Vandals strike Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator, leaving the owners with an expensive cleanup

644369_10152681898735294_1745767005_nSometime overnight on Wednesday, May 4, vandals struck the Vinton Street elevator, painting “Dump Trump” graffiti on the south annex’s upper run. The message caused a sensation Thursday morning.

Tillotson Construction Company completed the original 382,880-bushel elevator in 1950. Extensive annexes were later added. We don’t know when operations ceased, but for the last eight years the elevator on five acres of land has been co-owned by Ron Safarik and Richard Brock, who attempted to make a climbing facility comparable to those established at old elevators in Bloomington, Ill., and Oklahoma City.

In 2012, the Vinton Street elevator received national attention after the annexes served as the canvas for a public art project; a nonprofit organization commissioned artists to create themed banners that were draped over the silos.

Reached by phone, Safarik said he and Brock have tried to secure the property, but intruders found a way to pry through and gain access to the top. “I would presume they used the internal ladders that still exist,” he said.


Photos courtesy of SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures. 

Safarik and Brock will now be stuck with the cleanup bill. Since SILO Extreme Outdoor Adventures, the partners’ venture, closed in 2013, the elevator has been a burden, he said.

It has been listed for sale since 2014. A post on SILO’s Facebook page says, “The Silos and the 5 acres of industrial land are for sale through Ben Pearson at World Group Commercial Real Estate. Any climbing related buyer will receive the holds, bolts, and supporting gear for starting up a climbing club or business.”

Safarik said the asking price remains $150,000.

Although he said he hadn’t known much of the elevator’s history, he did pass along a story heard from an elderly man named Otto, who lived on Vinton Street and “had intricate knowledge” of events.

According to Otto, the only death that occurred at the elevator happened on a freezing night in an unspecified year. The victim, an elevator employee, locked himself out of the scale house. As he tried to pry back into it, he jammed his arm and couldn’t pull free. Found dead in the morning, he was surrounded by cigarette butts. With his free hand, he had managed to smoke his remaining cigarettes before he froze.




A model Tillotson grain elevator is part of Lauritzen’s Model Railroad Garden


Photo courtesy of Lauritzen Gardens

We were happily surprised to hear from Rosemary Lebeda, director of development at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, which is located along the Missouri River at 100 Bancroft St. She found her way to Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators when searching for information about Tillotson Construction Company’s Vinton Street elevator. She wrote:

“I thought you might like to know that a model of the grain elevators is a part of our Model Railroad Garden. This particular garden includes miniature sculptures of historical buildings in Omaha built from natural materials. They are on display throughout the summer and then they are brought inside and displayed as part of our Poinsettia show.

“Families really enjoy seeing the buildings, and the grain elevators are easy to spot. I drive by them almost every day! It was neat to discover your historical page on the web and learn more about the company that built them.

“The Garden is fairly new in comparison to other community attractions such as the zoo or museums. The visitors center opened in 2001 and before that it was pretty much open space.

“Lauritzen Gardens is uniquely positioned as the region’s premier botanical center and garden resource. Situated on 100 acres of lush grounds, the garden exemplifies visionary efforts to provide a quiet, tranquil and serene setting for the study, preservation, and pure enjoyment of some of the region’s most precious resources and flora. Beginning with a grassroots effort to build a garden for the Omaha community, the garden has quickly become a regional destination and has substantiated its position as a major Omaha-area attraction.

“Today, more than twenty themed gardens invite guests to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Nebraska landscape. At Lauritzen Gardens, a diverse palette of plant life combines with fine art, architectural components and water features to create an incredible sensory experience. The grounds change with the seasons and are open year-round for exploration and enjoyment.

“In addition to horticultural displays that inspire, events that entertain and educational programs that cultivate minds of all ages, the garden works to conserve the endangered plants of the Great Plains and to advance the understanding and stewardship of the region’s biological diversity.”




A last farewell to the Tillotson terminal elevator art works on Vinton Street

DSC_0372Story and photos by Kristen Cart

In the last weeks, the unique art project along I-80 in Omaha, Neb., came down as the Vinton Street display was concluded. The Tillotson Construction elevator stands now as it always did, plain and utilitarian, while still graceful in its own way.

As the Vinton Street banners first went up in the two phases of Emerging Terrain’s Stored Potential, first in 2010 and then in 2012, I had the opportunity to visit and photograph them. They had not weathered harsh winters and hard sunlight yet, and were as bright as the artists’ fresh paint.

Here are a few images, as a last tribute to this unique community art project.

The beauty of this project speaks for itself. The elevator now stands denuded of its decoration, yet poised for the next phase of its long and useful life.




Emerging Terrain’s banners come down from the storage silos at Vinton Street

Banners Page 1

By Ronald Ahrens

As these pages from the July 22 edition of the Omaha World-Herald show, the community art project that adorned storage silos at Tilltoson Construction Company’s landmark Vinton Street elevator have been taken down.

The story by Casey Logan explains that various exigencies combined to signal “time’s up” for the displays.

We were fortunate to have visited in 2012 and seen them for ourselves.

And now we ask what’s next for this massive terminal complex?

Banners Page 2





An airplane crash ends Gandy Construction, an early elevator player


The Mayer Osborn company brochure mentions Gaddy (sic) Construction of Omaha

Story by Kristen Cart

My father remembers the grain elevator construction business from earliest childhood. But his childish memories did not distinguish one job from another, so until recently we did not know about the company where my grandfather William Osborn began his career as a carpenter.

Dad said they still lived on the farm when his father went to Kansas City in pursuit of a better opportunity, which dated the event to before 1944. That job was likely with the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha. Before then, Grandpa’s Mayer Osborn Construction brochure said he worked for Gaddy (sic) Construction of Omaha. It was difficult to come up with any information about them, until we located a clipping that marked a tragedy.

The newspaper account related:

Plane Crashes at Lexington, Omahan Killed

Lexington, Neb., (AP). Ralph Arden Gandy, 41, head of an Omaha construction firm, died Saturday night after the light plane he was piloting crashed near here.

Tommy Johnson, a Gandy construction company foreman, was injured in the crash.

W. H. Pfiefer, Lexington funeral director, said Gandy’s plane took off from a field on the farm of Dennis O’Connor, a cattle feeder who lives six miles northeast of here.

After the takeoff, the funeral director said, the plane stalled and crashed on a road. Both men were thrown free of the wreckage.

Gandy died a short time after the crash in the Community hospital of Lexington.

Johnson received a broken jaw and chest injuries. He was removed to the Methodist Hospital in Omaha by ambulance Sunday night.

The Gandy firm had built a grain elevator on the O’Connor farm, Pfiefer said, and Gandy and Johnson had been at the farm inspecting it. The plane was taking off to return to Omaha when it crashed.

Gandy is survived by his widow, Clara, and four children.

The Nebraska State Journal, Lincoln, Neb.,  Aug. 1, 1949.

William Osborn worked with Loren Saunders, his brother-in-law, at a job in Omaha before he took the opportunity in Kansas City, according to my dad. It seems likely that the Gandy company was that job.

A chance encounter with a Tillotson elevator in Jamestown, Kansas


Sporting a fresh coat of paint, the trademark Tillotson elevator with its curved headhouse still operates. 

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

On our last elevator road trip, which our family embarked upon in October 2012, we visited many of our grandfathers’ elevator projects from the 1940s and 50s. But we also amassed a photo collection of elevators we could not place. Either the grain cooperatives were closed for business on a Sunday, or the elevators were retired, or we didn’t have time to stop for an interview. So the photos languished for most of a year, until Ronald Ahrens and I could identify them, even though we strongly suspected that the structures were the works of one of our grandfathers.

One of the mystery elevators was a pure white example, located in the north-central Kansas town of Jamestown. Ronald’s uncle, Tim Tillotson, recently handed us the Omaha builder’s construction specifications, which finally identified this handsome elevator as a project built in 1953 by the Tillotson Construction Company.

A smaller elevator stands on a branch of the rail line. It's builder is unknown.

A smaller elevator stands on a branch of the rail line. It’s builder is unknown.

The Jamestown elevator stands not far from a companion elevator, rising alone on a fork of the railroad track. The smaller elevator was built in a straight-up style that predates the more common Tillotson style, and it’s provenance is unknown. It is reminiscent of the style of the elevator built by Tillotson Construction in Greenwood, Neb., but without the curved headhouse. But it also recalls several Chalmers and Borton examples.

It is our good fortune to have the detailed specifications for the Jamestown elevator. Thanks to the Tillotson Company’s meticulous record keeping and the decades-long survival of the records, we can share the construction details of this remarkable structure. The specifications, for the engineering-minded among our readers, are presented below.

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 155,320 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 1581 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 1530 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers & liner) 17 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 69.38 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 90.6 pounds

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 4260 lb/52 cu yd

Main slab 19,427 lb/160 cu yd

Drawform walls 89,400 lb/1107 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1997 lb/18.5 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 5236 lb/28.5 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 3175 lb/24 cu yd

Bin roof & extended roofs (or corner) 5139 lb/37.4 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) 292 lb/4.8 cu yd

Cupola walls 4897 lb/52.5 cu yd

Distributor floor 1530 lb/11 cu yd

Cupola roof 2207 lb/14 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.) 1205 lb/20.3 cu yd (excluding track scale)

(At the head of the column on the next page, the Jamestown elevator was described thus: “Clifton Imo plan; Like Meno but split dust bin for Bin #17”)

Construction details

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 54 x 51 feet

Main slab area (actual outside on ground) 2625 square feet

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4000#/cu yd + steel) 3130 tons

Weight of plain concrete (4000#/cu yd) 34 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000#/cu yd) 684 tons

Weight of grain (at 60# per bushel) 4660 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 18 tons

Gross weight loaded 8526 tons

Bearing pressure 3.25 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 21 inches

Main slab steel (bent) 1 in diameter at 7 inch o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) 0.5 inch diameter at 12 inch o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls 514 feet including exterior

Height of drawform walls 120 feet

Pit depth below main slab 15 feet 9 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside W x L x Ht.) 22.25 x 42.5 x 26 feet

Pulley centers 152.66 feet

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 feet

Dump grate size 2 @ 9 feet wide

Columns under tanks size 16 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

(The remaining specs were noted “same as Meno.” The Meno specifications are given below.)

Machinery Details

Head pulley 72 x 14 x 4 7/16 inches

Boot pulley 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches

R.P.M. head pulley 42 rpm

Belt 14 inch 6 ply Calumet

Cups 12 x 6 inch at 9 inch o.c. Howell

Head drive 40 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 7500 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 6000 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 27.75 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower Ehr

Load out scale 10 bushel Rich

Load out spout 10 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr.

Cupola spouting 8.25 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Bin

Cupola Spouting 10 inch W.C.

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor Not required

(Items below were listed for Meno; it is not clear whether these were also built at Jamestown)

Also Built

60 foot 50 ton scale: 40 cu yd

2 sk’ing spts (scaffolding supports?)

A house of slip-formed concrete was Reginald Tillotson’s pet project in 1950

Tillotson Home

By Ronald Ahrens

An early post on this blog included John Hassman’s recollection of design and construction of the house Reginald Tillotson built on a hilltop north of Omaha’s Florence neighborhood:

“While in the office I [was] trained by the office engineer to design buildings and was the major designer with R.O. to build his new home in Florence, Neb. Many mornings he would arrive with new ideas of what he wanted changed in the house, and we would start all over. Starting in Nov. 1950 we began construction on the new house. The foremen were kept busy in the winter doing that work. All using a concrete house with the ideas we used in Elevator Const. That was the coldest, windiest place to work in December. I left to go the the Air Force because I was about to be drafted in the middle of the Korean War.” 

The house, of course, still stands, and is the home of Michael Tillotson, youngest son of Reginald and Margaret.

It did not incorporate Tillotson Construction’s signature rounded headhouse!

As a grandchild who spent a lot of time there, I always though it was remarkable because of the use of glass blocks as a design feature. The entire second floor was reserved as a music and game area. And despite the single garage door, there was a second “lane” to the right when you drove in.

But Uncle Mike always had it blocked with his relics.

In Wahoo, Nebr., Tillotson’s elevator finds new life as a cell tower for AT&T

The Wahoo, Nebraska elevator, built by the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Nebraska

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Another stop on my recent elevator trip was Wahoo, Nebraska. Dad tipped me off that it might be one of Tillotson’s projects. Wahoo is the seat of Saunders County, where Dad lives, and he frequently has occasion to stop there.

Wahoo’s elevator, at first glance, appeared unused. It was closed up tight, and the only indication of any activity was a sign warning workers to stay at least three feet away from any antenna, and to contact AT&T before performing any maintenance or repairs near their equipment.  Ah, hah!  Then I noticed the wires running to the top of the structure. I walked around the elevator, taking pictures.

Next door to the building was a Pet Rescue center, and as a woman was leaving there with a little dog in her arms, I asked her about the elevator.  While she did not know the builder, she said the elevator was privately owned by David Rood, and that at present, the elevator was full of corn.  But she commented that he probably made more money from the AT&T installation. I had heard of cell antennas being installed in every kind of tall building–even church steeples–but it had never occurred to me to look for them atop an elevator.

The next circuit around the elevator produced the answer I was looking for. Right there, adjacent to the sidewalk, in bright blue paint, was a manhole cover.

Some neighborhood teens were hanging around the street, in their cars, and when they saw me kneeling, taking the manhole cover shot, one of the boys shouted out, “What are you doing?”

“Taking pictures of the elevator!” I said.

The young man wanted to know why. When I said it was for a blog, I guess that was enough for him. Anyway, his attention went back to something on his cell phone.

The Wahoo elevator is an attractive feature of the town, fitting naturally with the older buildings along the main street. A man at a local pub, seeing my camera, popped out and said curiosity got the better of him. I told him what I was doing there. I guess a tourist with a camera along the street is a little unusual. And Nebraskans, by nature, like to know who is about.

Tillotson’s Vinton Street shows just how neighborly an elevator can be

Story and Photo by Ronald Ahrens

So many elevators are in small towns that visiting one in a big city is a bracing experience.

Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator is at the bottom of a hill right in the midst of an Omaha residential neighborhood. The concrete silos stretch two whole blocks from Vinton on the north to Valley Street on the south.

The southernmost of the annexes leans hard against Interstate 80’s westbound lane.

To the east are bungalows and yards and gardens on the downslope from 32nd Street to 34th Street.

And the resident of any of the houses to the west, going uphill from 35th Street, get a whole faceful of imposing grain elevator.

Viewing Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator from the ground up in Omaha

Story and photos by Ronald Ahrens

One word stays in mind after my May 10 visit to Tillotson Construction Company’s Vinton Street elevator in Omaha: mighty. This elevator exudes mightiness.

The headhouse soars to an exaggerated height, towering above the residential neighborhood and looking down upon Interstate 80, which is just 100 yards to the south. 

The delicately rounded corners present a contrast to the otherwise stalwartly rectilinear character of the tower. From the look of it, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn there were offices up there: people tapping away at keyboards, making trades, issuing policies.

It looks modern and well-designed and I can imagine how proud the Tillotsons were when they completed it.

I don’t know what year this was built. During my first twenty-one years, which were spent in Omaha, I passed this elevator umpteen times without having any idea that my grandfather’s company had built it.

Now knowing what I do, finding the manhole covers with the company’s name was a thrill.

Not knowing many other things, it would be interesting to learn the answer to questions about the elevator’s various fixtures and appurtenances. What is that big jobbie-do at the very top and when was it set there? Why are the windows located where they are?

Of course the Vinton Street elevator has received national attention because the annexes have become the canvas for a public art project; the nonprofit organization Emerging Terrain has commissioned artists to create themed banners that have been draped over the silos, and in fact a crew was just finishing up the last hanging when I arrived.

It’s a pity to see the elevator in disrepair, and I found myself wishing it would receive some attention, too.

Oh, what a fresh coat of paint and new panes of glass would do for the appearance!