The Tillotson elevator in Lincoln, Nebraska is majestic in winter light

DSC_3138Story and photos by Kristen Cart

One of the most beautiful projects completed by Tillotson Construction of Omaha was their elevator with its annex in Lincoln, Neb. I was fortunate to be able to persuade my dad to stop with me to take some photos in perfect light.

DSC_3174One of the challenges of elevator photography is picking the structure out from its sometimes tight surroundings.

Usually you can take close pictures with a wide angle lens, which distorts straight lines, but can give you a full view of the elevator. In this case, I was without that tool since it broke when it fell off a chair, so I had to make do with a mid-range zoom lens.

You be the judge of whether the pictures were successful, given the limitations of distance, obstructions, and points of view.


The trademark rounded headhouse rises above one of the largest elevators Tillotson Construction built

This elevator is a couple of blocks from the Cornhusker Highway in Lincoln, and one of the obstructions to a clear shot is an overpass feeding traffic to that main artery through town. The limited view required some cropping of the elevator. But the light and sky made up for the field of view.

The manhole covers display the company name on both the elevator and the annex

The manhole covers display the company name on both the elevator and the annex

We do not know why the Lincoln elevator is not among the projects recorded in the company ledgers. It appears that at least one page was missing from the records, and there is no way to know where it is, or why it is missing. So the only information we have about its construction is from the manhole cover on the main elevator, which says 1955. Presumably, the annex was built shortly thereafter.

Because the facility, AGP Grain Cooperative, was closed, we obtained no further details on this visit. This elevator will be the first on our list when the harvest time comes around again, and we can see the elevator in operation for ourselves.

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

Concrete problems plagued consecutive elevator projects at Blencoe, Iowa

DSC_0578Story and photos by Kristen Cart

In the summer of 1954, Mayer-Osborn Construction built an elevator with a stepped headhouse in the northwestern Iowa town of Blencoe. As my dad, Jerry Osborn, explained, after the crew poured the first ten feet of concrete in the slip-form process, the concrete sides below the forms showed signs of crumbling. An investigation revealed that the concrete mixture had not been set correctly. It took as many hours to remove the concrete and start over as it did to pour it. Dad worked on the project and saw the fallout first hand.

The larger Tillotson elevator stands to the left. The Mayer-Osborn elevator obstructs the view of its large annex which extends behind it.

The larger Tillotson elevator stands to the left. The Mayer-Osborn elevator on the right serves a large annex which extends behind it. Photo by Kristen Cart

Builders were required to do a destructive test on the concrete mix at various stages of curing, to ensure the proper strength for each part of the elevator structure. Engineers tested various mix ratios to decide upon the best one. Naturally, this process was used at Blencoe, but when the mix was finally set and the pour began, it was done incorrectly. I can imagine the blue language wafting from the site as the concrete was taken down. Someone on the site had his ears pinned back pretty fiercely. But the construction continued, and a handsome elevator still stands there today, nearly 60 years later.

Not until this year, when Tim Tillotson located the Tillotson company records and photographs, did we discover that Tillotson Construction of Omaha faced a similar problem as they built their elevator nearby about a year later. This time, the error was not caught as early, and the consequences became immediately apparent.

Tim Tillotson said he thought the blowout happened in about 1955. Whether Tillotson Construction did the repairs and completed the project, or whether another contractor was brought in, is not known to me, but I hope to revisit the site later this year and learn more. The image below is a rare one. It is amazing that photographic evidence survived, serving as a cautionary note, lest any builder were to become overconfident.

Blencoe_blowout-1 copy

This company photo shows the blowout. On the right the completed Mayer-Osborn elevator may be seen.

Errors were a constant threat in this business. In the best cases, they manifested themselves in embarrassing delays, in the worst, they incurred expensive lawsuits or physical harm.

Tillotson Construction and Mayer-Osborn both recovered from their respective forays into bad concrete and lived to build again, leaving handsome and serviceable elevators at Blencoe and elsewhere. The lessons they learned were priceless.

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 photo tour at Kanorado, Kansas, reveals subtle J. H. Tillotson design details

DSC_0642Story and photos by Kristen Cart

One of the best stops on my elevator tour last October was Kanorado, Kan. It was a fortuitous visit, made in the golden hour of photographic light. We have profiled the elevator before, based upon a visit by Gary Rich while the elevator was operating and open for an impromptu tour. But I wanted to see for myself the elevator my grandfather William Osborn built.

No one was there when we arrived, but I was able to get a good look at all sides of the structure. The straight up, classic lines were unique to  J. H. Tillotson elevators.


A view of the integral headhouse with windows to admit light

Other companies built similarly styled elevators, such as the Greenwood, Neb. elevator built by Tillotson of Omaha in 1951. But those differed in shape and concrete detailing. The elevator at Kanorado was an earlier effort, and should be compared with those at Traer, Kan., Goodland, Kan., and Wauneta, Neb., among others.


Late afternoon shadows are cast across the drive-through scale


Another design element that seems to be unique to Joseph H. Tillotson’s Denver-based company is the squat concrete scale house, a deceptively simple building with lovely proportions, as can also be seen with the J. H. Tillotson elevator at Daykin, Neb.

DSC_0687It is good to see another 1940s vintage elevator still doing its job nearly 70 years later. It is a testament to a work ethic that seems quaint in our present day, and a personal investment in quality beyond the next payday. My grandfather would be proud.

Did shacks temporarily shelter workers at Tillotson’s Vinton Street site?

Vinton Street Shacks

By Ronald Ahrens

This photo from Tillotson Construction Company’s archives looks south from the site of the Vinton Street elevator, completed in 1950. On the far right you see the main house, which is finished but for windows. The driveway is formed up. Leftover rebar is in the lower left and scrap is heaped in the center.

It’s unknown whether the silver trailer was being used in connection with the job, perhaps as an office. The black car, which could be a 1938 Buick, and the ugly-duckling blue-gray car, which could be a Plymouth (or maybe a Hudson?)–did they belong to employees?

What especially intrigues us are the shacks along the street. Were they part of the job–again, as office space, or to accommodate  workers? Two of my Tillotson uncles have strained their memories but aren’t able to put together this part of the story, explaining why the photo was taken.

The Vinton Street elevator was Tillotson Construction’s 1950 hometown showcase

Scan 4

Story by Ronald Ahrens 

The Vinton Street elevator in Omaha was a significant job for Tillotson Construction Company, being a technical challenge to the nine-year-old outfit and representing a major emphasis in its subsequent marketing effort.

Lucky for us, much attention was paid to taking good photos of the elevator, including some early color images that include views of the construction process. These photos were in the hands of Uncle Tim Tillotson, who passed them to us for scanning. The color ones came from a viewer that was presumably shown to prospective clients.

With its headhouse accommodating three legs to lift the grain, it was tall. Exactly how tall isn’t recorded, but it probably came within sniffing distance of 200 feet. Only a few of the city’s downtown office towers surpassed its height, although they weren’t necessarily better-looking.

This terminal elevator had capacity of 382,880 bushels, and the legs handled distribution of the grain inside the main house.

Scan 5It also was a showcase that family and friends could see for themselves. Until then, Tillotson Construction had been building elevators in Texas and Oklahoma as well as some less far-flung places.

The elevator was completed in 1950 on a South Omaha greenfield site at 34th and Vinton Streets. The company’s office at 12th and Jones was only three miles away.

Another reason for its significance is that Reginald and Margaret Tillotson’s oldest son Charles went to work as an apprentice carpenter and hod carrier on the job. He helped to build several other elevators over the next few years.

With the Tillotson construction record now in hand, we present the following technical specifications without yet having achieved a full understanding of all the abbreviations and lingo.

General specifications

Total capacity: 382,880 bushels

Capacity: 38,878 bushels per foot

Reinforced concrete: 4776 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 35.3 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (includes jack rods): 286.5 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 120 lb

Construction of the hoist very early in the process of building the Vinton Street elevator. Note the Georgia buggies near the formwork.

Construction of the hoist very early in the process of building the Vinton Street elevator. Note the Georgia buggies near the formwork.

Steel and Concrete

Below main slab: 20,932 lb/223 c.y.

Main slab: 66,579 lb/618 c.y.

Drawform walls: 233,927 lb/2100 c.y.

Driveway and work floor: no figure for steel/17 c.y.

Deep bin bottoms (including columns): no figure for steel/155 c.y.

O.H. bin bottoms: no figure for steel/40 c.y.

Bin root: no figure given for steel/90 c.y.

Scale floor (or garner, complete): no figure for steel/17 c.y.

Cupola (headhouse) walls: no figures

Distributor floor (cleaner floor): no figure for steel/8 c.y.

Cupola roof (gallery): no figure for steel/49 c.y.

Miscellaneous (headhouse): no figure for steel/640 c.y.

Attached driveway: driveway 416 c.y., track shed 403 c.y.

Construction Details

Main slab dimensions: 58 x 119.5 feet

Main slab area (outside on ground): 6690 sq ft

Weight reinforced (total) concrete  at 4000 lb per c.y., plus steel: 9838 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers, 4000 lb per c.y.): 70.6 tons

Weight hopper fill sand at 3000 lb per c.y.: 439.8 tons

Weight of grain at 60 lb per bushel: 11,490 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 100 tons

Gross weight loaded: 21,938 tons

This extreme view shows the elevator before painting. The individual pours can be seen in the drawform walls of the bins. Note the man leaning out of the window opening on the left.

This extreme view shows the elevator before painting. The individual pours can be seen in the drawform walls of the bins. Click on the photo to enlarge the image, and you’ll note the man leaning out of the window opening on the left.

Bearing pressure: 3.28 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness: 30 in

Main slab steel: 1 in □ at 7 in o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks): ⅝ in ⌀ at 8 in o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 975 ft

Height of drawform walls: 120 ft

Pit depth below main slab: 20 ft, 9 in

Cupola (headhouse) dimensions outside (length x width x height): 24 ft x 52 ft x no figure recorded

Machinery Details

Boot pulley: 72 in x 28 in x 3 7/16 in

Head pulley: 72 in x 28 in x 5 15/16 in

RPM head pulley 39 rpm

Belt: leg 26 in x 8-ply, conx 36 in x 4 ply

Cups: 21 x 7 in cal. at 9 in o.c. stag.

Head drive: Link belt, 100 hp

Theoretical leg capacity (Cub manufacturer rating): 17,400 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical): 13,900 bushels per hour

HP required for leg (based on above actual plus 15 percent for motor): 89.8 hp

My grandfather used one of the color images from Vinton Street on its business card.

My grandfather used one of the color images from Vinton Street on its business card.

Man lift: 2 – 1.5 hp

Load out scale: Two 2500-bushel hop.

Load out spout: 15-inch diameter

Truck lift: Ehr. semi fans w. col.

Dust collector system: on legs

Cupola spouting: Trolly spouts

Driveway doors: Johnson O.H. rolling

Conveyor: Two 36-in belts and two 30-in belts


Also Built

Track shed

Truck shed


Truck scale

Faked out in American Falls, Idaho

Chalmers and Borton elevator at American Falls, Idaho.

During one of my recent road trips, I came upon a beautiful concrete construction elevator in American Falls, Idaho.  It looked much like the stand-alone elevators built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, with an added annex.  It is in full operation.  I explored the elevator complex from about 7:30 am, and stayed on site as workers reported for their 8:00 am shift.  It was a very handsome elevator in the early morning light.  In its details it looked like a Tillotson elevator, except for the rectilinear head house, which is not unknown for a Tillotson or Mayer Osborn built elevator, but would be unusual.

As the shift started, I stopped at the elevator office to ask about the builder.  The worker smiled and pointed out the brass plaque by the door.  It was built by our grandfathers’ arch rival company, the ubiquitous Chalmers and Borton based in Hutchinson, Kansas.  Gary Rich pointed out one time that it seemed that wherever he found a J.H. Tillotson or Mayer Osborn elevator out in Kansas or Colorado, hard beside it would stand a Chalmers and Borton annex.  The companies played hard ball and competed for every contract.  Dad said, when I asked if Grandpa’s Mayer Osborn Construction of Denver, Colorado ever worked with Chalmers and Borton,  that “oh, no, they were his biggest competitor.”

Greenwood Nebraska’s straight-up elevator by Tillotson Construction of Omaha.

The elevator at Greenwood, Nebraska, built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, is very reminiscent in its style to the elevator in American Falls.  I guess form followed function, and each company offered a product similar in its details–often the deciding factor was the bid price.  This Chalmers and Borton elevator certainly faked me out.  But it stands as a beautiful example and deserves notice.

We visit the former Omaha office of Tillotson Construction Company

By Ronald Ahrens

On May 10, I was in Omaha with my camera. One objective was to visit the former office of Tillotson Construction Company. Uncle Tim Tillotson had recently tipped me off to this, saying he helped move out the company’s papers after Reginald’s death.

“Twelfth and Jones–the Office, the OFFICE!” he said.

I parked at 13th and Jones in the southern part of the Old Market area and walked across the intersection. In just a few more steps to the east I knew exactly what he was talking about.

It turns out, the Office was part of an Anheuser-Busch plant of four buildings erected in 1887. Besides the Office, designed in Romanesque style, there was a bottling facility, a beer storage warehouse, and a stable. The other three buildings were torn down, but the Office survives.

One hundred and one years after the Office went up, a finial above the doorway blew down during a windstorm. It was stolen and has never been recovered.

In Chase County, we meet Gary State, an elevator construction veteran

By Gary Rich

Editor’s note: Gary is recently returned from a fact-finding foray in Nebraska.

I stopped at the Chase County courthouse in Imperial, Neb., looking for the dates when the elevators were built in Imperial, Enders, and Wauneta. They did not have much information about the build dates. The only info they have in their records is that the old office building for Frenchman Valley Co-op was done in 1946. The FVC built a new office across the street from the old one.

The ladies on the courthouse staff told me to stop in at the FVC office and talk with Gary State, who might have the dates. Mr. State went to work for Mid States building grain elevators and feed plants. I do not know if it was just Mid States or Mid States Construction. He was living in Imperial when he started working for them.

Map of Nebraska highlighting Chase County

I explained about Tillotson Construction Company, of Omaha, J.H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver, and Mayer-Osborn Company. He gave me some leads. He told me that Hugh O’Grady is still alive and lives in Omaha. Mid States was started by a man name Erickson. He had seven sons. Six of the sons ended up working for Mid States. One son died at a construction site. He said Jack Russell was a superintendent. He thought that he was living in Seward, Neb.

Mr. State built the second annex, or elevator number two, at Big Springs, and then elevator number three.

He told me that he built the Woolstock, and Goldfield, Iowa, elevators; the feed plant at Fruita, Colo.; and elevators at Garrison and nearby David City, Neb. At the other end of the Cornhusker State, he built the west elevator in Imperial. After the west elevator was finished, he left Mid States and he went to work for the Co-op. This is the reason that he is working for FVC.

♦ ♦ ♦

Okay, here is another thing. I thought that when a construction company built an elevator that they did everything. This is not true. Mr. State told me about a company based at York, Neb. This company did all the belts inside the elevators, all around Nebraska, no matter who the builder was. So we know the belts were installed by a separate company. Now I am wondering if a separate company was onsite to install the leg as they built the elevator up. Or did the general contractor install the leg?