Big R Bridge is celebrating 40 years of innovation this year. In this, the third of a four-part series, we invite you to travel back in time with us for a glimpse of Big R in its third full decade of operation – the 1990s.
In our previous installment, we followed Sid Wilke, his brother, Dave Wilke, and their friend Tom Selders through the 80s as they rode the crest of the US mid-west oil exploration boom, hungry for economical bridging solutions.
As the decade came to a close and the energy sector was waning, forestry and housing took a jump that saw increased demand for Big R products and services. It was the forestry business that really filled the void as the 90s rolled out, however. Portable and permanent Big R Bridges were dropping in all over the Pacific Northwest and even Alaska. Heavy rainfalls made sound bridging solutions all the more critical in those areas. Sid Wilke recounts that their Alaska salesman, Rich Warner, would frequently return from a 10-12 day trip to Alaska with about a dozen bridge orders. Important learning on the ins and outs of shipping such large components to Alaska sharpened Big R’s competitive edge in the region.
Forestry was big and so were their bridges. Big R sold two identical bridges that were 156’ spans – one in Alaska and one in Washington State. The Alaska one was installed with a huge crane mounted on a barge, a first for Big R. Two large cranes on either side of a raging river installed the Washington one. One crane would swing the bridge section over the river and the other would pick it up from the far end.
When the forestry sector quieted in the mid 90’s, the highways work picked up. The Big R team kept refining their designs and construction methods to become even more efficient in building their truss designs. Although they would have preferred to sell more of their corrugated steel bridge decking, many of the DOTs were calling for cast-in-place concrete decking on their bridges. Typical of Big R, they quickly perfected a cast-in-place decking solution.
Between 1995 and 2000, Big R also made a name in recreational, trail, golf and pedestrian bridges, developing several different truss styles to suit many different types of applications.
It was also in the 90’s that Sid Wilke met a new friend through the corrugated steel pipe association he belonged to. Mike Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL) in Canada, soon developed a strategic business relationship with the Big R management team that lead to them becoming AIL’s largest US distributor for their patented Super•Cor® deep-corrugated structural steel plate and other products. It was a relationship that would flourish and lead to even more opportunities as the new millennium approached. In the next edition of Profiles we’ll see what transpired.
» Final chapter in the series: the 2000s