enjoyed running around the building looking for the identifying metal markers. The markers were round, rusted, but mostly readable. The name Tillotson Construction and the year of construction were emblazoned upon them.

As I stood before the impressive elevator I could only imagine my grandfather walking this exact spot. I was awed at seeing some of the history from my family surviving.

Driving away I had a better appreciation of the work Grandfather Tillotson had been involved in. A bit of history touched me that day and inspired greater appreciation for those who came before.

Another view of Greenwood, Neb., through the eyes of Kim David Cooper

unnamed

In this oil painting, Kim David Cooper captures the vividness of the landscape around Greenwood, Neb. Through the assertive strokes and lively color tones, we sense the day’s pleasantness, the stirring of the breeze, and the fried chicken and cole slaw in the picnic basket.

“When I was going through my files I found another view of Greenwood elevators–forgot about this one,” Cooper says of the work completed in 2012. “It’s 16×20 and long ago sold.”

The elevator on the right was built by Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, in 1951, and it’s unlikely that anyone on the crew imagined the edifice would one day be in a fine-art painting. 

Detail right side

Detail view featuring Tillotson’s 1951 elevator at Greenwood, Neb. and the storage annex.

The 1951 elevator followed the Churdan, Iowa, plan established in 1949. It had four tanks, or silos, of 14.5 feet in diameter rising 120 feet from the ground.

The smallish headhouse measured 17 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 22 feet high.

We have posted about the Greenwood elevator before; all the specs and photos can be found by using this link.

Cooper is proprietor of Cooper Studio & Gallery, at 1526 Silver St. in Ashland, Neb. Phone: 402.944.2022.