Digging Through the Archives: W.R. Skousen and His Blue-Ribbon Blacktop Crews
By William Horner
W.R. Skousen Construction was a top-notch asphalt-laying operation, and their success wasn’t a secret in the industry. “We had companies from all over the world come to watch our paving operations, especially in the winter when it was cold up north,” Ed Erck, a long-time employee, says. "They were welcome, as long as they adhered to our safety rules and were fascinated by the amount of material we processed.”
And it wasn’t just Skousen’s blacktop production that impressed observers. “There were times on a weekend, we would have 15 people disassemble a laydown machine and have it ready and assembled to go on a Monday morning,” Erck says.
What was unique about Skousen and why was the company so productive? “The foremen didn’t have to tell people what to do, as all the employees besides the grunts knew their jobs,” Erck says. “The busier you stayed, the shorter the time was, and you accomplished more.”
The owner, W.R. Skousen, wasn’t shy about giving credit for the company’s success to his employees. “A factory guy came in to try and sell some equipment and told W.R. that he had a great operation,” Erck says. “W.R. responded that he really didn’t know what those guys were doing; they're all on their own.”
Skousen's new Cedar Rapids hot plan on U.S. Highway 60 project, 1959.
And Skousen achieved some impressive milestones. “We had great production and a good maintenance program; everyone kept their equipment in tip-top shape, and our asphalt plant was never down,” Erck says. “Today, 2,000 tons a day is considered impressive. Back then, we were running 5,000 tons a day with a stack plant. Drum plants even occasionally managed 6,000 to 7,000 tons a day.”
According to Erck, Skousen set up close to 100 asphalt plants and never got caught with an unfinished job in the high country before the onset of winter. “We ran five solid years without a break; the only downtime was moving the asphalt plant from one job to the next.”
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 1.