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Fall 2009



R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, LLC Erectors National Association of Tower dent, general manager and quarter owner of Shields Construction Company of Hazard, Kentucky, where he stayed until 1938 when he traded his shares in the Shields Company for equipment and materials, allowing him to form his own company, R.R. Dawson, Contractor. Though the country and the world were facing some of the most remarkable challenges in modern history, R.R. Dawson was off and running. Ace went into a joint bid with a former fraternity brother, A.E. “Easy” Walker, and the company was able to quickly sign on and complete several projects throughout eastern Kentucky.

Bridging Generations and Geography Produced by Matt Duncan & Written by Shelley Seyler Bridges can incite fascination in any generation, regardless of whether one works in the construction industry and understands the complex design-build process inside and out. R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, LLC has a history that begins with one generation’s innocent interest in the building blocks of another. The company was founded thanks to a wide-eyed eight-year-old who was enthralled with his uncle’s career maintaining bridges in the early years of the 20th century. Young Robert Randall “Ace” Dawson has his interest sparked in 1913, and by the time he was in high school he began working during his summer vacations for various construction companies in Nelson County, Kentucky. From 1921 to 1925, Ace pursued his passion studying engineering at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Thanks to this education, he became known as the “instrument man” for the Kentucky Department of Highways. By 1928, Ace was serving as vice presi-


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In 1943, Ace answered the call of duty to serve the U.S. Army as a captain in the Corps of Engineers, leaving his new business in the capable hands of a trusted friend and contractor. Ace left the army in 1946 as lieutenant colonel after serving both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. Upon his return, Ace was disheartened to find that the company had racked up a mountain of debt and earned few profits in his absence. Determined to turn around his fate, Ace convinced his suppliers to extend his credit while he paid off his bills. With his motivating vision driving his every move, he soon completed a project for a new U.S. 25 bridge spanning the Kentucky River at Clay’s Ferry. A testament to the quality workmanship displayed on this project: the bridge remained in use as Ace constructed it until 1996 when its steel superstructure was replaced. The company was incorporated with the name it has today in 1947, when Ace acquired four employees. In 1949 to 1950, the company completed some notable projects that helped establish its reputation. In fact, R.R. Dawson used some of the industry’s newest technologies at the time on the construction of bridges over Fishing, Pittman and Otter Creeks. Rather than using cranes to set the structural steel, the company used cable technology, perfecting the use of this new advancement. Also during this time period, the concrete pump was introduced and, once more, R.R. Dawson put it to the test and improved its operation. Several other projects marked the company’s growth,

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National Association of Tower Erectors one of which being the stone bridge that links Kentucky’s McCreary and Whitley Counties. Completed in 1954, this has since become one of stateliest and most photographed bridges in the Commonwealth, thanks to its five arches and stonework that was quarried on-site by Italian stonemasons. In 1983, Ace Dawson died. But his dream was continued under the leadership of his son, Bob Dawson, and his stepson, Dan Martin, both of whom hold degrees from the University of Kentucky, Bob in business administration and Martin in engineering.

Building on the Dream R.R. Dawson has grown in every way possible since the


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early 1980s, now employing 200 and having three offices that allow it to stretch its footprint throughout the southeast portion of the country. With locations in Birmingham, Alabama; Lexington, Kentucky; and Richmond, Virginia; the company’s footprint now stretches to include Alabama, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia. Though R.R. Dawson has undergone some transformations - and expanded its work to include the coal mining, paving and grading industries in its past the company is most comfortable doing what it was founded for: building bridges. R.R. Dawson completes 100 percent of its projects for the federal government and operates with annual revenue that, though it fluc-

tuates, is impressive nonetheless, and in 2008 totaled $63 million. “We are forecasting for over $40 million this year,” predicts Bob. Performing all of the necessary bridge construction with in-house employees, R.R. Dawson also enjoys operating as a family business. With many managers having been with the company for 40 years, their sons and daughters have since come on board. Holding in-house training programs, the company’s consistent work, full benefits and 401K are certainly reasons to stay. For those requirements for which the company turns to subcontractors, R.R. Dawson is proud to hold relationships with those who can give the company every advantage possible.

Recent projects were completed on Interstate 65 in Birmingham, Alabama, a $73 million project. The company is also gearing up to work on a $250 million interchange that connects a road from Memphis, Tennessee, to Birmingham’s stretch of I-65. Bob attests that one of the most interesting projects the company has completed in his tenure was done for the City of Atlanta from 1985 to 1990. Known as the Reconstruction of Atlanta, this joint venture had an impressive contract of $155 million for R.R. Dawson’s portion alone. Given that the company works on government projects, it does not market; well, not in the typical sense, anyway. “We just have to keep the government happy,”

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Because of all this, R.R. Dawson is ready and waiting for work as it comes down the pike. Though somewhat skeptical of improvements for the economy as a whole, Bob knows his company is in a good position.

says Bob. Also because of this, the company follows market trends, expanding its services in areas that are growing but not eyeing any unnecessary diversification.

“There is a lot of needed infrastructure work,” says Bob. “If the public wants to spend money to re-build the roads, we will be there. There is a large need for our product.”

COMPANY AT A GLANCE Founder : Robert Randall “Ace” Dawson Founded : 1938 Employees : 200

From its beginning in railroad construction, Dunn moved into road construction and other heavy construction projects. Today, Dunn bids and performs general contracts involving industrial roads, storage yards, parking lots, subdivisions, municipal streets, airport taxiways and runways, resurfacing, and interstate and highway construction.

Gerdau Ameristeel is one of the largest producers of reinforcing steel in North America. The customer base includes general contractors, such as R R Dawson Bridge Co. The company is also a major supplier of merchant bar, wire rod, nails, welded wire mesh, railroad spikes, structural shapes, piling, and construcon products.


3905 Messer Airport Hwy, Birmingham, AL 35222

Phone: (205) 592-3866 IF YOU WANT IT DONE RIGHT, CALL DUNN

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R.R. Dawson Bridge Company, LLC 421 United Court Lexington, KY 40509 United States