Remembering Dad, Billy J Horner
Ten years ago today we lost my dad, Billy Joe Horner, at 53 to a brain aneurysm. I remember where I was when the call came from my brother. I followed in my father’s footsteps becoming a finish blade operator. Growing up, I didn't realize how the tricks he taught me would come into play long after he was gone.
Today one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is passing on those tricks to others interested in operating a blade.
My dad was a humble and humorous guy. He started his construction career out right out of high school in 1971. As a graduate of Bourgade High School, a Catholic school near 31st Ave and Campbell Ave, Phoenix, he chased miles and miles of stakes for several operators at Mesa Paving Contracting. Chasing stakes, is a job where ground personnel run in front of a motor grader or "blade" and help the operator locate elevation markers so a steady grade is maintained.
My grandfather Bill Ray Horner, and my father Billy Joe worked steady together during the mid-1970s once the family purchased their first and second Cat 12F model blades. By the late 1970s my dad's two brothers then joined the family business, G&P Contracting, where Billy Joe became a full time blade operator. When the family company dissolved in the mid-1980s, he went to work for several companies. His vagabond ways continued after he purchased a Deere blade in 1996, but he mostly used to work for Gunsight Construction.
After his death, I continued to run a blade, but work became a drag. With only my uncle alive to talk about old-time construction, I decided to start a blog about the industry. The “blog” was a new concept then and provided a sense of self-worth by being creative with my knowledge of the industry.
At work each day, I would take photos of the jobs and then go home and pretend I was a reporter. From there, I contacted my dad's friends and coworkers and started interviewing them. My efforts weren’t professional, but my friends in the industry appreciated them, nonetheless.
Eventually, the homespun blog blossomed into the professional, bi-monthly publication it is today.
As I brought together the key personnel, the idea of a construction magazine caught on with the industry. When asked why I started it, my response is that “we” needed something fresh like this in our community. I hope my dad would be proud of this magazine. If he were alive, it would be wonderful to get his thoughts on many of the topics.
Longtime construction friend Joe Lilly once told me, "This magazine had to come alive Billy, and you're the guy to do it…"