A BRIEF HISTORY OF BIG R BRIDGE
Spanning 45+ Years of Innovation
The year was 1970. A large farm supply outfit, The Ranch Wholesale Supply Company, in Greeley, CO, had been so impressed by young Sid Wilke’s success at growing their new corrugated pipe category, that they decided to establish a separate division with Sid at the helm. Enter The Big R Manufacturing and Distribution Company.
Sid’s brother, Dave Wilke joined the firm around 1971, after returning from active Army duty in Vietnam. By 1973 there were five employees, with their good friend, Tom Selders, joining up with them after his service with the Navy in Vietnam. Together the Sid/Dave/Tom trio would form the key leadership team. As the business grew, it evolved to partnerships between Kaiser Aluminum and Big R, where Big R was building additional facilities to begin rolling and
riveting their own corrugated pipe and structural plate products in Greeley.
In the mid 70’s, Big R landed a purchasing arrangement to supply cattle guards to government agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. Business continued to grow steadily. Their 4.25″ corrugated steel bridge decking and rolled beam girders were big sellers to the location-built bridge contractors. In 1979, a county road supervisor convinced them to design and build a bridge of their own. Not long after that, the Big R team created
their first modular bridge design for an installation for the US Forest Service in Jackson Hole, WY.
In 1986, a new era began when Sid, Dave and Tom negotiated the purchase of the Big R Manufacturing and Distribution division from the Ranch Wholesale Company. The modular bridges had really hit their stride. Mainstay items like corrugated pipe, roll-formed cattle guards and bridge decking, and culverts were going strong. Big R brought their roll-forming process in-house and re-tooled it over time to also produce sheet piling. The Big R team kept refining their
designs and construction methods to become even more efficient in building their bridge designs.
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, CEO of Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL) in Canada, soon developed a strategic business relationship with the Big R. The AIL relationship flourished in the 90s with Big R becoming a key US partner for AIL’s innovative structural plate products like Super•Cor and Bolt-A-Plate. AIL was also able to market Big R’s Modular Bridges in their established territories in the Eastern US and Canada.
After thirty years in the business, the founders at Big R had been thinking about a succession plan and, AIL’s, Mike Wilson, came calling in 2001 with an offer that made perfect sense. Big R Manufacturing LLC was soon acquired by the AIL Group of Companies.
In 2004 Engineering was brought in-house to reduce costs and improve lead-times. The increased engineering capabilities paved the way for new bridge applications, and Big R moved more into the design/build market. Soon, Big R’s pedestrian bridge designs were setting industry standards, and production kept the company busy year-round.
To accommodate the increased demand, their Greeley, Colorado facility doubled in size in 2007. They also opened another facility near Fort Worth, Texas, specifically to produce their Bolt-A-Plate and Super•Cor structural steel plate solutions. With continued growth out West, Big R extended their reach to the East Coast, opening a bridge manufacturing plant in Abingdon, Virginia in 2013.
Although the bridge business continues to be a major growth factor in Big R’s business, they have held strong to their roots. The principal of providing solutions to real world problems is in use at Big R to this day. Big R has continued to invest in the Culvert and Rollform product division and has many new offerings that are included on this website.