Alta’s historic elevator an amazing feat

Friday, October 2, 2020

Alta’s concrete grain elevator along Hwy. 7 is buzzing with activity as trucks unload grain during harvest. Back in 1950, the Tillotson Construction Company was hired to build the structure for the Alta Cooperative.

Ronald Ahrens wrote an article at the time about what the construction job entailed. “Just think what was required to build the elevator in 1950. Men started in the mud and gloom of early spring. All they had were piles of sand and lumber and steel bars, relatively few, simple tools, and an ingenious way of keeping the formwork level. They were about to perform an amazing feat.”

Elevator construction continued around the clock. According to Charles J. Tillotson, “It was constructed by so-called unskilled, common man could be taught layout along with measuring, wood cutting, and other carpentry skills. The labor used to build these forms and construct the entire grain elevator structure was obtained, for the most part, from the inhabitants of the local vicinity where the elevator was to be built. Most of the workmen had no experience whatsoever in the construction industry.”

Tillotson wrote about further complications the workers faced. “The logistics of material supply was always challenging for the grain elevator builder. Usually, the projects were located in very rural farmland areas, where the supply of lumber, steel, sand, gravel, cement, gasoline, and oil was miles from the site.”

The elevator was originally constructed with 8 tanks, 18 feet in diameter rising to 115 feet in height. There was a 13-foot-wide driveway passing through the house in an opening 15 feet high under four split bins. Several grain bins have gone up on the site over the years.

(The above excerpts were derived from articles written by Charles J. Tillotson, Neil A. Lieb, who worked for Tillotson Construction Company from 1949 to 1951, and Ronald Ahrens.)