The Minatare, Nebraska, concrete elevator mystery solved

The Minatare elevator was an intriguing photography subject.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

My dad, Jerry Osborn, and I were traveling in western Nebraska on a three-day road trip to visit old friends and family when we happened upon the Minatare elevator built by Tillotson Construction. I immediately suspected that it was a special find. I asked my dad to be prepared for an afternoon of investigation, so after our visit with his cousins in Scotts Bluff, we began our inquiry in earnest.

Our first view of the elevator.

The name Minatare rang a bell, and I thought it might be home to an early elevator, catalogued in the Tillotson Construction Company records. But I didn’t have any way to check, being well out of cellphone range, and began to doubt my memory. Perhaps Minatare’s elevator was featured in an early postcard, one of hundreds I had examined on Ebay, while looking through old elevator images. I couldn’t remember where I had seen the name before.

Only the old-fashioned gumshoe method was going to work. Dad went along on our mission in good humor. For a good part of it, he spent his time comfortably hanging out in the air-conditioned car, while I called upon local people and shot every possible camera view.

So how do you check out a mystery elevator? After copious photos, you check out the town office. If the town clerk smiles, shrugs, and sends you down the hall to the library, which is closed, then you go (on her advice) to the local tavern. If you are lucky, the owner is intrigued and makes some calls. Pop into the library when it opens. Jump into and out of the car, drive a few blocks, get Dad a coke from the tavern, where the owner sends you to the next place. Touch base at the new place on the way out of town–then leave, still scratching your head.

It was a fairly typical visit.

No one I talked to in town remembered when the elevator had been in operation. The secretary at the town hall was standing in for someone else, and was relatively new in town. The local policeman laughed and shook his head when I asked him about it. He was a recent resident, too. One young person offered a tidbit–she said that the interior of the elevator might have been seen by teenagers at one time or another. It wasn’t a mystery to everyone in town, apparently. Too bad it was shut up tight, with no one around, so we couldn’t see the inside for ourselves.

A 1940s parade photo shows the elevator in its early years.

The librarian was very helpful. She kept the library open for a very short time because of her poor health, but she pointed us in the right direction. The town of Minatare was featured in a newly published local history, “Minatare Memories,” published by the Minatare Historical Committee. It had a short mention of a concrete elevator built in 1924. That information didn’t fit with any elevator that was of interest to us–it was way too early for a Tillotson job. We thought perhaps the 1924 date pertained to an earlier wooden elevator, the first one erected in the town, but at that moment we weren’t sure.

However, she offered a bookshelf filled with boxes of photographs, among them unattributed parade photos, taken a long time ago. In the parade photos were vintage cars, motorcycles, and best of all, the Minatare movie house marquee with the movie playing at the time, “California,” starring Barbara Stanwyck. In the background, behind the parade, stood the gleaming white Minatare elevator. The photos were thereby dated to about 1947, the latest date the elevator could have been completed.

The movie marquee dates the parade more precisely. The movie, “California,” came out in 1947.

The tavern owner, Dennis Wecker, offered more information on our second visit. He had made some calls, and he now knew the name of the company that owned the elevator–Kelley Bean. He gave us a contact and a location. On our stop at the bean facility, two workers in the office said the general manager at the Minatare location, Chris Hassel, had gone on vacation.

Dad and I left, still scratching our heads, and thinking about dinner. We had a drive ahead of us.

Kelley Bean is the current owner of the property.

It wasn’t until later when I conferred with my blogging partner, Ronald Ahrens, that we had an answer to the elevator’s provenance. He looked up the Minatare elevator in the Tillotson construction records and delightedly reported that it was not only the work of his grandfather, Reginald Tillotson, but it was an early one, built in 1941 very soon after the company was founded.

Eureka! It was a great find, and worthy of another visit. We will stop again and thank everyone who helped us tell its story.

Jerry Osborn, my dad and great traveling companion.

 

 

The elevator and its Tillotson annex preside in sleepy Dike, Iowa

The old elevator sits beside its wooden predecessor, as it did in 1946

The old elevator sits beside a wooden elevator, as it did in 1946

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

We took a number of elevator detours on our return home from a Nebraska trip, where we delivered our daughter to her summer veterinary camp. During the four-day program presented by Oxbow Animal Health, she learned the inner workings of a cow, and lovingly operated on and sutured a stuffed bunny. Apparently there is no such experience offered to children in Illinois.

The trip home was a meandering route with a number of switchbacks, with elevators built by Tillotson Construction, of Omaha, spaced every few miles. One elevator stop on our sojourn was Dike, Iowa, in the central part of the state. This fascinating site was the last one we saw before the light failed. We were racing a line of weather, and as the sun sank the clouds built and made for very flat light.

DSC_0721It is enlightening to see an elevator complex in person and compare it with an early photograph. The changes wrought in almost seventy years can be surprising, but even more unexpected can be the features that remain the same.

At Dike, you immediately notice a wooden structure behind the main structure. Strangely, it does not appear to be the same elevator that appears in the old photograph. Why would the co-op replace a wooden elevator with another one? The obvious answer would be a fire, but if wood was obsolete, why continue to build with that material?

In my travels, I have rarely come across a wooden elevator that was built before the 1940s and still in use today. Technology rendered the old ones obsolete, and wear and tear made them difficult to operate. Fire also took many of them. Now, wooden elevators built as late as the 1970s are coming down as more valuable uses are found for their wood, and as regulations make them harder to license.

The main house of Tillotson Construction's elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

The main house of the elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (Tillotson Construction’s annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

Dike’s concrete elevator was built in 1946, and it came with an unusual (for Tillotson) headhouse. In the one place where we found a similar example, at St. Francis, Kan., the elevator built by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, sported a rectilinear headhouse. Though it was replaced much later, early pictures show that the St. Francis headhouse was built in that style.

Both the old Omaha company and its later offshoots preferred curved architecture because it was more economical to build.

So the Dike elevator was a non-typical construction, and we know from its early photo that it started out that way. Since we have no record of it in our Tillotson company records, we have to assume it was built by another company. But the Omaha company led by Reginald Tillotson built the annex.

DSC_0702Tillotson Construction arrived on scene in 1949 to add the annex just three years after the main house was built. In the late 1940s, when elevators were filled just as fast as they could be built, annexes sprung up almost before the concrete cured on the original elevators.

The Dike, Iowa, annex specifications

Capacity per plans (with pack): 200,700 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,859

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,255 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 3 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (including jack rods): 73.56 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of concrete: 117.2 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete per plans:

Below main slab: None

Main slab: 23,665 pounds steel and 218 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 94,152 pounds steel and 880 cubic yards concrete

Work and drying floor: None

Deep bin bottoms: None

Overhead bin bottoms: 18,156 pounds steel and 56 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof: 4,223 pounds steel and 32 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor: None

Distributor floor: 3,570 pounds steel and 30 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: Steel included in above amount, and 21 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (Boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 500 pounds steel and 4 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway (for Dike plans, lower tunnel indicated here): 363 pounds steel and 14 cubic yards concrete

Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 46 1/2′ x 68′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 2,955 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) Concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard) plus steel: 2,583 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 6 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 25 tons

Weight of grain (60 pounds per bushel): 6,021 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 5 tons

Gross weight loaded: 8,640 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.93 tons per square inch

Main slab thickness: 24″

Main slab steel (size and spacing): 1″ diameter,  5 1/2″ o. c.

Tank steel and bottom–round tanks (size and spacing): 5/8″ diameter, 9″ o. c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 400′ (no drive)

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: None

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 13′ x 93′ x 8′

Pulley centers: None

Number of legs: None

Distributor Floor: None

Track sink: None

Full Basement: Yes

Electrical room: In elevator

Driveway width: None

Dump grate size: None

Columns under tanks: 4 columns 16″ square

Boot Leg and Head: None

Machinery details

Top conveyor: 30″ belt at 500 bushels per minute; 7,800 bushels per hour; 10 horsepower drive; Howell tripper.

Bottom Conveyor: 24″ belt at 600 bushels per minute; 5,800 bushels per hour; 7 1/2 horsepower drive

Remarks

Also built: Extended driveway on elevator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With their works in Estill, South Carolina, Tillotson built big in cotton country

Freshly harvested cotton field in central South Carolina

Freshly harvested cotton field in central South Carolina.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The brightly wrapped cotton bales highlighted an otherwise drab landscape as I traveled the 91 miles south from Columbia to visit the Estill elevator, originally built in 1947. Rain and haze flattened the view. Since it was Sunday when I visited the elevator, few people appeared to be about. It was going to be a photography outing, for better or for worse.

DSC_3487

The Estill elevator, greatly expanded since it was built in 1947, was secured behind barbed wire.

I graduated high school in South Carolina. My impression of the place, after growing up in the western desert, was one of endless dark pine woods, with a brief gaudy display of azaleas and dogwood blooms in springtime.  I didn’t appreciate the raw beauty at the time. Now, on a soggy day, it had a mysterious appeal.

DSC_3431When I learned that the Tillotson Construction Company built an elevator in the state, it came as a surprise. We do not know who built the original house in 1947. Tillotson, according to company records, built the 225,000-bushel annex and a second, larger elevator, in 1952 and 1953, respectively. The trademark rounded headhouse rises above the 350,000 bushel elevator, built to finish the concrete elevator complex.

Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. outlined the history of the Estill elevator in his article for the Hampton County Guardian published on December 14, 2010. The article was written to herald the purchase of Carolina Soya by ADM. During its heyday, the elevator stored soybeans for soybean processing, which was part of the operation. Now it is strictly a storage facility for ADM, focusing on soybeans but also accepting corn.

The company laid off staff upon acquiring the facility in 2010, shrinking from 45 to 14 workers, heralding a loss to the community in a time of slow economic growth. ADM promised to hire from the laid off worker pool as needed.

DSC_3406I noticed that the good times had passed during my drive down. The decline of the area was evidenced by empty store fronts and decrepit gas stations, ancient closed restaurants, and tired houses–all along the highway south from Columbia, it was apparent that development chose another corridor and not this one. I wondered if there was one open gas station anywhere along the route.

The histories neglect one of the Estill elevator’s darker episodes. In the ’40s and ’50s, construction safety was not mandated as it is now. In one of the accidents that was all too common for elevator construction, Wayne Eugene Baker lost his life in a fall while working on the storage addition, or annex, built in 1952. For all of the heartache, Wayne helped build a thing of beauty that sustained its neighborhood for many years and still brings economic benefit to its region.

A mystery is solved with the discovery of elevator builder Van Ness Construction

The wooden elevator at Wymore, Nebraska, is representative of the style of Van Ness Construction

The wooden elevator at Wymore, Neb., is representative of the style of Van Ness Construction.

Story and photo by Kristen Cart

When we began investigating the elevators our grandfathers built, we had no idea how far the project would take us or what surprises would unfold. With the discovery of Van Ness Construction Company of Omaha, we have learned about the beginnings of the Tillotson family enterprise, and have entered a new phase of our search.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938

The Nebraska State Journal, June 19, 1938

We knew that Charles H. Tillotson, patriarch of the family and great-grandfather of Ronald Ahrens, built elevators before the days of slip-formed concrete. We found only one Tillotson elevator, made of wood, that predated the elegant concrete structures that sprang up all over the Midwest in the ’40s and ’50s–at least we found its obituary in a news video of its fiery demise. That 1940 vintage elevator, in Hawarden, Iowa, was built two years after Charles died. It burned down in 2006. We didn’t find, at the time, a project that we could attribute to Charles.

Then we had a breakthrough, thanks to Ancestry.com.

Ancestry has a wonderful collection of city directories. I had seen listings for the Tillotson family in Omaha before, but I missed a significant data point. While searching for Sylvia (Mayer) Tillotson, the wife of Joe and sister of Eugene Mayer, I discovered an Omaha directory for 1936 in which Charles H. Tillotson was listed as president of Van Ness Construction Company. Further Internet searches revealed some of the sites where Van Ness built its small steel-cased wooden elevators, but as yet we have found none that have survived.

Now we hope to find an existing elevator from the days before Joe and Reginald Tillotson dreamed up their slip-formed concrete designs. So far the closest we have come is an elevator that perished in a fire in Scribner, Neb., in 1971 , a nightmare that repeated itself in June, 2013.

Also, in a Google satellite image of the town of Diller, Neb., another identified site, a square concrete pad with a grain spout lying alongside it is located near new steel bins, right where an old elevator should have been. In Rydal, Kan., you can see a concrete pad with concrete pits near a horizontal storage building, with the remains of a rail siding alongside. I was a little surprised to find evidence of earlier elevators at these sites, but of course digging up tons of concrete for no special reason would be unnecessarily expensive, so there are remains.

Everywhere we looked for these ancient elevators, we found evidence of obsolescence and ultimate destruction, with little left to identify the sites. Newspapers were the only way to find the locations. Fire certainly destroyed some of them. For those that remained, the adoption of concrete and much larger storage facilities turned these old Van Ness elevators into relics and ultimately spelled their doom.

Tillotson elevators in Oklahoma

Story by Kristen Cart

The Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, Neb., built at least two hundred elevators and other building projects during the heyday of elevator construction. To date, we have obtained the specifications for 127 of them, specifically concrete elevator jobs. Of these, 27 projects were completed in Oklahoma according to the documents we have. A few pages of the specifications are missing, so undoubtedly there were more.

It can be seen from the map that many of the projects were clustered in the wheat growing region that served the major terminal facilities in Enid, Okla. The Tillotson company must have made a very good impression, since many of the facilities brought the company back to build their additional storage. The neighborhood around Enid was practically saturated with elevators that were designed and built by Tillotson Construction. It is apparent that the company had a continuous presence in the neighborhood, keeping their equipment and infrastructure on location in and around Enid for a number of years, which probably made them the most practical and economical choice for local cooperatives when they shopped for a builder.

Listed below are the depicted locations:

Goltry, 1939: 60,000 bushels

Newkirk, 1940:  60,000 bushels

Douglas, 1941: 60,000 bushels

Medford, 1941: 212,000 bushels

Thomas, 1941: 212,000 bushels

Burlington, 1945: 213,000 bushels

Cherokee, 1945: 213,000 bushels

Lamont, 1945: 212,500 bushels

Blackwell, 1945: 212,500 bushels

Custer, 1946: 96,000 bushels

Kingfisher, 1946: 240,000 bushels

Thomas, 1947: 240,000 bushels

Pond Creek, 1946: 100,000 bushels

Helena, 1947:  100,000 bushels

Eva, 1947:  99,000 bushels

Manchester, 1948: 145,000 bushels

Helena, 1949: (annex) 100,000 bushels

Pond Creek, 1950:  252,000 bushels

Kildare, 1950:  250,000 bushels

Drummond, 1950:  200,000 bushels

Imo, 1950:  151,600 bushels (not found on map)

Helena, 1953:  (annex)  200,000 bushels

Cherokee, 1953:  309,400 bushels

Meno, 1953:  152,000 bushels

Dacoma, 1954:   251,000 bushels

Orienta, 1954:  (annex) 312,000 bushels

Weatherford, 1954:  (annex) 181,000 bushels

All specs, and the Bouncing Czech’s photos, delineate elevators in David City

The Tillotson Construction of Omaha elevator also serves as a satellite antenna tower.  Photo by Tom McLaughlin

The Farmers Cooperative elevator, built by Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, Neb., also serves today as a satellite antenna tower. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

Story by Kristen Cart

My blogging partner Ronald Ahrens said he hoped we would find the motherlode of history about the elevators his grandfather Reginald Tillotson had built. With luck and the help of his family, we finally did it.

Reginald Tillotson’s sons, Charles, Tim, and Mike have all recently shared their memories from the job sites. Tim Tillotson also found and restored a treasure trove of company documents and photos. Best of all was a set of blueprint specifications for over 100 Tillotson Construction Company slip-formed concrete elevators and annexes. Eureka!

A historical image taken in David City, dated October 28, 1964. This is not the Tillotson Construction elevator, but it's neighbor a short distance down the rail line.

A historical image taken in David City, dated October 28, 1964. This is not the Tillotson Construction elevator, but its neighbor a short distance down the rail line.

David City, Neb., is a town due west of Fremont in the eastern half of the state. One of the two elevators in town was listed in the Tillotson blueprints. Armed with our new information, I looked for pictures of the newly found elevator.

I discovered some history, instead.

The grain piled next to the elevator in the 1964 press photo is milo, a feed grain, and the pile-up was attributed to a shortage of rail cars. Scenes like this were observed all over Nebraska that year.

The elevator in the photo didn’t quite have the Tillotson look, so a quick peek at David City on a Google map showed a washed-out image with just the suggestion of a curved headhouse on a second elevator in town. Further search brought me to “The Bouncing Czech” Flickr page and beautiful photos of the Farmers Cooperative elevator I was looking for. With Tom McLaughlin’s kind permission, they are posted here.

Tom McLaughlin likes to stop and check out elevators.

In an exchange of e-mails, he wrote, “A friend of our family owned the Magowan Elevator, in Gordon, Neb., so I’ve been in that one several times. I still remember my first manlift ride–that was the scariest ride I’ve ever taken.

David City's "other" elevator. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

David City’s “other” elevator. Photo by Tom McLaughlin

“Back in the 1950s, my dad used to ‘walk the pipeline’–he literally walked the natural gas pipeline in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, looking for signs of leaks, before they went to aerial photography and control valves.

“So he always liked to wander around the back roads and small towns, and I think that’s where I got the bug. When we would go on a trip, we never knew what route he’d take. I don’t think he did either!”

Tom’s enthusiasm is contagious.

The small towns are peaceful, yet inviting, and the elevators are fascinating. It won’t be too much longer before this blogger takes another grain elevator trip.

Specifications 

Tillotson Construction Company records show the David City elevator was built in 1951 according to the “David City Plan.” This includes five tanks, each one 18 feet in diameter and 120 feet high.

Total capacity: 180,000 bushels

Driveway: 13×17 feet with eight bins over the drive

Bins: 15 in all and overflow, with a dust bin at the exterior

Reinforced concrete: 1716 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 20 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (including jack rods): 81.16 tons

Steel and concrete:

Below main slab: 6632 pounds and 45 cubic yards

In main slab: 22,233 pounds and 180 cubic yards

Drawform walls: 106,320 pounds and 1253 cubic yards

Driveway and work floor: 2543 pounds and 15 cubic yards

Deep bin bottoms: 8081 pounds and 38 cubic yards

O.H. bin bottoms: 2917 pounds and 22 cubic yards

Bin root: 6122 pounds and 44 cubic yards

Scale floor: 285 pounds and 10 cubic yards

Cupola (headhouse) walls: 2830 pounds and 70 cubic yards

Distributor floor: 1494 pounds and 8 cubic yards

Cupola roof: 1586 pounds and 14 cubic yards

Miscellaneous (Boot, leg, headhouse, Tr., sink, steps, etc.): 1273 pounds and 15 cubic yards

Timeline for Tillotson Const., J.H. Tillotson, and Mayer-Osborn companies and jobs

Ronald Ahrens and Kristen Cart cofounded this blog. Gary Rich is a primary contributor. We have visited elevators around the United States and Canada.

Ronald’s maternal grandfather was Reginald Oscar “Mike” Tillotson.

Kristen’s paternal grandfather was William Arthur Osborn.

Reginald O. Tillotson

R. O. Tillotson

Reginald’s company was Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha. The company had been building and repairing wooden elevators since the 1920s, when it was led by Reginald’s father Charles H. Tillotson. Before his death, experiments were made with slip-form concrete construction techniques.

1938: Charles dies, and the company passes to his sons Reginald and Joseph H. Tillotson and daughter Mary V. Tillotson. They begin to perfect slip-forming and refine their design strategy, which includes a rounded headhouse.

1945: Tillotson Construction builds a concrete elevator in Giddings, Tex. William Osborn works on this project. He is probably employed by the company by late in ’44. Tillotson Construction wins the contract to build in Elkhart, Kan., and starts construction.

1946: The 225,000-bushel elevator in Elkhart is completed. “Shortly after the war, my Dad and Joe decided they couldn’t see eye to eye, so they split,” writes Charles J. Tillotson in “The Tillotson Construction Story” on this blog. Joe forms J.H. Tillotson, Contractor in Denver. William Osborn works for Joe Tillotson.

William A. Osborn in 1965

William A. Osborn in 1965

1947: Tillotson Construction builds  the Vinton Street elevator in Omaha. Joe Tillotson dies in a car accident in March. J.H. Tillotson, Contractor builds at Daykin and Fairbury, Neb., and Hanover and Linn, Kan., with William Osborn supervising the projects. Maxine Carter leaves Tillotson Construction on Oct. 7 to wed Russell L. Bentley.

1948: Formed in September from the residue of J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, the Mayer-Osborn Company builds its first elevator at McCook, Neb. Joe Tillotson’s wife Sylvia was a Mayer, and her brother Eugene Mayer is one of the partners. William Osborn is the other. Meanwhile, Reginald begins to use a light airplane for business travel in the postwar years. Reginald’s nephew John Hassman joins Tillotson Construction in September; among many other duties, he pilots the company plane to jobs in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Tillotson’s projects that year are in Paullina, Iowa, and Montevideo, Minn.

1949: John Hassman’s father Ralph, Reginald’s cousin, joins Tillotson Construction in sales and stays through 1952.

1950: Construction begins in November on the Tillotson house, which is built of concrete. It still stands north of Omaha. Tillotson employee Jess Weiser weds Lavonne Wiemers on Dec. 22.

1951: Drafted into the Air Force, John Hassman leaves Tillotson Construction in January.

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