The BRS Incorporated Story
Written by Bradford Barringer
It all started about 1937. Alton and Jay Barringer came home from working the Public Works projects that were designed to pull the country out of depression. Jay had learned to operate the first bulldozer he ever saw, and Alton had operated several pieces of heavy equipment. They told stories about life in the bunk house sleeping with a pistol under their pillow, but they also told about some of the projects they had worked on. They even had pictures to show. Even then, the satisfaction of a job well done, that would stand as a monument to the hard work and dedication that construction men thrive on, had them hooked. Never again would a bumper corn crop have the same meaning. The nation was coming out of depression.
People actually had real jobs and some spending money. Even the farmers became optimistic about the future and began to build new houses and barns and clean up land for pastures and crops. The time was right. Alton and Jay managed to scrape up enough money, and maybe even a little credit, and bought a small, Alice Chalmers bulldozer. They began doing custom grading, mostly for local farmers, clearing land and building ponds. They hauled the dozer on a single axle flat bed dump. Getting loaded for a move was sometimes a chore, and a big log or a hillside was often used and always scary. Getting unloaded was a different matter, but probably just as scary. Things looked rosy for a while, but construction people know that good times end much faster than bad times.
Alton was struck down at 33 years of age by a heart attack on January 27, 1941. Jay needed some help. Luther was 25, had a good job and a wife named Rachel that was 4 months pregnant with a child who would be named Bradford. In spite of all the uncertainty associated with construction and even in the dead of winter, Luther became Jay’s new partner and business continued to get better. Luther used to tell about clearing land for $3.00/hour and that included everything – equipment, fuel, take home pay, and the government’s share. Trouble came knocking again. Jay and the local crowd were loafing out front of the grocery store on the square in Richfield when a Coble milk truck hit a car that ran the stop sign and then plowed into the grocery store. Several of the men were hurt seriously. Jay’s legs were crushed, broken like the limbs in a brush pile. The doctors said he would never walk again, but he never believed in the word “never."
Luther hired some help while Jay spent about six months in the hospital and another year and a half learning to walk all over again. Jay’s wife or one of the neighbors would help Jay get from his hospital bed to a gurney and roll him to the Chinaberry tree in the back yard where he would pull up to the limbs and virtually drag his useless legs around that tree demanding that they pitch in and do their part. The tree was very cooperative and the limbs grew just right, almost like an engineered playground monkey bar. Bradford often rode on the gurney with Jay or played in the yard while Jay worked on getting his legs back. Some lessons are learned early in life, even before you realize it. I think Jay taught us a lot under that old tree.
Ten years later, Jay was walking without crutches or cane and Bradford was the one swinging from limb to limb, but this time it was just for fun. The nation had gone to war during Jay’s ordeal. Luther was in danger of being drafted even with two children, a business to run, and almost 30 years old. When Luther went for his physical he found that he had been deferred. On the way home, he bought Bradford and Jimmy a whole stalk of bananas in celebration, not so much that he would not have to serve in the military, but that he could hold together what Alton, Jay, and now Luther had worked so hard for.
Bradford spent a lot of time with Jay during his healing. When he became able to drive, they would go to the store to hang out. Jay would buy Bradford a popsicle and Bradford would tell stories about dealing in the Black Market and blowing up enemy ships and other wild stories. A good imagination is always useful in construction so that you can visualize what the outcome of your efforts will be. Four years old is about the right age to begin preparation for the future – even if you don’t realize it at that time.
The war finally ended, Jay returned to work and a lot of boys home from service were looking for jobs. Jay and Luther actually became a company – Barringer Brothers – and started bidding on improvements to local country roads under the Farm to Market Roads Program. Labor was plentiful and even some of it was skilled having served in the SeaBee’s and Corps of Engineers. Barringer Brothers did the upgrade on Eastway Drive from a muddy pig path of a country road to a paved artery feeding Charlotte’s growing city needs. Bradford was old enough to go to work with Luther occasionally and sometimes catch a nap on the dozer seat or the cab of the pickup. He learned to listen carefully as the plan for the day was discussed.
The Interstate Highway System replaced the Farm to Market Roads Program, and funding for the work Barringer Brothers had gotten pretty good at dried up. It was decision making time. About 1954, Luther and Jay decided they didn’t want to get big enough to try to compete with the larger and much more sophisticated companies that were being put together to do the big projects. They sold most of the equipment and returned to custom grading. Most of the really good operators had been lost to the Korean War, and when they came home they took other jobs or went into businesses of their own. About the only equipment left was a D-7, a small Cat grader, a pull pan which had been fabricated from a LeTourneau scraper (Tournapull) and an old pull grader that Bradford had worn out right there on the yard without it ever moving an inch. The D-7 had been bought at an Army surplus, was delivered in a big olive drab box, and was coated with cosmoline. The box served as a parts shed for many years. This time there simply wasn’t enough custom grading to support two families, so Luther took a job selling Mutual of Omaha and then as foreman at Young Stone Company. Jay stayed with the dozer, and Luther helped when he could.
In 1958, a local highway contractor, Ray D. Lowder, approached Jay and Luther about starting up a utility division within his company. They met Ray and talked it over. The decision was made to organize a new company with Ray owning half and Jay and Luther owning half. Rand Construction Company, Inc. was the outcome of that meeting. In 1964 Ray Lowder died suddenly. Jay and Luther purchased Lowder’s portion of the business and made Bradford their new Vice President. Bradford was finishing college, had his military obligation behind him, was married, and had a son on the way. Having a job to go directly to was a welcome relief. Rand Construction Company, Inc. was one of the charter members of NCUCA, and B.R.S., Inc. continued that membership. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Rand weathered the storms of the Bid Rigging Scandals, labor shortages, fuel prices, the birth of OSHA, the retirement and death of Jay, and the semi-retirement of Luther, but the failure of several sub-contractors was almost too much to weather. Having temporarily lost its bonding ability, lines of credit, and facing legal battles made it impossible to bid work as a prime. Thanks go to the contractors who offered work on a sub-contract basis during those times. Most contractors are really good people.
B.R.S., Inc. came into being in 1986 with all intentions of it being a temporary fix until Rand Construction had its problems resolved. During about a 3 year period, Bradford and the team he had assembled were keeping the B.R.S., Inc. crews busy while defending and defeating the charges against Rand. During that time also Bradford acquired full ownership of Rand. With the fight won and two companies to consider, Bradford decided to merge the two in order to simplify bookkeeping. The question was which company name would be used. B.R.S., Inc. had established itself and had acquired a favorable reputation so the Rand assets were folded into B.R.S., Inc. B.R.S., Inc. – The letters stand for Bradford, Ruby, and Sons. There’s an old joke about what’s left if Ruby drops out. We wanted a name that was short, simple, and had some meaning, something that people could relate it to. We were a little concerned about possible confusion with R.D.R., Inc., another outgrowth of the Ray Lowder organization. Reese, the last R, assured us he had no objection so B.R.S., Inc. was chartered.
B.R.S., Inc. has always strived to do top quality work in an unwritten partnering atmosphere with our project owners. We have never failed to complete any work we have undertaken, even some tough bores. We’ve grown over the years from one small crew who agreed to transfer from Rand to B.R.S. to about 80 employees in three divisions – Pipe, Tunnels and Bores, and Water and Sewer Service installations. As of this date we still employ 8 of the Rand employees who made the switch 19 years ago. Luther retired from construction completely when Rand was merged into B.R.S., Inc. and enjoyed several years of farming, traveling, and community work before passing away in 1997. Many of our employees are long term and several are close to retirement, Bradford is one of them. One of the points we’ve always stressed is to teach someone to do your job so you can move up. The next generation has already moved into the management positions and they’re producing a generation to replace them.
Construction people build more than construction projects. B.R.S., Inc. has always had the attitude that a tough, challenging job was an opportunity to learn and we’ve taken on some tough jobs over the years. We did a bore that required a pit just over 40’ deep. We did a combination bore/ram under Oak Hollow Lake and followed up with several other such crossings under water over the years. We do our own drilling and blasting and shot over 66,000 lbs of explosives last year. For many years, we would blast graves for the local undertaker when the digging got too tough. 911 and our insurance carrier put a stop to that. One of our most challenging jobs was a raw water distribution system at the Franklin Water Treatment plant in Charlotte. The pipe size ranged up to 120” weighing 63,000 lbs per 16’ joint. Some of the 84” pipe was about 30’ deep and installed in steel sheeting driven 55’ deep. We drove the sheeting with our own forces. The project had numerous tie-ins to PCPP and all of them went well.