A distressed, robotized Tillotson elevator awaiting rescue by Hercules in Wahoo, Neb.

By Ronald Ahrens

We wanted terrific in Wahoo. The fifth and final stop on our Jan. 2 road trip in eastern Nebraska called for it, in keeping with the unusual name of the seat of Saunders County and the town’s colorful history. We are told “wahoo” is taken from a shrub, the eastern wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), and the name was also given to a navy sub, the USS Wahoo

An icon for Nebraska 2020 road tripWahoo happens to have produced more than its share of notability. Wahoo Sam Crawford twirled his way into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Howard Hanson composed his way to a Pulitzer Prize. Darryl F. Zanuck swept up three Academy Awards. Geneticist George Beadle shared a Nobel and took over Chicago U. 

There must be something in the water: Wahoo had fewer than 3,000 people until after World War Two. A greater concentration of talent, where?

Electrodes on the brain.

Tillotson Construction Co. built a 150,000-bushel, single-leg concrete elevator there in 1950.

I had passed through Wahoo many times without understanding the elevator’s provenance and would not have thought to see Tillotson embossed on the manhole covers.

Notes in the construction record say our Wahoo house followed the busy year’s Imo, Okla., plan. It means five grand tanks of 16 feet in diameter and 120 feet in height. There’s a 13 x 17-foot center driveway, and the note says, “Split 4 bins over Dr.” 

Construction consumed 1,492 tons of reinforced concrete, 40 tons of plain concrete for the hoppers, and 72.34 tons of steel. 

The slab, 21 inches of reinforced thickness, covered 54 x 51 feet.

  • Pit depth: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Structure rating: 8,216 tons. 
  • Curve of cupola: 22 1/4 feet wide, 42 1/2 feet long, 26 1/2 feet high. 

Our excitement soon diminished on seeing the subject and its neglect. What a shame to Wahoo. The use as an antenna tower is a terrible disappointment.

Things could be fixed up in a cute robotic way. Lay out a note of history, then rachet up each paying guest in the manlift, serving Wahoo wine on the dining deck. Block the wind and electromagnetic radiation, and it’s a regional phenomenon. People will come all the way from Loup City.

We visited late Saturday. The taverns had filled. Naught else moved. We extracted no information and must imagine circumstances of the elevator’s degradation. 

Wahoo produces all-stars, but the big star amidst, is disheveled and in duress. Like Prometheus, bound to a rock, an eagle preying his liver, Tillotson’s Wahoo house awaits Hercules.

Before Prometheus could be freed, he received a visit from straying Io, garbed as “a most lovely white heifer.” She recognized him, saying: 

You–he who succored the whole race of men? 

You, that Prometheus, the daring, the enduring? 

Tillotson Construction had a wet time of it when building at David City in 1951

By Ronald Ahrens

“Wet pit,” notes the Tillotson Construction Co. record in its details of the David City job of 1951.

An icon for Nebraska 2020 road tripA Tillotson crew put up a single-leg, 180,000-bushel, reinforced-concrete elevator in the seat of Butler County during one of the wettest periods ever recorded in the prairie region.

“Most of Kansas and Missouri as well as large portions of Nebraska and Oklahoma had monthly precipitation totaling 200 percent of normal in May, 300 percent in June, and 400 percent in July of 1951,” says a report by the National Weather Service.

But the work went on. The new David City elevator was built on an original plan with five tanks, or silos, of 18 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. There was a 13 by 17-foot center driveway, eight bins over the drive, and a total of 15 bins and overflow. “Dust Bin @ Ext.” observes a further note.

The elevator required 1,716 cubic yards of reinforced concrete, 20 yards of plain concrete for hoppers, and 81.16 tons of rebar.

The 21-inch-thick main slab extended over 60 by 55 feet, covering an area (“Act. Outside on Ground”) of 3,057 square feet. It sat over a 17-foot-deep pit. The design incorporated a full basement.

The slab supported 3,513 tons of reinforced concrete and 40 tons of plain concrete. With grain weighing 60 pounds per bushel, there was capacity for 5,400 tons of grain. Along with structural steel and machinery as well as hoppers, the the elevator was rated at 9,458 tons total loaded weight.

An elegant rounded cupola, or headhouse, sat atop the tanks. Its dimension were 19 feet wide, 38 feet long, and 27 1/3 feet high. With the moderately tall cupola and moderately deep pit, the centers of the leg’s head and boot pulleys were 154.83 feet apart.

The pulleys were 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches (boot) and 72 x 14 x 3 5/16 (head) and turned the at 42 revolutions per minute.

Calumet supplied the 330-inch, six-ply belt that was 14 inches wide. Cups of 12 x 6 inches were spaced at nine-inch intervals.

A 30-horsepower Howell motor delivered a theoretical leg capacity of 7,140 bushels per hours. Operating at 80 percent, it needed 27.6 hp to deliver actual capacity of 5,700 bushels per hour.

A 1.5-hp motor ran the manlift. The truck lift operated with a 7.5-hp Ehrsam motor.

A further note indicates, “300 Bu. Dryer Split Bin #7 for Dryer.”

Although feeling the strain, Tillotson’s elegant 1948 elevator stands tall at Richland, Neb.

IMG_20200104_113901371_HDR

By Ronald Ahrens

The handsome 52,000-bushel elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built in 1948 at Richland, Neb., has “pretty much turned into an OSHA nightmare.” 

Nebraska 2020So reported Todd Henke, who manages the Richland location for Cooperative Supply Inc.

“They’re so concerned about dust explosions,” Henke said. And it’s no surprise, not “with the electrical and how they [elevators] were built.” Keeping clean inside is a big emphasis. 

The old elevator–rated at 3,169 tons gross weight when fully loaded–was full at the time of our phone call on Feb. 3. Henke described its intermittent use, which he attributed as much to limited capacity as to general creakiness.

IMG_20200104_112801196

Rose Ann Fennessy paces off the driveway on the chilly morning of Jan. 4.

The leg, for example, is “very slow,” running at 2,000 bushels per hour. Original specifications indicate a theoretical maximum of 5,700 bushels and actual capacity (80 percent of theoretical) of 4,555 bushels.

“If we max it out we maybe could do 2,500,” Henke said, pointing out the elevator was built in the day of 100-bushel wagons and 300-bushel trucks. It’s more common for today’s truck to bear up to 1,200 bushels, making for tight accommodations in the 13-foot-wide driveway.

The heavy rigs, as well as massive trains rumbling by, shake and stress the whole building.

And days of loading rail cars at the siding have ended.

“Years ago the main problem was loading six cars. Now that feature, we had to take that spout down from cracking.” The insurance company requested it. 

Not to mention that the scale of things has changed so much. “These days, if you don’t load 100 cars, it isn’t worth doing.” 

Do people ever comment about the cupola (headhouse) being rounded at the south end? 

“I’ve been here a very long time and don’t notice it,” Henke said. He started as a bookkeeper in 1990. “I imagine they kept that north side more square because of the leg.”

Tillotson was still experimenting with rounding the cupola in 1948 and gradually extended this design to general use.

Our other question concerned the note in company records saying, “Water.” We take this to mean groundwater seeped into the 10-foot 6-inch excavation. So is there any problem with moisture in the basement?

Henke said no–another indication of a well-built Tillotson elevator continuing to do the job.

 

Tillotson’s Cedar Bluffs, Neb. elevator did without such luxuries as a central driveway or full basement

IMG_20200104_101247106_HDR

By Ronald Ahrens

The reinforced-concrete elevator that Tillotson Construction Co. built for Farmers Union Cooperative Association for $60,000 in 1950 did without expensive options like an integrated central driveway, a full basement, and an electrically operated manlift. But it was still a substantial and well-made structure that continues in operation in Cedar Bluffs, Neb.

Nebraska 2020Today, according to Randy Carlholm, the co-op’s general manager and CEO, an electrically driven manlift serves in place of the original hand-operated one. Farmers deposit grain in the external enclosure, and it is conveyed below ground to the leg.

Our records say this elevator had four tanks, or silos, of 16 feet in diameter and rising 120 feet. Storage capacity was 130,675 bushels. There were nine internal bins. From outside it appears there are more tanks. Without a walk-through, we are unable to reconcile this discrepancy. Are we talking apples and apples here?

The construction process consumed 1,024 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 44.19 tons of steel.

Another 2.3 yards of plain concrete went for the hoppers.

The main slab was 21 inches thick and covered an area 46×46 square feet to support a gross loaded weight of 6,365 tons. The pit was 16 feet 7 inches deep.

Atop the tanks, the cupola, or headhouse, measured 14 feet wide, 24 3/4 feet long, and 21 1/2 feet high.

This is a single-leg elevator with the boot and head pulleys spaced 150 feet apart. The boot pulley was 60 x 12 x 2 3/16 inches while the head pulley was 1 1/4 inches wider. The head turned at 40 rpm thanks to a 25-horsepower Howell motor. The pulleys carried an 11-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt with cups 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep spaced 7 1/2 inches apart.

IMG_20200104_100430644_HDRTheoretical leg capacity rated at 5,972 bushels per hour; actual capacity was 80 percent of theoretical, which rounded off to 4,780 (4,777.6) bushels per hour. This required just 22.3 horsepower.

J.B. Ehrsam and Sons Manufacturing Co. provided the hand-operated manlift.

The dump grate was 6 x 5 feet.

With the 10-bushel load-out scale and 8 1/4-inch spout, we can’t guess how long it would take to fill a rail car with corn, but a fascinating document we found suggests that filling a car with wheat would take about 80 minutes.

 

Farmers Union Cooperative operates a well-preserved Tillotson elevator in Cedar Bluffs, Nebr.

IMG_20200104_095524269

By Ronald Ahrens

Ace scout Rose Ann Fennessy and I visited five Tillotson elevators in Nebraska’s Saunders and Butler Counties on Jan. 4. 

IMG_20200102_163303436The first was at Cedar Bluffs, a village of 600 overlooking the Platte River. The Farmers Union Cooperative Association location was quiet when we arrived around 9.30 a.m., so we invited ourselves to walk the site and take photos.

Cedar Bluffs is a smart-looking operation, as might be expected from “Nebraska’s Oldest Cooperative Since 1888.” The main house, about to celebrate its 70th birthday, and the annex that came along nine years later appear to be in fine shape.

Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, completed this 130,675-bushel elevator in 1950–a big year in eastern Nebraska: my grandfather Reginald’s company also built elevators in Bellwood, Aurora, Omaha, and Wahoo.

Nebraska 2020The Cedar Bluffs job is noteworthy for its rectangular headhouse. The company’s graceful signature, the oval headhouse, was still to be perfected.

Other elevators built in this same year–namely, Wahoo and Richland–reflect the movement toward ovalization.

Another unusual circumstance is the lack of a central driveway going through the structure. A note with the entry says, “Truck Dump Grate No Dr’way.”

A history on the co-op’s website shows that “Elevator C, the first concrete elevator” was built in 1950 for $60,000. The co-op, which dates from 1888, had paid $10,000 for a steam-powered elevator and sheds in 1915. In 1934, the 40,000-bushel Elevator A was constructed. Six years later, Elevator B was acquired from Updike Grain Co. for $5,000 but was “disposed of” later.

The co-op lists capacity of Elevator C at 110,000 bushels–a discrepancy when compared to Tillotson records.

IMG_20200104_100517742

Without an integral central driveway, an outside dumping grate serves the elevator, now starting its eighth decade.

Cedar Bluffs was built on an original plan that included four storage tanks of 16 feet in diameter and reaching 120 feet in height.

In 1950, a concrete elevator was a big splurge for a small co-op. Besides no central driveway, Cedar Bluffs did without the luxury of an electrically operated manlift–it was hand-operated.

The 300,000-bushel annex and the grain dryer were added in 1959 for $150,000. It is unknown who did this job; the manhole plates are blank. We do know that Tillotson was pretty much finished with new construction by then.

We hope to learn more. Meantime, this is the first of two posts from Cedar Bluffs. Complete specs will follow.

 

 

 

 

Uniqeness in an early Cargill elevator in northeastern South Dakota

Early Cargill 02

Brad Perry shares another photo of an early Cargill elevator, this one at Athol, S.D.

Athol and yesterday’s Ashton are twin towns in Spink County, a ways south of Aberdeen. Together they must have about 180 people.

We hope those people appreciate the uniqueness of their elevators.

An early Cargill country elevator complex at Ashton, S.D.

Early Cargill 01

Brad Perry shares another photo of an early Cargill elevator, this one at Ashton, S.D. As the Dakota Territory surrendered its prairie to agriculture in the 1880s, grain traders like Cargill expanded north and west. The initial heavy harvests from the rich earth raised demand for storage.

 

 

The trading partnership of Bagley & Cargill in South Dakota

Bagley

Our friend, Brad Perry, saw the recent posts about Cargill history and was prompted to send some of his photos.

“The Bagley name still shows up in South Dakota along U.S. 12,” Perry notes. This elevator turns up in an online source that says the location is Andover, just east of Aberdeen.

“George C[olt]. Bagley was a member of a grain-trading family in eastern Wisconsin,” Wayne G. Broehl, Jr. writes in his massive history of Cargill. 

In the early 1880s, Wisconsin farmers were moving out of wheat and into livestock, so Bagley betook himself to South Dakota and partnered with Sylvester Cargill, one of the five Cargill brothers.

Broehl continues:

Most of the Bagley & Cargill operations were in that part of the Dakota territory that later became the northeastern section of South Dakota. Similar to Jim Cargill’s larger-capacity operations in the Red River Valley, the Bagley & Cargill’s 13 structures at the firms 10 locations were more substantial (although only one was classified as an elevator.) This elevator, at Aberdeen, had a capacity of 25,000 bushels; the Andover warehouse had the same; the Groton operation had an 18,000-bushel capacity and the Bath warehouse, 15,000.

An extensive biography of Bagley says the company concentrated on towns along the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

The partnership lasted “only a short time.” Bagley’s wife, Cornelia, would later recall, “Ves Cargill [Sylvester] was a partner but George could not put up with his suspicion of all deals and bought him out.”

 

Early grain-storage leader Buffalo experienced the boom in full

Buffalo 07

By Ronald Ahrens

“Silent crowd watches through the long night hours as workers search mill ruins for more missing bodies,” the Buffalo Times blared in 1913.

As an early leader in grain storage and milling, Buffalo, N.Y., was also a test site (of sorts) for elevator mishaps.

This report, culled from a firefighting blog, shows how the explosion even hit a passing train: 

An explosion devastated a grain elevator, killing at least 17 men and injuring 60 more. The elevator, located at the Husted Milling and Elevating Co. at Elk and Peabody streets, was left in flames after the dust explosion. The engineer of a passing train was killed by the blast that shattered windows, injuring many passengers. A dozen boxcars loaded with grain were also destroyed. Every ambulance in the city responded, but there were so many injuries that the flatbed section of the damaged train was used to transport many of the wounded grain elevator workers. Firemen poured tons of water on the volatile remains all day and into the night, hoping to cool things enough to allow a complete search. Losses were estimated at a half-million dollars.

Grain dust is explosive. After the electrification of elevator mechanisms in the late-1890s, it took a while to figure out that electric motors should be shielded to suppress sparks.

Static electricity can build up around conveyor belts.

Machinery can overheat.

And of course, there’s a reason “No Smoking” warnings are now everywhere in an elevator.

Tillotson Construction Company’s first reinforced concrete elevator, which was built in 1939 at Goltry, Okla., had a dust collection system. Notes in the company records say, “3 H.P. fan, 42″ collector dust bin.”

We lack any more details but are striving to increase our knowledge of dust collection inside elevators.

 

 

 

 

Looking to Greenwood from I-80, we see it, twice as tall as the trees

Co-op from Greenwood from I80 overpass IIII

In this photo, our friend Kim David Cooper shows the same refined sense of composition as in his oil paintings. “A different view of your Greenwood elevator,” he says.

The photo’s slug line notes the shot was taken from an overpass on Interstate 80.

Standing at least twice the height of the tallest tree, doesn’t the elevator make a handsome addition to the landscape?