Could Tillotson’s elevator in Gruver, Tex., have taken on the monster tornado of ’71?

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By Ronald Ahrens

In 1971 a monstrous tornado just missed Gruver, Tex., veering away from the town at the last minute.

Texas-Okla Logo 04The funnel cloud was as great as two miles wide, and we can’t help wondering what would have happened if a direct strike had engulfed the town of 1,100 souls and its fine Tillotson elevator.

Besides breaking windows, ripping out doors, twisting spouts and ladders and sending them flying, the tornado might have played hell with some of the elevatotr’s internals as they became exposed.

The reinforced-concrete structure would have looked tattered, but it might well have withstood the fierce storm. Anyone sheltering in the basement would have been rattled but OK.

IMG_9053Records kept by Tillotson Construction Co. reveal this single-leg elevator was built in 1947 and was, as a note says, “Similar to Satanta (but 125′ D.F. walls).”

That’s the Kansas town where Tillotson built earlier the same year. To decode that sentence: Satanta is a town 100 miles away in southwestern Kansas; D.F. stands for drawform, and Satanta’s silos were 120 feet high. 

Both elevators succeeded from the Dike, Iowa, plan of 1946.

The basics are that this 265,000-bushel elevator had eight tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter–two feet less than Tillotson would later offer as the standard dimension.

Gruver had an extra attached driveway, a hopper scale in the cupola, and double distribution floors.

The entry for Satanta notes some 2,072 cubic yards of reinforced concrete were used, and 25 cubic yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

Steel used for reinforcing the concrete amounted to 107.50 (including the amount used for jack rods).

The 21-inch-thick main slab sprawled over an area measuring 57 x 69.5 feet. The records say that amounted to 3,754 square feet “outside on ground.” Again, as with other Texas elevators, we get 3,961.5 square feet and can’t account for the difference.

If the tornado bumped against the elevator, it would have realized this structure had 4,251 tons of reinforced concrete and weighed 12,351 tons when fully loaded. The confrontation would have been interesting.

The cupola, or headhouse, measured 21.5 feet wide, 48.5 feet long, and 40.25 feet high.

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With a pit reaching 16 feet in depth, the pulley centers of the leg were 166.75 feet apart. Pulleys were standard size: the boot was 72 x 14 x 3 3/16 inches while the head pulley was .75-inch deeper. The head turned at 42 rpm.

The 14-inch, six-ply Calumet belt stretched over a distance of 360 feet and carried 12 x 6-inch cups. Two 40-hp Howell motors were installed to turn the leg. Theoretical capacity was 8,450 bushels per hour, but actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, coming to 6,750 bushels per hour.

The man lift rose and dropped with a 2-hp Ehrsam motor. The truck lift had a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

After 71 years, this Tillotson elevator appeared to be in good working condition and maybe even ready to take on the next monster storm that approached Gruver.

 

 

 

Groovin’ in Gruver, Tex., at a ’47 Tillotson elevator with plenty of storage

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By Ronald Ahrens

By the time I got to Gruver, in the early evening of April 17, I’d visited seven grain elevators in the Texas Panhandle. The day started with a pre-dawn dash from Hereford to Canyon, where I spent much of the morning (even visiting Tim Ritter, editor of the twice-weekly Canyon News). The news, he said, was wildfires and drought. High school sports filled much of the rest of the paper.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Whenever it was that I got to Gruver, I was feeling a little weary. If there had been a motel, I would have checked in.

Instead, I found an elevator that seemed outside the usual Tillotson design vocabulary.

This 1947 job held 265,000 bushels and had a medium-long complex of storage annexes. It reminded me of a locomotive and a train of identical cars.

A note in the records says, “Similar to Satanta (but 125′ D.F. walls).” Of course, the “D.F.” refers to drawform. Satanta was the Kansas town where they had built another elevator in ’47. The next year brought a similar one at Springfield, Colo. Together, they derived from the Dike, Iowa, job of 1946.

IMG_9042The cupola, or headhouse, was rectilinear on one side, with sharp corners and splendid moldings to cover the raggedness. But the other end of this 48.5-foot-long headhouse had an articulated curve.

A remarkable feature was the abundance of windows. Four cluster together in the upper-right corner on one side, and three more are in a line at the bottom.

Smaller windows are integrated into the curved part.

Ladders and platforms cling to the side of the headhouse, and the rooftop is populated with at least three parabolic dishes serving Lord knows what purpose.

IMG_9057Formerly, some large letters spelled out a legend, presumably the name of the co-op that ran the elevator. I couldn’t make out what it said. 

I looked around and found manhole covers bearing the name of Tillotson Construction Co. They weren’t painted or polished; as with other details, there was need of some loving attention. 

No one was around, so when I had taken my pictures I cleared out of Gruver, following Route 15 to Spearman. Navigation directed me to a motel. For the same $55 paid for the previous night’s dump in Hereford, I checked into the Nursanickel Motel, taking a bright and clean room with a real mattress and bath towel.

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There were two choices for dinner: pizza or Mexican. I chose the latter, having a chicken enchilada for $8.65. While paying my tab, I asked the two girls at the register what there is to do in Spearman.

“Nothing,” one said, feeling no need to elaborate.

I might have suggested going out and looking at grain elevators, but who wants to be regarded as a madman?

Storage and more storage at the sprawling complex in Sunray, Tex.

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By Ronald Ahrens

The next stop on my road trip was Sunray, Tex., which I reached from Dalhart by minor roads through the cotton and grain fields. It was a warm afternoon and very windy, and I had a pleasant drive going east, away from the sun.

Texas-Okla Logo 04I had already heard about Sunray as a key location in the Ag Producers Co-op network.

And I knew Sunray was in the construction records of Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha.

What I didn’t know is that Tillotson only built a storage annex–not the main elevator–at Sunray. This occurred in 1950 or 1951. The record is smudged on that line, but I think it says 1951. Sunray is placed with other 1951 jobs. At the same time, Tillotson was building in Malta Bend, Mo.; Greenwood and David City, Neb.; and Hereford, Tex., which I had visited at the beginning of the trip.

The storage annex was a big one: 550,000-bushel capacity. There were 14 tanks, or silos, of 20 feet in diameter reaching 120 feet in height. A note mentions a full basement.

The job demanded 3,297 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 196.39 tons of reinforcing steel. Both figures significantly exceed the amounts needed for the 250,000- to 300,000-bushel elevators that Tillotson built.

The 24-inch slab for these 14 tanks was 56 x 148 feet and the main slab area is listed at 7,880 square feet.

All this reinforced concrete weighed 6,790 tons, and the annex’s gross weight when loaded was as much as 15,048 tons.

IMG_9033Up in the run, a conveyor belt turned on two pulleys, one being 16 x 32 inches and the other being 18 x 32 inches. The pulley turned at 127 rpm, so the 30-inch, four-ply belt moved at the rate of 600 feet per minute.

What I found was not one but two annexes by the elevator; both had 14 tanks, and the manhole covers said Tillotson Construction Co. Sunray appears nowhere else in the records, so it’s impossible to say for sure that Tillotson built identical, twin storage annexes.

However it went down, Tillotson contributed substantially to the sprawling elevator and storage complex at Sunray.

Trying to trace the sweep of Tillotson’s hand in Dalhart, Tex.

By Ronald Ahrens

IMG_9022Tillotson Construction Co. had yet to perfect its signature style of the curved headhouse when it first built in Dalhart in 1947.

Before the late 1940s the headhouses were rectangular with a sort of molding, of concrete, extending up the full height at each corner. 

In ’47, Tillotson built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg elevator along the busy railroad tracks of this market center, the seat of Dallam County.

In specifications it adhered to a unique plan with four tanks, or silos, each measuring 20 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height. There were eight bins. The attached driveway was 13 x 16 feet.

The surprise is that Tillotson built a 98,000-storage annex in the very same year. Notes in the company records show two tanks of 25 feet in diameter reaching a height of 120 feet.

A further note says “Direct spouts from elev.–Gravity flow to Elev. Pit. Ring footing 3 bins.”

When I visited last month, I hadn’t realized there were two elevators. Maybe I missed something. I think I paid a call to the 1949 job.

Here’s what Uncle Chuck contributes: “I remember Dad having to make a number of trips to Dalhart, but if the annex was finished in ’47, like you say, then he must have been there to close out and inspect the finished project.

“My recollection was that the job was either finished or in the final punch-list stage. But like you on your trip, we had visited a bunch of jobs or prospective jobs before we got to Dalhart.

“Also, my young mind in those days wasn’t necessarily concentrated on the job status in each stop but probably more interested in the secretarial staff!”

At last he reveals the truth!
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Except for a railroad employee familiar from down the road in Hartley, no staff–and especially no secretaries–could be located.

Looking through the scale-house window, I saw a plate of uneaten food and an open bag of chips on the counter. Yes, another mystery.

I would leave Dalhart with more questions than before my arrival. 

Onward to Dalhart, Tex., and memories of a wild ride through New Mexico in 1948

IMG_8992After departing Hartley, my next stop, just 15 miles northwest on U.S. 87/385, was Dalhart, a market town with brick streets in the business district and, along the railroad tracks, a whole lot of buildings by Tillotson Construction Co. Dalhart is so remote in the Texas Panhandle that six other state capitals are closer than the Texas capital of Austin. For example, it’s 28 miles shorter distance to Lincoln, Neb., than to Austin.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Mention of Dalhart got my uncle, Charles J. Tillotson, reminiscing about his experience with my grandfather, Reginald O. Tillotson. Perhaps from the following anecdotes we understand why Reginald started using light aircraft for his business travels.

Uncle Chuck writes:

Remembering Dalhart brings back memories of one of Dad’s business trips where I had been brought along to help drive (12 years old). I believe this one was during the winter of ’47 or ’48, and Dad was making a big business loop (similar to yours only in reverse) out of Omaha, down through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas and then back up through New Mexico, Colorado, and western Nebraska.

IMG_9009Anyway, on that trip, it was getting close to sunset as we approached Dalhart, so Dad had me stop in Amarillo where he secured a hotel room.

I will never forget the night in that godforsaken place. The hotel was not insulated nor fully sealed from the winter wind, and I practically froze to death in that cold room with the wind whistling through the cracks in the wall.

I was still frozen the next morning when we headed out to Dalhart, glad the car had a good heater.

Another memorable thing about that trip was what happened after we left Dalhart. We went north up through New Mexico to our 640-acre ranch in Cebolla. Dad had recently purchased this section at the encouragement of one of his best superintendents, Francis Dawson, who lived on a big parcel not too far west from our place.

Ours didn’t have running water, heat, or utilities. After we got there Dad decided to go out to Francis’s where we could stay overnight. The problem was that most of the road to his home was very poorly graveled. It was more like a pathway. IMG_9019

I was driving the car, but when we got to an area that was somewhat of a bog, Dad took over the wheel to show me how to drive through the mud. Well, it wasn’t very long after that when he got the car high-centered, tore a hole in the oil pan, and lost all the oil. Yet he kept his foot on the gas until we were stuck dead still; then the engine got so hot, it threw a rod.

We had to slog on foot through the mud to Dawson’s house. We arrived by nightfall. The next morning one of Francis’s hired hands got the tractor, fetched the car, and dragged it into the tiny little town of Cebolla (35 miles south of the Colorado border).

As you can imagine, there was no mechanic nor any repair facility. The closest one was well to the south in Espanola. So Dad called around to the various mechanical shops there until he found someone (lucky) that could repair the engine of the fairly new ’48 Chrysler four-door sedan.

Two days later we got under way again, and amazingly the car ran like it had never been through a torture chamber.

All of that trip transpired during my high school winter break and as I recall I only lost a couple of days of the next semester.

A trip I’ll never forget, in the spring of ’49 with me again subbing as a driver, Dad again high-centered a brand-new ’49 Ford and burned up the engine.

He had a thing about willing the car to go forward even though it was hung up with no wheels touching earth.

Photo details of Tillotson’s 300,000-bushel elevator in Hartley, Tex.

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However you express it, there’s no smoking at the Hartley elevator.

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The metal-clad wooden elevator remains intact in Hartley.

 

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A closer view of the metal-clad wooden elevator at Hartley. Note the modest eaves, which reduced the chance of catching sparks from a passing train.

 

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Detail view of the run that surmounts silos, here bridging from the main house to the storage annex at the Tillotson elevator in Hartley, Tex.

Specs show how Tillotson’s Hartley elevator measured up in 1950

IMG_8944By Ronald Ahrens

The elevator built by Tillotson Construction Co. in Hartley, Tex., fulfilled a crying need for grain handling and storage there in 1950. More capacity would be added, but for the time being this 300,000-bushel elevator was the answer.

Texas-Okla Logo 04Although records say it followed the Bellwood, Neb., plan like Burlington, Colo., which was another of Tillotson’s bountiful 1950 crop of elevators, Bellwood was a single-leg elevator. Hartley and Burlington were twin-leg elevators. We wonder how difficult it was to adapt the standardized design to include two legs.

In the early days, Tillotson’s talented engineer, Wayne Skinner, did the calculations.

In its construction, the Hartley elevator used 2,436 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 20.3 yards of plain concrete for the hoppers.

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Access points to the two legs inside the Hartley, Tex., elevator.

Some 131.71 tons of steel (including jack rods) were needed for the job. That translated to 108.14 pounds of steel per cubic yard of concrete.

The 24-inch-thick main slab occupied a space of 66 feet by 72.5 feet for an area of 4,806 square feet, according to Tillotson’s records. We get 4,785 feet from our arithmetic and don’t know how to account for the discrepancy unless the note saying “Act. outside on Ground” means something in this regard.

Below the main slab, the pit reached the depth of 19 feet 0 inches.

IMG_8958Weight of the reinforced concrete came to 5,004 tons. Plain concrete for the hoppers totaled 40.3 tons. Grain filling the tanks, or silos, weighed as much as 9,000 tons.

With another 28 tons of structural steel and machinery, the elevator weighed 14,299 tons. Again, we find a discrepancy, with our calculations showing 14,072 tons.

Bearing pressure on the drawform walls of the silos maxed out at 2.975 tons per square foot.

The Bellwood plan provided for 120-foot-tall silos, but those at Hartley (and Burlington) were 115 feet tall.

The outside of the cupola, or headhouse, was 23 feet wide, 63.75 feet long, and 44 feet tall. Like Canyon, with its five-foot-taller silos but lower headhouse, the Hartley elevator still reached 159 feet in overall height.

The legs’ pulley centers were separated by a distance of 168 feet. The boot pulleys were the standard size Tillotson used in 1950. That was 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches. The head pulleys, also conforming to the standard of that year, were 72 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches.

The 40-hp Howell motor could turn the head at 42 rpm.IMG_8952

The multi-ply, 360-foot Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6 inches to carry grain from the pit. Like Burlington and Canyon, the cup manufacturer’s theoretical capacity was 7,920 bushels per hour. But of course the leg operated at 80 percent of theoretical, so the actual capacity was 6,350 bushels per hour, requiring 32 hp.

The man lift operated with a 1.5-hp motor. The truck lift in the 13-foot-wide driveway used a robust 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

No special notes attached to the Bellwood plan. Tillotson had a solid design that enabled construction of a mighty elevator in many locations by small crews working around the clock. The one in Hartley keeps doing its job.