B.R. Lee, B.R. Lee Industries (LeeBoy)
Following a stint in the service where he ran motor graders for the army, B.R. (Billy Robert) Lee (1933-2003) was trying to make a living with his brothers paving driveways and small commercial jobs the hard way, using shovels and lutes to spread truckloads of hot mix. And while he could have bought one of the drag boxes on the market, instead – partly because of lack of funds – he built his own. That was 1964 when B.R. founded Lee-Boy Mfg. Company. In the early 1980s the company name changed to B.R. Lee Industries, Charlotte, NC.
It was that first drag box that led B.R. Lee to develop and market the first self-propelled commercial paver in 1970. That Model 500 featured three patents – for its tilt hopper, its hydraulic extensions and its under-auger cutoff gates – and can be said to have opened the door to profitable commercial paving for thousands of paving contractors. Son Mike Lee, R & D for VT LeeBoy, Lincolnton, NC, says the tilt hopper speeded and improved delivery of the mix to the screed and the hydraulic extensions are now standard on pavers throughout the industry. The under-auger cutoffs (still used on all LeeBoy pavers) not only reduced the handwork at the end of a pull when the screed was lifted but also gave the operator greater control over delivery of the mix, enabling him, for example, to place mix directly into a pothole or trench without leaving it on the surrounding pavement to clean up.
In addition to improvements in models 800, 900 and 1000, B.R. Lee added rollers, asphalt maintainers, motor graders, force feed loaders and trailer-mounted asphalt distributors by the early 1980s, in the process developing a strong dealer network. He then developed a series of conveyor pavers for the commercial market, making mix delivery to the screed even more consistent regardless of the type of job or terrain. “The conveyor paver doesn’t matter where you dump the mix in the hopper, it’s going to get that material to the screed,” Lee says. And in the 1990s B.R. brought its 8000 and 8500 Series pavers to the market, featuring the company’s Legend Screed System.
B.R Lee was involved in the company on a daily basis until it was sold to a holding company in 2000. In 2006 it was acquired by Singapore Technologies Engineering Inc. (STE) and now operates as VT LEEBOY, a wholly owned subsidiary of STE.
“When he started he had nothing,” Mike Lee says. “He’d have to spend his last 20 dollars on a drill bit when building his first machine, leaving us no lunch money for school. Mom would push down on the cushions in the couch to try and find us some loose change for lunch.”
His wife Nelda Lee, 80 years old, was with B.R. from the start, often holding parts and avoiding sparks while B.R. did the welding. Mike Lee says that the couple’s first house was hauled in on a trailer and B.R. built a garage / shop on the back and a porch on the front using pipes to hold up the front. “He told her ‘If we ever make it I’m going to build you a house with columns,” Lee says. “Through his hard work and dedication, she finally got those columns.”
Today LeeBoy and its Rosco line manufacture seven series of pavers (plus its tilt hopper model), two motor graders, three rollers, four asphalt distributors, spray patchers, an asphalt maintainer, a chip spreader, and a force feed loader.
Mark Manning, Crafco Inc.
One of the most significant and successful efforts to extend the life of asphalt pavements has been the repair of cracks that occur in the flexible pavement. When Mark Manning helped start Crafco Inc., Chandler, AZ, in 1976 that wasn’t an accepted fact – but it is now.
Manning’s introduction to cracksealing began in 1972 when he was a project manager doing chip seals and bridge building for J.W.J. Construction in Arizona. The contractor was awarded an Arizona DOT pavement reconstruction project on 100 miles of I-40 near Flagstaff. The pavement was concrete and much of the work was standard, involving resealing joints and jacking up misaligned slabs. But ADOT was particularly concerned about the shoulder joint where concrete met asphalt, which was showed significant deterioration.
“The company didn’t know what to do with it so they gave it to me,” Manning says.
Manning wondered if the chip seal asphalt, which was a combination of paving grade asphalt and ground tire rubber, could be placed in that shoulder joint to protect it. So using a joint sealing machine with very little agitation, and 1 in. x 4 in. sticks to hand mix the rubber with the asphalt, he shot a couple hundred feet of into the joint and let it sit overnight.
”We came back the next day and said, ‘Holy smoke! It looks like this might work. It actually set up,” Manning says. “That was really the beginning.”
Manning says the next step was to figure out how to package the asphalt rubber “because we didn’t think it would sell very well if you had to hand mix it using 1 x 4s,” and once that hurdle was crossed he and Bearcat Manufacturing’s Ken Hill designed a machine to apply it. The end result was a 700-gal. machine that enabled J.W.J. to apply asphalt rubber material to 400 miles of I-40 shoulder over two years.
Manning says they knew that if the process was going to be used on more jobs they needed to have a smaller piece of application equipment, so they designed and developed a 200-gal. machine. And in 1976, after he and others realized they were on to something, they decided to form Crafco Inc. (which stands for Crack Routing and Filling Co.). Principals in the startup were Manning, Carl Jacobson, E.J. Johnson and Ron Robinson.
Manning says that as far as he knows, prior to 1972 there was no cracksealing of random cracks in asphalt or concrete, making Crafco’s efforts the start of an industry. He says that from 1974 to 1976 he spent most of his time designing a cracksealing machine, and in 1975 alone he put more than 100,000 miles on a pickup driving to and from cracksealing test sites.
“I was an advocate for cracksealing from the time we started the company in 1976,” he says. He says Crafco focused its efforts selling sealing cracks in asphalt for DOTs in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. “We just went in and said, ‘I have this machine and product that I think can save you some money’ and we put down a lot of test sites.” Manning says he also did test strips at almost all 69 of the Montana Aviation Department’s airports – and got calls back to do more work on almost every one of them the next year.
Manning says the jump in the perception of cracksealing came in the 1976-1977 oil embargo when asphalt went from $15-$20 a ton to $150-$200 a ton. “Before 1976 when you had a road deteriorate and asphalt at $15 a ton and labor was reasonable they just repaved the road or even rebuilt it. There was no economic benefit to cracksealing,” he says. “But within a matter of weeks cracksealing became valuable because it saved people money.”
He says cracksealing got another boost when the federal government Strategic Highway Research Project (SHRP) proved that it was a valuable pavement maintenance service. “We knew it worked but people kept asking us, ‘show me the documentation’ and we didn’t have any,” he says. “But after SHRP we had it and that went a long way to convincing people cracksealing was cost beneficial.”
Manning also advocated the difference between crack filling and cracksealing, both of which the SHRP project studied. He says that while crack filling is a maintenance issue, cracksealing is more of a preservation tool with which to extend pavement life by up to five years, usually on a narrow crack.
Manning says that cracksealing should only be done on pavements where the concentration of cracking is less than 20% because pavement exhibiting cracks over more than 20% are likely experiencing significant pavement deterioration already and won’t be served by cracksealing. “All pavements will crack sometime or another, and if you catch the cracks when they're less than 20%, then you're more likely to be able to seal them and have the procedure last 5 to 7 years," Manning says.
He says by the late 1970s the Crafco team realized it had more work than it could handle so they began looking for distributors and began setting up their dealer network, looking specifically for people and companies who could sell the product and perform the work.
He says that once cracksealing was an established and accepted practice it wasn’t long before customers started asking for material specific to their climate, which enabled Crafco to begin offering a greater variety of cracksealing solutions. “Someone from Montana would call and ask if we couldn’t make them a material that was a little more flexible, that would work well in -30 F temperatures,” he says. “And Arizona DOT would call and ask if we could do something to the material so it wouldn’t track when the temperature hit 100 F. It opened a whole new set of doors.”
Today Crafco Inc., an Ergon company, produces a variety of cracksealing materials including material designed for thinner and for wider cracks. It also produces concrete joint sealing materials, a variety of asphalt and concrete patching materials and the equipment to apply it all including melter/applicators, spray-injection patchers, crack vacuums, routers and sealcoating equipment.
“It took a lot of work by a lot of people,” Manning, who retired in 2013, says. “We believed in a cause and the cause was new so it was frustrating to try to sell it -- but it was exciting and it was fun. When you do a test in Montana and they call you up the next year and have twice as much money to give you for another job because the test went so well… that was fun.”
Dave Wikel, Wikel Mfg. Co. (SealMaster)
While there are many contributors to the start and development of the sealcoating industry, it’s certainly fair to say that Dave Wikel was there at the beginning. And through his experience, because he developed a vision, and because he was “young and had kids to feed,” Wikel started what has become SealMaster, a producer of a variety of pavement sealers, coatings and equipment and which began offering franchise opportunities in 1993.
In the early 1960s, Dave Wikel was sealcoating pavement the hard way, using 5-gal. buckets and elbow grease to spread the material. As his business grew he graduated to 55-gal. drums, but he figured there had to be a better way.
“You couldn’t go out and buy sealcoating equipment like you can today,” Wikel says. “So if I wanted something that applied sealer I had to design and build it myself.”
So he did. By the late 1960s – because of word-of-mouth reaction to the machine he built for himself – he realized he could turn this equipment manufacturing into a business, so in 1969 he started Wikel Mfg. Co., Sandusky, OH. He would produce one piece of equipment, then trailer that one piece and hit the road until he sold it. Then he’d drive home to Sandusky, take the money he’d earned, and buy parts to build another machine.
In addition to learning how to improve the sealcoating applicator by talking with users, he learned that the sealcoaters he encountered had a problem bigger than sealer application: They simply couldn’t find enough sealer to do all the work they had available so they were reluctant to pursue more work.
“Everywhere I went there was a problem getting sealer,” he says.
Wikel says there were three sealer producers at the time (Cosmicoat, Jennite and Chevron) so he thought there was room for another producer. In 1971 he started to produce his own coal tar sealer under the SealMaster brand.
“People wanted sealer when we sold them the applicators so we knew we could expand as a company if we could make the sealer,” Wikel says.
After a couple of years perfecting the material and making sure it worked properly, Wikel opened a second sealer plant in Longview, TX, significantly expanding the market to which he could deliver sealer. Soon after he opened a third sealer plant in Chicopee, MA – and sealcoating contractors within reasonable distance from those facilities (plus contractors within range of the other sealer producers) could buy enough product to do all the work they could get. And with Wikel’s application equipment they could do it faster and more profitably.
He also encouraged people to buy sealer in bulk. Wikel Mfg. built 5,000-gal. and 10,000-gal. storage tanks with agitation to enabled contractors to buy and store sealer in their yards. “If they bought material from us we’d give them a tank and that’s what really got ‘em going,” Wikel says. “At one time we had 150 tanks scattered across the United States and that’s what really grew it.”
Having storage tanks not only gave the contractors ready access to the material they were putting down more quickly with their Wikel sealcoating applicators, it enabled them to buy it cheaper, which increased their profit, and it enabled them to tackle larger jobs. “It became economical for contractors to go out and sell sealcoating because they had the tanks with sealer,” Wikel says. “They were very happy to get those tanks.”
And the sealcoating industry was well on its way.
A change in the world economy also gave the sealcoating industry a boost. Wikel says that back when he started sealer production, selling sealcoating was a hard sell for contractors. “You could buy blacktop for $6-$8 a ton,” he says. “But then the oil embargo hit and the price of asphalt just went up. Prior to that time people had the idea that they’d repave their blacktop if it wore out because it was so cheap to repave it. But when prices went up people started to realize that you could make a parking lot look great by sealcoating and striping. You didn’t have to spend all that money repaving it.”
Wikel Mfg. and SealMaster existed separately until 1990 when they were acquired by the Thorson family and now operate under the broad-based ThorWorks Industry’s umbrella which produces coatings and equipment for concrete and asphalt pavement, roofing agriculture and more. Today Wikel is semi-retired and he has involved himself in a variety of projects over the years.
“The sealcoating business has treated me pretty well over the years and it’s nice to know I left the company in the competent hands of the Thorson family,” Wikel says.
Robert Liles, Robert Liles Parking Lot Service, Tyler, TX
The insurance industry’s loss has been the pavement marking industry’s gain. That’s because in 1984 when Robert Liles was thinking about a career selling insurance, the insurance industry was struggling. Robert’s father, Jimmy Liles himself an insurance agent, built an office building and after paying two people $150 for 90 minutes of parking lot striping, suggested Robert might want to look into the striping business.
He did some market research by calling paving contractors and asking if there was a need for another striper and most agreed that the two companies in town were slow to respond and not easy to work with. So, he started Robert Liles Parking Lot Service, Tyler, TX, anyway.
“It was really slow at first,” he says. “It took about three or four years to gain the trust of the large contractors. At that point it took off and I began getting calls for big jobs and from paving contractors and general contractors for striping their new construction.”
Today the bulk of Liles’ work is new construction striping, which requires new layouts, a Liles specialty. He offers sports court striping and warehouse striping along with support services such as sign, bollard and wheel stop installation and ADA compliance.
A member of the Pavement Advisory Board and a regular presenter at National Pavement Expo since 2002 (and at NPE’s West Coast events from 2001 to 2012), Liles has tackled a variety of striping-relatedseminar topics including indoor striping and sports court marking (his “Parking Lot Layout & Striping Basics” is an NPE staple) and each year has moderated the annual Stripers Roundtable.
In addition to his striping business, Liles operates ParkingLotPlanet.com, the industry’s most important and successful website. And that website lead indirectly to Liles’ stencil business.
The Industry’s “Go-to” Website
In 1994 Liles started a website for his business. “Most companies didn’t have websites and didn’t think the internet would ever be important, but I was kind of a computer nerd and I just wanted to see if I could set one up,” Liles says.
It was the very early days of the Internet and Liles says that because the site was “the only one out there” he began getting a lot of calls and e-mails from contractors and property managers asking pavement marking questions, which he took the time to answer. That led to ParkingLotPlanet.com in 2000.
“I realized I could build another website with a discussion forum and have the answers there and have other people ask and answer questions too,” Liles says. In addition to the Forums, ParkingLotPlanet.com includes a Low Bidders photo gallery and Helpful Stuff, and it quickly became go-to striping resource for the industry. Today ParkingLotPlanet.com boasts 200,000 page views a month and has more than 2,500 active members.
“It’s a small market compared to most any other market you can think of so it’s pretty easy to be at the top of search engine numbers,” he says. “Being the first site out there was probably helpful but I was open and helpful and I think that just paid off.”
Liles says the site provides the information he never had when he was starting his business, and it offers a place where contractors can exchange information. And that, he says, is the biggest impact he and thewebsite have made on the pavement marking industry.
“When I first started painting parking lots there was no internet so I couldn’t find any information at all on parking lot striping,” he says. “I contacted construction equipment dealers and they didn’t know anything about parking lot striping machines. I tried to find information about layout and painting and I finally found an architectural design book in the library that had some information but that wasn’t much either.”
So to learn, Liles measured existing parking lots, talked with cities about their requirements and even watched his competitors on the job. “If my competitors saw me pull up on a parking lot they would stop working until I left,” he says. “They didn’t want to help anyone become a competitor.
“I didn’t have anybody who could help me learn how to stripe parking lots,” Liles says. “I think the biggest impact is that ParkingLotPlanet.com is a place contractors can go to get their questions answered and some guidance if they want it.”
Liles says he is proud that the site has helped contractors and that he personally has helped a lot of people in the business, from those who worked for him and then started their own business (they call themselves his “sons”) and there are even “grandsons” who his “sons” taught.
A Stencil Business
And Liles says the website lead indirectly to his stencil business. “It cost to keep the site running so I needed to figure out a way to make it pay for itself,” he says.
In 2002 he added The Store to the site, taking tool and stencil orders which he passed along to a supplier who produced and shipped them. But then Liles, who has taken computer-aided design classes to help in layout and who had done some consulting work for sign companies, decided he could design, produce and ship stencils himself.
In 2009 he built a factory and began manufacturing stencils, and that business has now become a separate operation. Liles says “we specialize in selling directly to the end user and can work with contractors to get them the stencils they need quickly, and have fast turnaround on custom stencils like special symbols or wording, or logos. We do not specialize in selling to retail stores, so we can concentrate on fast service and special needs. With the shipping options available today, we can have the stencils in the customers hands within a couple of days.”
These days, Robert is still working in the field doing layout and painting, and his brother-in-law, Craig Farley, runs the stencil manufacturing operation. Liles says “I’m lucky to have Craig. He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering from UT Austin and has 20 years experience with large companies, often managing teams of scientists, and spending many weeks traveling the world trouble shooting manufacturing operations. He is happy to live in a smaller town now and to be home every night.”
Harold Neal, Neal Manufacturing (Blastcrete Equipment Co.)
Despite the fact he did not have an engineering background, Harold Neal (1946-2009) was an innovator in the pavement maintenance industry who developed equipment that would increase the efficiency, quality and profitability of sealcoating contractors.
Harold Neal founded Neal Manufacturing Company in 1978 in Sand Hill, GA, and with one employee began manufacturing a 175-gallon ride-on applicator. In 1982 Neal began manufacturing a 210-gallon ride-on unit (SM-210) which at the time was the largest in the industry. At the time most contractors were applying sealer from 5-gallon buckets and 55-gallon drums and the ride-on machine enabled them to increase production, which directly helped contractors become more profitable. In 1981 Neal developed the industry’s first tow-behind spray applicator, a 550-gallon machine that was driven by a Bowie rubber gear pump and featured an industry first: in-tank agitation.
In 1984 Neal Manufacturing designed and patented the ESP Hydraulic Piston Pump Spraying System, the first pumping system designed specifically for sealcoating equipment. A mainstay of today’s sealcoating systems, the ESP piston pump has no gears, features infinitely variable and high-power production rates and long-lasting seals that can withstand sand. It was able to provide an uninterrupted flow of material under an even pressure to a spray bar or wand. The design increased pump durability and reduced maintenance, increasing the production and efficiency of sealcoating systems. By combining this pump with the basics of the 550-tow-behind spray applicator and the 210-gallon ride-on squeegee machine Neal Manufacturing in 1985 began marketing the industry’s first ride-on spray machine.
In 1986 Neal introduced the Electronically Controlled Super Spray (ESSP) 100 gpm pumping system, and because of the increased pumping rate Neal also introduced the material spray bar which attached to the back of any Neal unit. That pumping system and spray bar improved production and profitability for contractors, enabling them to spray up to 15 foot widths with sand loads, without loss of pressure, again expanding the opportunity for contractors to take on large commercial jobs with increased profits.
In 1987 Neal developed the DA-350, the industry’s first ride-on dual applicator machine outfitted with a squeegee, a spray bar, and two hand wands, resulting in a higher level of efficiency for contractors.
Harold Neal sold Neal Manufacturing to Ingersoll-Rand in 2000 and re-entered the business in 2005 as Neal Equipment Manufacturing. In 2013 Neal Equipment Manufacturing partnered with Blastcrete Equipment Co., moved operations to Blastcrete’s 70,000-sq.-ft. facility in Anniston, AL, and today operates as a division of Blastcrete.
In addition to his equipment innovations, Harold Neal was also a pioneer in manufacturer/contractor relations, hosting annual trade show and conference events to teach contractors how to better perform their services and how to better manage their business. He also provided contractors with the Neal Manufacturing Total Asphalt Maintenance Handbook which helped standardize pavement maintenance methods and help contractor in the sales process.
Harold Neal’s innovations and the advancements of Neal Manufacturing enabled contractors to afford high-powered sealer application equipment that enabled them to tackle larger projects more profitably, making “sealcoating contractor” a viable business option.
Alan Curtis, Chec Management Systems, Redding, CA
Alan Curtis Industry Service Award recipient
Mick Vinckier, Miktom Parking Lot Services, Omaha, NE
Alan Curtis Industry Service Award recipient