Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators is a collaboration between Ronald Ahrens and Kristen Osborn Cart.
Our grandfathers built mid-20th-century grain elevators in North America. That means they used concrete.
We’re out to document their production.
For example, here’s a Tillotson Construction Company elevator, photo by Kristen on November 27, 2011.
My dad Darrell Greenlee worked for Johnson Construction co Salina KS & built several of these elevators in the midwest. we are trying to locate some of them too.
There are several of the Johnson and Johnson Sampson elevators that we have identified, while visiting some of the Tillotson elevators. One, which I saw a few days ago, was the old straight-up elevator at Page City, Kansas. I would gladly share the pictures of it that I took, and I can look through my files and see which of the others Gary Rich and I have found. It is fun to research these things.
That would be great. thanks teresa toland
Hi Teresa, my Grandfather Ted Dodson worked with your Dad for a while and they became very good friends. My Grandmother really loved your Mom Rosina. My Mom (Fran Anderson) used to babysit you when you were little. Virgil Johnson (the owner of the company) spent his final years in my home prior to passing away of cancer in 1972. Come see me sometime. I live in Lawton, OK. I understand your sister is buried in Enid. God Bless, Darrell Ames
It is so good to hear from you. Can you send me your email address. We are thinking of taking my mom to Oklahoma this summer & we would love to stop & visit you. I remember my folks talking about your grandparents often. I will tell mom today that I heard from you. My email address is email@example.com. Love to chat with you. thanks Teresa
I’m one of Virgil Johnson’s granddaughters, I’m his sons, Sherman Johnson, daughter. My name is Erica. If don’t mind, we’d love to chat. 🙂
Hope to talk to you soon. Thanks Erica and Sherman Johnson
SO GOOD to her from you. we loved your family i’ve talked to Brad but cant get any of the rest to communicate i would love a reunion with them they were part of our family. mom talked about Ted Dodds all the time my folks loved his family my email is ttolandATfrontiernetDOTnet if you email i would love to give you my number so we can talk. we lived at virgils house with the boys whenever we were in salina thank you for reaching out look forward to hearinf from you Teresa Toland
My grandparents were Ted and Audra Dodson. I remember Virgil Johnson quite well. He stayed with us just prior to his passing in 1972. I also remember Brad and Gaylord quite well.
I work for the US Govt in Lawton, OK. You can call or text me at (808) 398-2307.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
eRICA I READ TED DODDS GRANDSON INTO YOUR
NOTE IM REALLY NOT AN IDIOT WOUKD LOVE TO TALK WITH YOU
I am trying to find some detailed information on concrete elevator construction. In the early years I wonder how did they pump concrete up to 200 feet high and did they use steel forms or wood? Using buckets would be way to slow on a mono poor. There is not much information out there at all. I am trying to find photos of some of the equipment used, especially the hydraulic systems used to raise the forms. How did they install the structural steel when the jack mounts supporting the forms would be in the way of that process?
Hi Jacob. We appreciate your note. Please look through the pages of our blog, and in the stories and photos you will find answers to some of your questions.
Jacob I was young when dad built elevators but i know they used buckets to get concrete poured. when he hit the top we got to ride in bucket to top. i only kno they creanked the jacks and they didnt stop till they hit the top. when i was 8 I could tell you exactly how it worked but at 70 dont remember lol. it was a life learning experience.
I have quite a bit of information about slip forms in my father’s belongings. I have photos and documents. Would like some assistance in sorting and clarifying some of it. Anyone in the San Antonio area?
Becky, I worked for Tillitson 1954-55 ,we used wood forms & a single line mud bucket. I also worked for Sampson later & used wood forms & a single line mud bucket
Very interesting. I am trying to find out information about my grandpa’s elevator building in Nebraska. He worked for Pocahontas (IA) ready-mix in the 50s and I believe he helped with the grain elevators in Wahoo, Kearney and Grand Island. Do you have any idea where I can go for info??
It seems that we are on a similar quest, and the answers are not always easy. I do know that the elevator in Wahoo was built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha, Nebraska. That elevator is still in use under private ownership, and at the moment is full of corn. The Pocahontas elevator was also a Tillotson job. I wonder if your grandfather was involved with that job also?
You can try the offices of the elevator operators at the locations you mention. Because the jobs were done so long ago, much of the documentation has disappeared for most of the elevators. But sometimes you can find someone who remembers. The only other place that seems to have much information about the builders is the Farmers Elevator Guide, a publication of the cooperative, which is available at the University of Nebraska, at the Agriculture College campus in Lincoln, as well as a few other places. It is not available on line, though limited on line searches may show that your grandfather’s company is mentioned in a certain volume of the guide. You can do newspaper searches and you might find ads or other mentions for your grandfather’s company. And old Pocahontas newspapers probably will turn up something–you may even find mentions of your grandfather.
I wish you luck, and if I find something I will be sure to post it here.
I know that my Dad, Darrell Greenlee, built a slip form elevatorn in Grand Island, NE in 1951. I believe he still worked for Johnson construction co at the time. If you get any infor please forward to me. thanks Teresa Toland
I have not forgotten your request to find more information about Grand Island’s elevator. It may take a visit, and that will be sometime later this year. I looked at all of the online resources I could think of, and the answer to your question proved hard to find. I will keep your inquiry in mind and let you know the moment I find anything more about your father’s work.
This is amazing! I broke out in such a big smile when I found this blog.
My father did feed and grain equipment repair throughout Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, so I bet he’s been to many of these sites. I can’t wait to explore your site and share it with him.
Thank you for your nice comments. It has been such a pleasant surprise to meet people like yourself, who have a connection to this business, through this blog. Grain elevators salt the landscape as you go through farm country, and you pass them without comment–unless you are involved with them. People who work with elevators have an enthusiasm for their work. What makes the job so great? It would be neat to talk with your dad and find out.
My grandfather was in the elevator maintenance and repair business after he stopped building elevators. I’ll bet he and your dad could have swapped stories. Then he got tired of being on the road all the time, and he settled down with a tropical fish business out of his home. But he still could look at his handiwork with pride every time he passed one of his elevators.
Thank you again for stopping by. You are very welcome!
What an amazing article and blog. I am the youngest son, Brad Johnson, of Virgil Johnson who owned and operated Johnson Elevator and Johnson Sampson. My dad started his grain elevator career with Tillotson. My mother Ivone Sampson Johnson and my dad Virgil Johnson started Johnson Elevator Company. They had six boys and made their home in Salina Ks after years if traveling from job site to job site. I would love to share more details of my dad’s company Johnson Elevator Company, and about the company later formed by my dad and uncles, Johnson-Sampson Construction, with you. Please feel free to contact me at bradatlaserengravinganddesigndotcom
We would very much like to share more of your stories on the blog. We will be in touch by email, and for some reason if you don’t hear from Ronald, check to see if his email went to spam. He is very interested in talking with you about your dad’s companies.
The Tillotson Construction Company was the place where my grandfather William Osborn started his career also, and he eventually went out on his own with a partner, Eugene Mayer, forming Mayer-Osborn Construction Company out of Denver. I am sure many of the people in your father’s company and my grandfather’s company were well acquainted–in fact, many of their projects are very similar.
It would be fascinating to know who actually designed the elevators for both companies. We would love to see old pictures, plans and written materials if you have them. Perhaps we can solve some mysteries that have persisted about the relationships between the builders, their work, and the elevators that still dot the landscape under the Johnson and Mayer-Osborn names.
Thank you so much for commenting on the blog. We look forward to learning more about your dad’s work and career.
My father was involved with the design and construction of grain elevators. I visited one with him as a young boy in Fort Morgan, Colorado I believe. It was for sugar beets.
Thank you for visiting our blog! I hope you visit often, and if you care to share some of your father’s elevator stories, we would love to hear them. Your father was in such a unique profession, creating buildings that could last well beyond one lifetime. I admire his work.
My father, George T Christensen worked for Tillotson from 1948 or 49 until his death in 1955 in Boxholm, Iowa. Do you have any records about what elevators he worked on?
We get new information all the time about the elevators and the employees. We are developing a time line for the elevators built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha based upon some of the original company documents, and will be posting about our discoveries in the near future. While the documentation may or may not mention the employees by name, it will list the projects that were completed during the time your father worked there. We will be on the lookout for information about your father.
My father, George T Christensen, was the “upstairs foreman” for the Tillotson slip form elevator construction company. He was in charge of all the above ground construction. He would ride up to the top in a bucket hoisted up the side. I’ve been told that in Delhart, Texas I walked across a small bridge between two elevators with him and had no fear. I don’t remember it. My grandparents and I visited him several times at jobs in Storm Lake, Bancroft, Glidden (repairs), and Boxholm, all in Iowa. He took his parents and me to the top of one of the elevators for a look around. My grandfather pretended to push me and I had the fear from then on. I think Dad’s friend, Jay Wiser, may have been the “downstairs foreman” in charge of the underground structure and mechanicals. Dad died just after finishing the elevator in Boxholm.
We have recently found documentation for many Tillotson elevators among company papers that the Tillotson heirs still held. Delhart, Texas was a site where Tillotson Construction repeatedly built. All over the Texas panhandle you will find Tillotson elevators and annexes, in many of the little towns. Our list of elevators is not complete, but we found over 125 concrete projects they built all over the country over 15-20 years. It is just fantastic to hear from you and others who witnessed the process.
Frank Nine I first worked for Tillotson in Dayton Ia. Jay Wiser was supervisor. We finished there and moved to Bancroft Ia.and finished late fall 1954. Early 1955 we started Boxholm elev. where I was from. G.T.Christensen, Jay Wiser and I became friends and often hung out together when not working. I attended George’s funeral. I was 19 at the time. We went to Dallas Center Ia. George’s wife and family were for some time in Boxholm. I later helped her with some minor repair etc. on their trailer house. The children were very young then. I am now 77 years old. Your old family friend. Frank
Thank you so much for sharing this information about my dad. I am David, the youngest. I was only 9 months old when he died, so I never really knew him. I’ve heard stories from family members and others, but this is so refreshing to hear from someone who worked with him. Means a lot to me! Thank you!
I have no connection with elevators except visual. I once rode a bicycle on a 10,000 mile journey around the US and Canada. When you are out on the road with dozens of miles of nowhere ahead of you, the elevators were always a welcome site for my next destination. I enjoyed your blog and will be back. Thanks for following me. Curt
An elevator can be a destination for its own sake. Once you discover them, elevators are hard to pass by without checking them out. It sounds like you had a fantastic trip! Thanks for stopping by.
to George A. Christenson, When I work with George T. in Bancroft Iowa, I remember going to Storm Lake Iowa with George to see his wife and newborn baby. I drove him back to Bancroft ,he was so tired he didn’t want to drive. This was in 1954. Sincerly Frank Nine
That was David, the youngest.
And the car was a Buick, no doubt!
And you probably remember the little green trailer that the family lived in until Boxholm.
How long did you work for Tillitson?
George As I remember the buick a 53 or 54 and was white. It was the first that I drove with power steering,.. It was a little tricky at first. I graduated from Boxholm High School 1954 and went to work for Tillotson that spring at Dayton and then to Bancroft until late fall. Went back to work for them spring 1955 in Boxholm and then to Dallas Center and finished there late fall. I’ve often wondered how your mom and you kids were doing after you left Boxholm. George and Your mother treated me like family. I felt so sad when we lost him. Thanks so very much. Your Friend Frank
You are correct. It was a brand new V-8 white Roadmaster Buick with V8 on the hubcaps! My mom drove that car until 1966. She told me Dad loved Buicks and owned several of them. Glad to hear this information about my Dad! I’ve heard from others he was a pretty good fella’! I still have his old toolbox with many of the tools he used there on the job! Thank you for sharing!
That’s pretty close except the Buick was black (I’d attach a photo if possible). Terry, Sue, and David are all living twenty or thirty miles west of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado. Ruby lives with Terry and is still going strong (at 96) though her hearing is getting poor. I talk to them on the phone now and then, but haven’t seen them for 13 or 14 years. Terry is on this site too, and should remember you. Terry is parts manager at a Chevy dealership, Sue is a mail carrier, and David is a fertilizer plant operator and preacher.They all have kids and grandkids. I was from Dad’s first marriage and lived with my grandparents in Scranton Iowa.
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My grandfather was Oliver Horner and was half of Horner and Wyatt who designed grain elevators. My grandfather died in 1937. I have always wondered how I could find out where the elevators are and if they still exist, or if any blueprints exist. The only one I know about was in Galveston TX and was demolished a few years back (http://www.implosionworld.com/galvestonbftp.htm). If you woul dbe willing to share any tips for research or have any information about Horner and Wyatt grain elevators you would make me very happy. Thank you, I am enjoying your website!
Thanks for getting in touch. I don’t think we’ve heard of Horner and Wyatt until now. But we are glad to know about them. We’re all part of the same community. Give us a shout if you learn anything, and we will do the same.
There are a few resources you can try, and I would suggest before you pay for a site, try to get access at a library. There are several websites that archive old newspapers. (Newspapers.com, Newspaperarchive.com, and some free sites like fultonhistory.com) They are a good starting spot where you can search using the company name. The old Farmers Elevator Guide profiled a number of builders and included company ads, and you can find the nearest copy of it in a library on the Worldcat.org website. The Farmers Elevator Guide is a fairly inaccessible resource, but some issues are online. Since your grandfather died so long ago, it may be difficult to find family members who remember some of the sites. But anyone you can think of who might have information about it should be asked. You are starting out on the same quest that motivated me in the beginning. I wish you the best with your search, and anything I find I will post here.
I will look into the sites you suggested. Thank you.
Our newest post will give you some of the locations that your grandfather’s company designed. I can also send you more information about your grandfather’s career, if you wish. He was a very interesting man.
I would be happy for any information you can guide me to. What post are you referring to? Thank you for responding.
My dad (Rolland Grage) worked for Cargill Incorperated in Emmetsburg, IA for about 26 years. He spent 16 years as manager. I watched the new elevator being contructed but the second oldest #2 still exists and is used though it is a victim of years of paint. It was built be a company called IE Iberson or TE Iberson. The newer elevator was built by Todd and Sargent. Do you have any examples of these? The oldest #3 has since been demolished and burnt. It was a wood elevator and the addition to it was one of the first cement elevators with a galvanized steel exoskelton (furing strips) If you contact me via private email I will share all I remember via phone. Thanks.
It is wonderful to read about the Tillotson Co. background. I’m 86 and spent a life time in the industry, working in the engineering dept. of Chalmers & Borton (now Borton Inc.) one of their competitors. While I never met Mr. Tillotson or Osborn I am very aware of who they are. Over the years I had occasion to be inside of a number of the facilities they built. The article brings back wonderful memories and brings to mind a lot of other names connected with the business.
Horner-Wyatt: KC MO.
Wietz- Hettilsayer: KC MO.
MacDonald Engineering: Chicago IL.
Younglove Construction: Sioux City IA.
Ryan Construction: Sioux City IA.
Mayer- Osborn: Omaha NE.
Roberts Construction Sabetha KS
Johnson Construction:Salina KS
Johnson – Sampson: Salina KS
Jarvis Construction: Salina KS
There were a number of others whom I have left out for lack of recall. But for sure, Tillotson was one of the pioneers of elevator building.
Jim Wilcoxen, Hutchinson KS.
My grandfather (Ted Dodson) worked for Virgil Johnson (Johnson Construction and Johnson – Sampson Construction) for many years. I spent a few weekends here in Oklahoma driving around looking at many of the old grain elevators they built in the 1940s and 1950s. Still standing, but not in use anymore. Virgil Johnson spent his final days with us, dying of cancer. He passed in 1972.
Jim Wilcoxen–I remember your name. Maybe you remember my dad, Bill Walraven, who was a Chalmers & Borton/Borton, Inc. superintendent for almost 30 years, then became VP of Borton. I have fond memories of watching elevators “grow” from the ground up. I call them “prairie skyscrapers,” and love driving through Kansas, the panhandle of Texas, as well as taking pride in the tanks at Busch Gardens in Tampa and elsewhere. We moved 52 times in my life until I was a senior in high school in Hutchinson KS. Changing schools that often was challenging, but I am grateful for the experiences. I now live in Albuquerque, like coming back home after my dad built the cement plant in Tijeras Canyon on the east side of Albuquerque. I’d love to hear from you if you see this. rjwalraven02 at gmail.com Best wishes, Janet Walraven
Hi Janet. Thanks for looking at Our Grandfather’s Grain Elevators. As with our usual practice, we’ve taken the live link out of your email address to save you from a lot of spam that would come your way. Additionally, in case Jim misses your message, we’ve done a quick web search and found a phone number for him. Here is the link: https://clustrmaps.com/person/Wilcoxen-59n0ir — Ronald Ahrens
Thank you for the email about Jim W. I so appreciate your taking the time. Best wishes! Janet
Thank you for sharing your memories. Dad said whatever they did, his dad’s company, Mayer-Osborn, was always looking out for Chalmers & Borton, their “biggest competitor.” I have had the privilege of seeing one of your elevators up close at American Falls, Idaho. What is so amazing is the fact that these old elevators are still operating as they always have, which is a testament to the men like yourself who designed and built them. You are to be congratulated.
It’s refreshing to find a site where the work of ancestors is remembered and preserved for history. I’m into year 11 of collecting the history of a company that quarried stone and built barges and ships for World War II on the shore of Lake Ontario, dealing with family that only remembers Grampa left them a lot of money, and little interest in what he accomplished and how.
If there are pictures of the concrete equipment used in the building of elevators and the process in the early days it would be most helpful if they are posted before they become lost forever.
Thanks, Franz. We do keep looking for the next photo archive. And our blogging has stimulated quite a lot of interest within the family. Many had no idea of our grandfathers’ accomplishments.
My father Eldon Simons worked for TE Ibberson for several years in the 60’s and again in the 90’s and 00’s. He built slip forms and designed a rail system for moving the concrete. He worked all over the US and did jobs in Canada, China, Vietnam, and Trinidad.
Becky – I worked for ibberson from 1997 to 2015. Worked on many slips and rode some with your dad. Great guy! He made all of us our meals in Vietnam. Was really great to eat bacon and eggs at the end of each shift. Felt like a bit of home in a strange country.
Becky – I live in Minnesota but I would be happy to look at your dads stuff via a video call and help you catalog the documents and photos. Please email me if you are interested. As I said in my other message I worked at Ibberson with your dad and designed and rode dozens of slips.
I work in organic certification, and many of these old concrete elevators are still in use–handling both organic and conventional grains. To that end, the concrete pits prove uniquely challenging to clean between handling conventional grain and organic grain! I have found this blog to be invaluable while seeking to understand the commingling and contamination challenges unique to these concrete elevator facilities. They are buildings that still have obvious community value, and I’m grateful your blog exists as a resource for those of us who still need to understand how they function. Thank you for your work!
It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment.
Greetings to the group. I joined this list several years ago but only lurked. Either I unsubscribed or the list fell silent.
I worked slip form construction on elevators throughout Iowa in the early to mid 1970s with Todd and Sargent out of Ames, Iowa.
My first task on deck was pushing Georgia buggies, then pulling in the concrete bucket on deck and filling the hopper.
I ended up working on the ground, operating the winch, raising and lowering the concrete bucket to the hopper guy on deck, then free falling the bucket to the concrete truck guy on the ground, over and over for 12 hour shifts for about 7 days until we hit elevation.
It was s blast!
The winch was powered by an industrial Ford in-line 6 gas engine. The operator stood the whole time. He (the operator) had a foot brake, a tall (3 foot) clutch handle used with his right arm and the throttle with his left hand. The throttle was a scrap piece of wood with a wire wrapped around it, the wire running through a hole in the engine cover to the carb.
The timing and ability to see were paramount. More if you like. I don’t even know if this message will work.
Hello Mr. Hatch. Thanks for your comment and the interesting details.
I would be glad to hear more! My dad worked one job where he laid rebar as the concrete was poured. It was a summer job for his dad before he had to leave and start football practice in the fall. That would have been a 1954 job for Mayer Osborn at Blencoe, Iowa.
Thank you for your contribution to the blog.
My dad, Bill Walraven, was superintendent for Chalmers & Borton, later Vice President. While growing up, I was fascinated by watching the pours. -Janet Walraven
How can I post images to the group?
Hello. I’m sure enjoying the blog! I live a stone’s-throw from the I-80 elevators, near Vinton Street in Omaha. I was wondering if there might be drawings for those elevators (I believe once on the Missouri-pacific line into town). I’m especially curious about the height of the cylinders, interior diameter (it looks like there are two sizes), head-house height, and cylinder wall thickness. Thanks!
Hello Mark. Welcome to our blog. You’ll probably find something by searching Vinton Street in our search window..
Hello, I recently found this blog, a treasure of information! My grandfather and his brothers worked for Tillotson and Younglove in the 50’s. Grandpa passed away in 1997, and the only information I have from his years of elevator construction is the places where they lived and worked. I’m just curious if anyone here remembers working with my grandpa, Ben Schmidt. I’ll list the towns where he worked.
West Bend, Alta, and Manson, IA
York, Stromsburg, and Lincoln, NE
Meno, Orienta, and Ringwood, OK
Thank you so much for the amazing blog! I’ve learned so much here.