If the people of Weddle Bros. Construction Co. Inc. are ever left penniless in the bridge industry, the Disney family will surely take them in.
The Bloomington, Ind., outfit holds a unique position in the marketplace. Not only does it handle bridge jobs around the land of Indy cars and basketball, but there also are plenty of industrial and commercial buildings to tend to. Weddle Bros. can teeter between the two, and its impressive client list includes Disney World-Florida, Sea World of Florida, General Electric, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the city of Evansville.
"One of the keys for our company is we don't just do roads and bridges," Lee Carmichael, president and CEO, told Roads & Bridges. "One point in the early '80s we had one bridge job and we were able to survive by being diversified and doing other types of business—primarily building work. There's also been times when the building work has been very down and the bridge work hasn't."
Wherever the boom, Weddle Bros. has found a way of being a part of the economic firing squad. The company posts annual revenues of $60 million and finds work for anywhere between 175-400 employees.
"There are bigger road contractors, there are bigger general construction contractors," Scott Sieboldt, vice president and division manager, highway division, told Roads & Bridges. "As far as doing both we're probably up there on the list. We think that's a good thing."
It's been a two-man operation from the beginning. Maurice Weddle spit nails with the best of them. He was known for his superior carpentry skills and breathed a love for building things. Brother Harold lived with the same passion, and put it to peace-fighting use as a member of the Cee Bees in World War II. Harold was part of the squad that would hit the beach first and build compounds where the officers and soldiers would live and operate. In 1946, the two siblings formed a company, one that started in the housing, retail and small manufacturing building market. The breakthrough came a few years later, when Weddle Bros. constructed an RCA plant in Bloomington and Indianapolis.
When the opportunity came to enter the roads and bridges business, Harold and Maurice followed a successful pattern—they formed a partnership. Ralph Rogers and Co. (now called Rogers Group Inc., Nashville, Tenn.) was a major road contractor in the Bloomington area and owned several asphalt plants and quarries. Bridge construction, however, was the Weddles' game. The two united.
"We had a concrete expertise, and the partnership has been very successful," said Carmichael.
The DOT influence would come about 12 years later. Gus Sieboldt had ownership in Weddle Bros. and his son, Richard, signed on as president in 1977. Richard's background was with the Indiana DOT, and during his 20-year executive tenure concentrated on the highway side while Harold and Maurice worked the building business. Profits were promising.
"Richard was very key in our growth in the highway business. He helped bring in the DOT," said Carmichael.
The early '80s kept everyone from advancing a size or two. The market was reduced to a crawl, but Weddle Bros., focused on the construction of river bridges, invested for the good of the family once again by acquiring J.L. Wilson and Co. The Bloomfield, Ind., contractor specialized in bridge equipment, and the merger doubled Weddle Bros.' bridge capacity and offered some much needed storage and maintenance facilities.
"That was very big for us," said Carmichael. "We acquired some very good people."
Formula No. 1--quality
Quality doesn't just appear at your doorstep one day looking for a job. It has to be preached, practiced and proven on a consistent basis. Weddle Bros. has been the cream of customer satisfaction for some time now. In 1997, the company received the National Quality Initiative Award for work done on a portion of I-65, which ran through the heart of Indianapolis.
"What we really enjoy about that award is the fact it's decided upon by 11 organizations that really make up our peers," said Carmichael. "And they look at quality, quality improvement, partnering with the community during construction, partnering with the owner. There's a lot of neat criteria for that award that signifies our philosophy on how we go about doing business."
Working with Berns Construction, Indianapolis, Weddle Bros. devoted its resources to nine bridge structures including a 1,019-ft-long span over the White River. There, crews executed one of the largest concrete pours in the state of Indiana--1,620 cu yd was distributed in less than 16 hours.
Efficiency was the primary reason Weddle Bros. won the job. It was the first A+B project InDOT let in Indianapolis, and Weddle/Berns promised to complete it in 163 days--42 days faster than the next lowest bidder. The route was opened in 148 days.
"Project management spent a tremendous amount of time coordinating the schedule," said Carmichael. "You have to know where to concentrate and when to concentrate."
According to Sieboldt, the schedule was nothing out of the ordinary. Crews worked 10 hours a day during the week and eight on Saturday. Aside from demolition work and a few deck pours, little was done at night.
"We didn't tire anybody out to the point where they were drained," he said. "The schedule kept everybody going."
The qualitative energy has continued. Earlier this summer Berns and Weddle Bros. finished a $45 million interchange of I-465 and I-74 in Indy. The highlight for Weddle Bros. was a pair of new structural steel girder flyover bridges. The span carrying eastbound I-74 to southbound I-465 is 1,140 ft long, carries a total of 910 tons of structural steel and contains 3,400 cu yd of concrete. Southbound I-465 to eastbound I-74 is even bigger. The structure is 1,566 ft long, has 1,689 tons of steel and a little over 4,000 cu yd of concrete. Both flyovers are about 60 ft in the air, and their giant piers have a fractured look, which was accomplished using form liners. Any kind of pattern on piers is rare in Indiana.
Weddle Bros. also replaced an existing concrete beam structure on a third bridge and did minor rehab work on a fourth.
With equipment, Weddle Bros. prefers pulling pieces from its yard than at a rental house. At the company's disposal are seven cranes (two Grove RT528Cs and five Link-Belt LS-118s); two Gomaco GT-6300s; six excavators (Komatsu PC220LC5, Komatsu PC300LC-6E, Komatsu PC220LC6-LE, Komatsu PC220LC-7, Hitachi EX220 and Caterpillar 330CL); five dozers (three Caterpillar D-5s, Caterpillar D-4, John Deere 450C); five loader backhoes (four John Deere 410Es, John Deere 510C); five pile hammers; four 2-ton trucks (two International 4700s, International HH50, International S-1800); two GMC and two Ford 1-ton trucks; and 10 flatbed trailers, including five Fruehauf PB-F-2-40s.
"For us, equipment always boils down to utilization," said Carmichael. "When you can get the utilization we think there's an advantage to owning, but you can't buy everything. Every once in awhile we find out we need a little bit bigger crane."
Weddle Bros.' heart is as big as they come. The company richly believes in giving something back to the community. Currently, it's constructing a building for Wonder Lab in Bloomington, a place where children can experience science hands on. There's also the "Hoosiers Outrun Cancer" 5-kilometer walk and run every year.
"A lot of this we do very quietly," said Carmichael. "If our employees have kids involved in activities we want to support those activities. We think it's our responsibility to give back."