Tillotson Construction kicks off the 1950s with ubiquitous designs

Albert City, Iowa, ca. 1954

Albert City, Iowa, circa 1954.

Story by Kristen Cart

In the last post we studied the oddball Tillotson elevators that sprouted during the 1940s, the most creative period of elevator design. It was a time of multiple plans and innovations, and as the 1950s dawned, unworkable plans were dropped and popular designs emerged.

A surprising number of elevator ideas survived however, some with new names, as the Tillotson brand retained its distinctive features. Advances in engineering dominated the 1950s as elevator styles settled into lines that typified their makers.


Dallas Center, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart.

You can generally spot a Tillotson elevator by its rounded headhouse. Other subtle details are also telling trademarks. These style points became so common because a large portion of Tillotson’s building in the 1950s followed established designs, tweaked here and there for individual customers, without deviating greatly from the most popular plans.

We will examine the first of these enduring plans, which crossed over from the late 1940s, in this post.

Flagler by Gary Rich

Photo by Gary Rich.

Dike Plan:

This design was rolled out in 1947 with the elevator at Satanta, Kan., which had a 250,000-bushel capacity. No corresponding Dike, Iowa elevator is mentioned in our records, but presumably it was built (although I speculate whether the original Dike proposal sat on a desk without ever being approved, while Satanta’s updated elevator proceeded, thus the naming convention).


Photo by Kristen Cart.

The basic Dike elevator, with 252,000-bushel capacity, was built at Randall, Iowa (1949); West Bend, Iowa (1949); Pocahontas, Iowa (1949); Bushland, Tex. (1950); Pond Creek, Okla. (1950); Seibert, Colo. (1950); and Flagler, Colo. (1950). They all look like the typical Tillotson elevator, but with a larger-than-usual rounded headhouse.

The Satanta, Kan. (1947), and Gruver, Tex. (1947) elevators were built with a revised Dike plan, which was renamed the Satanta plan. They could be filled to a capacity of 250,000 or 265,000 bushels, respectively–the two elevators differed by five feet of draw-form height. Springfield, Colo. (1948); and Kildare, Okla. (1950); were also built with 250,000-bushel capacity using the Satanta (variously named Dike) plan.

The Pocahontas, Iowa, elevator, built using the Dike plan, got its own plan designation also. Into the mid-’50s, several elevators were built using the Pocahontas plan specifications: Albert City, Iowa (1954); Goldfield, Iowa (1954); Rockwell City, Iowa (1954); Thornton, Iowa (1955); and Dallas Center, Iowa (1955). Each could hold 252,000 bushels of grain.

Pocahontas, Iowa

Pocahontas, Iowa. Photo by Kristen Cart.

Because we are missing a page of the specifications for elevators built in 1954-1955, we do not know whether other elevators followed this plan, though I suspect some did.

The Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha continued to build for at least four years after our records ended. But reconstructing those records is a project for another time. In the next post, we will look at the Churdan and Jackson plans that originated in the late 1940s.


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


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.


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.


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


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.



A Tillotson skyscraper dominates corn country in Randall, Iowa


Story and photos by Kristen Cart

During every elevator scouting trip, there comes a fork in the road where we choose which elevator to see, and which to save for another time. On the way home from Nebraska this summer we came to such a place at the junction of Iowa Route 175 and US 69 in central Iowa. To the north I could see the silhouette of an elevator at Jewell, and just east from Jewell, across the South Skunk River, the town of Ellsworth beckoned. But as I checked my map, to the south I saw Randall, which was a familiar name. I elected to turn south onto US 69.

The name should have been familiar, because it is found in several places in the Tillotson Construction Company records. The elevator in the central Iowa town of Randall was built in 1949 using the “Dike Plan.”


The elevator commands the Randall skyline

In the company records for subsequent projects at West Bend and Pocahontas, Iowa, both built using the Dike plan, the quantities of concrete and steel and the machinery details were summarized with the shorthand, “Like Randall,” for each project. The Dike plan was widely used for Tillotson’s quarter-million-bushel elevators.

The Randall elevator and its annexes overlooked a silent street of empty storefronts on that quiet Sunday. The co-op office looked new and efficient. The town was a perfect snapshot of the principle of economy-of-scale: the small business, like the small farm operation, must grow, combine forces, or die.

We have the construction records for Randall’s elevator and its siblings in West Bend and Pocahontas, which vary in minor details. Randall’s specifications follow.


The Randall Lumber Co. appears to be a survivor of the economic slump.



Capacity per plans (with Dock): 252,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 2,520 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 2,066 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 40 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (including jack rods): 109.37 tons

Average steel per cubic yard reinforced concrete: 106 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans:

Below main slab: 4,637 pounds steel, 40 cubic yards concrete

Main slab: 39,291 pounds steel, 266 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 129,000 pounds steel, 1,430 cubic yards concrete

Work and Driveway floor (including columns): 3,700 pounds steel, 24 cubic yards concrete

Deep bin bottoms: 11,832 pounds steel, 58 cubic yards concrete

Overhead Bin bottoms: 4,876 pounds concrete, 30 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof (or garner): 8,791 pounds steel, 56 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor (complete): none

Cupola walls: 8,404 pounds steel, 92 cubic yards concrete

Distributor floor: 1,848 pound steel, 11 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: 2,360 pounds steel, 18 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 3,000 pounds steel, 30 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway: 1000 pounds steel, 11 cubic yards concrete (driveway extension, walls and roof)

DSC_0664Construction details

Main slab dimensions (drive length first dimension): 60′ x 72 1/2′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 4,200 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard plus steel): 4,241 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 74 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 985 tons

Weight of grain (at 60 pounds per bushel): 7,560 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 12,880 tons

Bearing pressure: 3.06 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 21″

Main slab steel: bent 1″ square at 7″ o. c. spacing

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 1/2″ diameter at 9″ o. c. spacing

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 655 excluding extension

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: 14’9″

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 24 1/2′ x 50 1/4′ x 40′

Pulley centers: 165.25′

Number of legs: 1

Distributor floor: yes

Track sink: yes

Full basement: yes

Electrical room: yes

Driveway width clear: 12′

Dump grate size: 2 at 9′ x 6′ and 9′ x 14′

Column under tanks size: 20″ square

Boot legs and head: concrete

DSC_0635Machinery details

Boot pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 2 3/16″

Head pulley: 72″ x 14″ x 3 15/16″

R.P.M. Head pulley: 42

Belt: 355′, 14″ 6 ply Calumet

Cups: 12″ x 6″ at 8 1/2″ o. c. spacing

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower [3 circled here]

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturers rating): 7,920 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical rating): 6,340 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15% for motor): 32 horsepower

Man lift: 2 horsepower Ehr.

Load out scale: 10 Bu. Rich.

Load out spout: 10″ w.c.

Cupola spouting: 10″ diameter 14 gauge

Truck lift: 7 1/2 horsepower Ehr.

Dust collector system: Fan to bin

Driveway doors: 2 overhead rolling

Conveyor: provision


3 bin distributor under scale

Provision for hopper scale





‘Walking the plank’ on the new Pocahontas, Iowa, elevator in 1954


By Charles J. Tillotson

Safety and the preservation of life have become much more important in today’s world of construction. However, during the 1940s and 1950s, the urgent need to build grain storage coupled with the fact that most elevators were built in very rural areas meant that safety was secondary to getting the job done.

A case in point was a personal experience I had while working in Pocahontas, Iowa.

As with most small towns, the labor pool was rather limited to itinerant farmhands and workmen passing through town. Scaffolding and access walkways were pieced together in a very haphazard way–the means to an end.

One day I was working “up top” of the newly built grain tanks and needed to cross over from the new tanks to the deck of the existing elevator. The distance between the two structures was probably eight feet. To span the gap, two 2×12 planks were placed down between the two structures.

As I began my “walk the planks,” I stubbed my toe on the butt end of one of them. Accordingly, I stumbled forward–but was fortunate enough to regain my footing and continued on across to the other structure.

I realized then how easy it would be to make a misstep and end up at the bottom of the chasm.

Map of Iowa highlighting Pocahontas County

Map of Iowa highlighting Pocahontas County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While working in Pocahontas I met a young man, a few years older than I, who had been passing through town on his way back to his home in Hinton, Iowa. His name was Marv, and he had signed on as a carpenter. It was refreshing to me when I met Marv, as he seemed to be a person who was not only a good worker but an intelligent one as well.

When the summer came to an end I had to return to school, and so I said my good-byes to Marv and all the crew on the job. Later that year I learned that Marvin Richards had fallen to his death on the Hinton job (Tillotson-built) while attempting to cross over between two structures.

Hearing the news of his death, I assumed he was the same person I had encountered.

That same summer, Larry Ryan, the hoist operator working for Tillotson Construction Company on the Pocahontas job, had a similar mishap. During Larry’s break from the hoist, he decided to go up through the existing elevator terminal and cross over to the new construction to deliver a piece of angle iron needed by someone up top.

Again, somehow he lost his balance on the planking, and he, too, fell to his death.

It was eerie to think about how, more than once, I had come so close to doing the same thing and just how dangerous an act this was. On the other hand, the concept was fairly simple and straightforward: two 2×12 planks, side by side, laid down between two structures and spanning a distance of only six or eight feet. Not much to it – but only if you don’t slip, stumble, or in some way lose your balance!

At minimum, there should have been a safety railing on one or both sides of the planking.

But, back then, there just wasn’t enough attention given to safety and the value of human life.

Of course, I learned a valuable lesson in precaution and safety from these incidents, which I carried with me throughout my construction career.

Approval and completion of a concrete elevator in Pocahontas, Iowa

POCAHONTAS–The Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator has approved final plans for construction of a 250,000 bushel storage plant. The new elevator will consist of eight tanks, 20 feet in diameter and 120 feet high with a cupola to project more than 20 feet above the tanks. Each of 17 bins will hold about 15,000 bushels. Their present elevator has a capacity of 60,000 bushels while the Havelock branch elevator holds 40,000. The new plant should be finished about Sept. 1.Farmers’ Elevator Guide, June 1949
POCAHONTAS–The New 250,000-bushel concrete elevator which cost the Farmers Cooperative association $125,000 is completely filled with soybeans stored for customers and corn stored for the government. The structure is 120 feet high. The Pocahontas cooperative, one of the leading groups in northwest Iowa, plans to build a new truck scale, a new office and a new (illegible) house next spring.Farmers’ Elevator Guide, December 1949
Note: Tillotson Construction Company worker Larry Ryan fell to his death here in 1954.

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...