A photographic review of concrete elevator parts and components

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Some time ago, one of our readers requested the picture of an elevator pit. It is one of the more unglamorous parts of a grain elevator, but as I was going through old photos, I found one. I also found many interior elevator pictures that have not made it to the blog because of their, well, unattractiveness. But a review of the parts and pieces, terms and descriptions, and interior appearance of an elevator is in order.

 The Pit

Pit access by ladder. The leg is visible.

Pit access by ladder. The leg is visible. Hanover, Kan.


Sloped bottom funnels grain to the base of the leg.

The Dump Grate


A smaller grate.


Center driveway truck grates.

The Driveway


McCook, Neb.


St. Francis, Kan.

The Man Lift


The bottom of the lift showing the shaft.


Current safety regulations require a retrofitted cage.

Overhead bin spouts

Bins are numbered to correspond with the bin diagram

Bin Diagram

St. Francis, Kan.

St. Francis, Kan.


This elevator holds beans in two overhead bins.


The bins hold milo, and “F” means the bin is full.

The Leg


Cup dimensions and spacing are given in elevator specifications.


The leg conveys grain from the pit to the top of the bins.

Manhole Cover

Traer, Kan.

Traer, Kan.


The 1945 vintage elevator at Lodgepole, Nebraska, and the death of Bill Morris

DSC_0446Story and photo by Kristen Cart

A newspaper article recently came to light that upended our elevator construction timeline, causing us to reconsider the story of the Lodgepole, Neb., elevator and the careers of Joseph H. Tillotson and my grandfather William Arthur Osborn.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, said that the death of Bill Morris, the superintendent on the Lodgepole job, and that of Joe Tillotson, the owner of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, came within a month or so of each other. Now it appears likely that the season was the same, but both fatal car accidents occurred in different years–1945 and 1947–a fact easily misunderstood by the young boy my father was at the time, as he listened to the adults talk about business.


We believe this photo by William Osborn is from Lodgepole, Neb.

The article appeared in the Nebraska State Journal on Oct. 8, 1945:

Omahan dies after car accident

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP). W. B. Morris, 36, an employee of the Tillotson Construction company, of Omaha, was fatally injured Saturday night when struck by a car driven by Howard B. Kirk, 48, of Lodgepole, Neb., Deputy Sheriff Arnold Braasch said Sunday.

The deputy sheriff reported Morris was changing a tire on his car about ten miles east of here when the accident occurred. He died in a hospital about five hours later.

Braasch said Morris’ home was in Texas, but that he was living in Lodgepole while working on the construction of a new grain elevator.

County Attorney R. P. Kepler said he will decide on Monday whether an inquest is to be held.

We attributed the Lodgepole elevator’s construction to J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, the independent company Joe Tillotson started after his parting of the ways with Tillotson Construction of Omaha. We wrongly believed that both Bill Morris and Joe Tillotson had died in 1947 while working on the Lodgepole job. Now we know that Bill Morris died in 1945 while working for Joe Tillotson. The new fact pins down the date of Joe’s departure from the Omaha company–a move my grandfather made at the same time.

When interviewed in 1949 about his first, independent, Mayer-Osborn Construction venture in McCook, Neb., William Osborn named a number of elevators he had built before. We still believe all of the elevators Bill Osborn listed were J.H. Tillotson elevators.

According to the McCook article, Bill Osborn said the elevators in Maywood, Traer, Wauneta, and Lodgepole were built in 1945. If the reporter was right about Bill Morris’ employment, all of the 1945 elevators would be too early to be J. H. Tillotson elevators. However, none of them were recorded in the Tillotson Construction specifications and none built in the Omaha company’s style.

The reporter writing about Bill Morris’ death in 1945 was unaware of the freshly minted company Joe Tillotson had started, and wrongly identified Bill Morris as a Tillotson Construction of Omaha employee.


An early photo of the Lodgepole elevator was kept at the location.

The fact that in 1945, Bill Morris went from a superintendent job at a verified Tillotson Construction project in Giddings, Tex to a superintendent position at the Lodgepole elevator job, a project demonstrably not built by the Omaha company, precisely dates the time Joe Tillotson chose to go out on his own.

The 1945 construction date of the Lodgepole elevator gives us a much more accurate understanding of the birth of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, a venture that lasted about four years, until my grandfather built the McCook elevator for Mayer-Osborn Construction in 1949.

A tragedy took Morris in his prime, but my grandfather stepped into his place, gaining valuable experience as a builder. To this day, the graceful Lodgepole elevator serves as a fitting monument to Morris’ productive career.

Full specifications of Tillotson Construction’s elevator in Moscow, Kansas

The construction record was written with painstaking attention to detail.

The construction record was written with painstaking attention to detail.

Our friend Linda Laird has asked if the Tillotson Construction Company’s records included any Kansas elevators. The answer is yes, and here’s an example.

In 1948, Tillotson built an elevator of reinforced concrete at Moscow, in the extreme southwestern corner of the Sunflower State. The plan’s basic aspects were as follows: four tanks of 14 feet in diameter, 120 feet in height, and an eight-foot spread. The driveway was was 13 x 17 feet and there were six bins over the drive. Another notation says “Ext. to roof.” This shows up on most other plans and is supplemented by “1/2 grain” or “for grain.” The final item at the head of the plan’s entry in company records notes “13 bins & dust bin.”  Here are all the data:

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 100,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 1033 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 1070 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers) 15 cubic yards

Reinforced steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 49.8 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 93.0 pounds


Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 2850 lb/25 cu yd

Main slab 12,646 lb/91 cu yd

Drawform walls 68,424 lb/812 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1790 lb/14.5 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 3740 lb/20.7 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 1733 lb/13.7 cu yd

Bin roof (corner) 2284 lb/23.1 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) 100 lb/3.0 cu yd

Cupola walls 3750 lb/40.0 cu yd

Distributor floor 1190 lb/5.0 cu yd

Cupola roof 890 lb/10.0 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps) 100 lb/12.0 cu yd

Construction details 

Tillotson's Moscow, Kan., elevator, right, was built in 1948. The annex had to come later. Photo by Kristen Cart.

Tillotson’s Moscow, Kan., elevator, right, was built in 1948. The annex had to come later. Photo by Gary Rich.

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 40 x 45 feet

Main slab area (actual outside on ground) 1712 sqare feet

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4000#/cu yd + steel) 2190 tons

Weight of plan concrete (hoppers 4000#/cu yd) 30 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000#/cu yd) 260 tons

Weight of grain (at 60# per bushel) 3000 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 10 tons

Gross weight loaded 5490 tons

Bearing pressure 3.21 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 18 inches

Main slab steel (straight) 1 in diameter at 6 inch o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) ⅜ inch diameter at 9 inch o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls 382 feet including exterior

Height of drawform walls 120 feet

Pit depth below main slab 11 feet 0 inches

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.) 14 x 36 x 23 feet

Pulley centers 145.5 feet

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 12 feet

Dump grate size 2 – 6 x 11 feet

Columns under tanks size 20 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete


Machinery Details

Looking down the crowded streets of Moscow at Tillotson's elevator, far right. Photo by Kristen Cart.

Looking down the crowded streets of Moscow at Tillotson’s elevator, far right. Photo by Gary Rich.

Boot pulley 60 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches

Head pulley 60 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches

R.P.M. head pulley 42 rpm

Belt 14 inch 6 ply Calumet

Cups 12 x 6 inch at 8.5 inch o.c. Howell

Head drive 30 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 66.0 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 52.8 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 23.3 hp

Man lift 2 horsepower Ehr

Load out scale Two 10 bushel Rich

Load out spout 8.25 inch W.C.

Cupola spouting 8.25 inch W.C.

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Air

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor Not required


Also Built


Truck scale 45 x 10 feet — 50 ton

Flat storage for corn extends capacity at locations like Mitchellville, Iowa and Traer, Kansas

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Flat storage at Traer, Kan., for farm equipment, and an unused elevator.

During the heyday of elevator building, no sooner did an elevator go up, than it filled up, and left a town wanting for storage. The first option was to add an annex. But where economics dictated, cooperatives resorted to the simple expedient of horizontal storage. In the Farmers Elevator Guide during the 1940s and 1950s, between the slick ads for elevator builders, companies advertized Quonset-style buildings for flat storage.

A common sight in Nebraska and Kansas are long, flat piles of corn covered in tarps held down with old tires. At one grain facility, I saw a front-end loader filling grain trucks from one end of one of these great corn piles. At another, workmen were hurriedly applying tarp and tires in advance of a rainstorm. It seems the demand for ethanol has once again ramped up corn demand beyond the capacity of vertical storage facilities, or at least the ability to pay for them.

Mitchellville, Iowa: the Heartland Co-op elevator with the former feed mill and dryer. One of the two old flat-storage buildings for corn is in the foreground.

At two of the sites I recently visited, where the Tillotson-built elevators became insufficient for their purpose within a few years, I saw examples of  corrugated-style flat-storage buildings that were added after the original elevators were filled to capacity. These  served during a brief stretch of time until replaced by more modern, efficient bins, when the buildings found other uses. They were well suited for many farm needs since they could house virtually anything and were built to endure, once their corn storage days ended.

Mitchellville, Iowa, a site where an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha operates, has two such buildings.  They look like ordinary metal buildings, but the tip-off to their special use is the ladder leading to an opening in the roof where the auger operates. Both buildings have new jobs since the large annex additions were built beside the old elevator–one is a machine tool shed, and the other handles seed.

Idaho corn stored under a tarp is loaded onto grain truck.


The J. H. Tillotson-built farm elevator at Traer, Kan., is still standing, but idle

Grafel Farm elevator, built by J.H.Tillotson, Contractor, at Traer, Kan.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The road to Traer, Kan., was a bit obscure. The town is south of McCook, Neb., across the border, on unpaved secondary roads. It took some navigating to get close to the elevator, and then to find the right road, once the elevator peeked over the farm fields. We were rewarded with a handsome, squared-up, tall elevator on a lonely rail line in a winding creek valley surrounded by farmland. I hopped out of the van in a grassy parking area and started to take pictures. A truck was parked at the weighing house by the elevator. I knew this was a private farm, and it always had a privately owned elevator, from the time my grandfather built it. So I wanted to make my presence known.

The elevator leg and bins.

When we visited McCook’s elevator earlier in the day, worker Kelly Clapp told me the Traer elevator was still in operation. But his information was about two years out of date. Don Grafel, who greeted me when I entered the elevator office, chuckled when I asked if the elevator was working. “I wish a tornado would take it down,” he said.

Don had started working at the Traer elevator as a kid. His family now leases the farmland from a granddaughter of the Anderson family, who had the elevator built, and as part of the deal, the Grafel family had to buy the elevator. The Grafels operated it for a number of years.

The elevator was retired two seasons ago, Don said. The problem with the elevator was twofold. It had been built in a flood area with a high water table, and the measures taken during construction to account for the water had started to fail. It had leaking problems during wet years. But worse, the elevator was slow. Don said the elevator could take a semi-load at a time in the pit, which was good, but it would take an hour to load the bins. Fifteen years ago, the Grafel farm placed metal bins on high ground above the town. That handled the water risk, but Don said that even those bins were falling behind demand because of slow loading.

“J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, Denver” is stamped on the interior manhole covers.

Shirley Nichols, who also worked at the office, was keenly interested in the history of the elevator. I had a treat to offer her. Russell Anderson, who commissioned the elevator, wrote a letter of recommendation for my grandfather’s new company on May 6, 1949. The Traer elevator was an example of Grandpa’s work before he went out on his own after working for J.H. Tillotson, Contractor. I gave a copy of the letter to her along with a photo my grandfather took during the elevator construction. In return, she gave me another construction photo and some historical pictures of the town.

Finally, my hungry and thirsty children came into the office, and the visit was pretty well over. Don’s brother Greg came in after meeting my husband in the parking lot. He wondered who had dropped by. But it was time to get on the road again, before the complaints got too shrill.

The good people of the Grafel farm made us feel very welcome, and gave us a window into the Traer elevator’s past. I’m glad we were able to see it while it still stands.

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