The end of an era

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
(Photos Contributed) Kooiker Inc. recently closed its doors after 69 years in business. The bridge and culvert contractor business, owned by brothers Calvin (left) and Clayton (right) was started in 1948 by their father, John (middle). The company worked for many counties over the years replacing wooden bridges with box culverts.

LE MARS — A business started by their father in Hull in 1948 and moved to Le Mars by 1980 by twin brothers has ended its construction run.

Calvin and Clayton Kooiker owned Kooiker Inc., a bridge and culvert contractor business, which ended its construction season in late 2016.

The heavy construction equipment, excavators, loaders, dozers, cranes and more were sold at auction on April 7.

“Everything is gone now,” Clayton Kooiker said. “I miss it though.”

The business started in 1948 when their father, John, wanted to be on his own rather than work for a contractor.

Following graduation from Boyden-Hull High School, Calvin and Clayton set out on separate ways. Calvin spent a year at college before enlisting in the U.S. Navy for four years, while Clayton spent two years in the Army and attended Westmar. After his military service, Calvin graduated from California State-Poly Tech.

The two came back together in the late 1960s and incorporated the business in 1970.

“We operated out of Hull for a while. We built the shop in Le Mars in 1980 and then everything was pretty much out of Le Mars,” Calvin said. “We were a bridge contractor and a culvert contractor. We weren’t as big as some of the others.”

Early on, Kooiker Inc. worked on bigger bridges, concrete bridges, and slabs and pre-cast bridges.

“We kind of got out of that,” Calvin said.

The Kooikers worked three crews when John was working. The brothers cut back a bit following his retirement, working smaller jobs with two crews.

“Clayton and I were out there, each on our own jobs, hands on,” Calvin said. “We didn’t work in dry dirt. We were down in the mud.”

They soon found plenty of jobs with counties, sort of replacing the county bridge crews.

“We did a lot of repair work for five or six counties,” he said.

“The counties are going to a lot of culverts now to replace old timber bridges. They are doing some timber bridge repair, but they don’t have the money to replace all of it,” Calvin explained.

“These kind of things (box culverts) are pretty expensive and there are so many on the gravel roads. It’s unbelievable how many are around. They are doing the best they can,” he said.

Doing the repair work in the northwest Iowa area meant no longer having to stay away all week, and then return home on weekends for paperwork.

“Our reputation with the county engineers was very valuable,” Calvin said. “We worked with a number of county engineers through the years. We always worked very well with them and the counties in every way.”

As they looked at the type of jobs coming and realized bigger equipment would be needed Calvin said he and Clayton decided to quit.

“That’s one reason that we decided to get out of it now, not just because of our age. Our equipment was getting older, jobs were getting bigger and technology is just flying by,” Calvin said.

“We’d seen our day and it was time to get out of it or to spend a whole bunch of money and get back into it bigger. At 74 we decided to get out of it,” he added.

“The counties didn’t want to see us get out of it,” Calvin said. “They were pretty concerned because the bigger contractors don’t want to do the small jobs. They want the big stuff.”

Calvin said consideration was also given to their employees. One has been with them 40 years, another 38 and another 20.

“We had very good employees the whole time we were in business. We treated them well and it was very worthwhile to keep those good employees,” he said.

Calvin admits it was not easy to let go.

“I couldn’t do that hard work anymore. Clayton and I both agreed that at our age we just couldn’t do that any more. I miss the work, but not the hot days,” Calvin said.

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