Fifty years together building roads, bridges

Posted April 26, 2018 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

April 15 marked a work-milestone for two Plymouth County men that many never see.

It was their 50th anniversary with the Plymouth County Secondary Roads Department.

Terry Marienau and Dick Milne have been working together since that date in 1968. The young 20-year-olds started the same day.

“I always tell Dick I have seniority over him because I went to work 10 minutes earlier than him,” said Terry, who is the Assistant to Engineer Tom Rohe and Dick is the Engineering Technician.

Both began on the county’s survey crew as “Rod Men,” carrying the level rod they call the “stick” out into fields to survey a road project.

“We did all the dirty work,” said Terry, explaining they did that a couple of years before their jobs were made permanent as inspectors.

As construction engineering inspectors, their careers split into different work areas. Terry joined the building roadways and paving area while Dick went to building bridges and installing culverts.

“We’ve been best friends for 50 years,” said Terry, who is a Merrill native.

Dick, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native was raised in several locations as his father was a Baptist preacher, who eventually came to serve in Le Mars.

Dick was in the military, serving in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army before serving 26 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

Because of poor hearing, Terry spent only about 90 days trying to get into the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army before he was told they’d never take him to serve in the Vietnam War.

After active duty, Dick came to Le Mars where his parents were.

The two men married and raised families. Both have three sons.

The sons of Terry and his wife, Kathy, all live in Le Mars: Jeff and his wife, Dena; Mark and his wife, Judy; and Matt. The Marienaus have five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Dick and his wife, Janice, have children in three states: Mark and his wife, Wendy of Omaha, Neb.; Michael and his wife, Blanca of Medina, Minn.; and John of Le Mars. They have three grandchildren.

The first morning on the job, their first lesson from their Survey Chief was: Forget all about feet and inches — we measure to one-hundredth of a foot, said Terry.

“We’d drag a chain or tape of steel 100 foot and walk along the road and mark every 100 foot for stationing,” explained Dick. “Then we’d sit in the truck and dream about computers and never having to measure again — that it would all be done on electronics. We didn’t think it would come in our lifetime.”

“This was pre-calculator days,” said Terry.

“We had a slide ruler,” said Dick.

“Everything was hand-added on a yellow tablet,” said Terry.

“When calculators came, they were $500 to $1,000 each,” said Dick. “It was just amazing — the best thing that ever happened.”

“That makes us sound like fossils,” said Terry, “but that’s just the way it was.”

They made $1.68 an hour — about $3,500 a year.

They thought if they could just get $1,000 a month, they’d have it made.

They both remember when they had a boss who supported them getting just that.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said Dick, noting they were paid once a month, not hourly, back then. “I think that’s my best memory – finally getting to the point we got a raise.”

Now, Terry’s position pays about $70,000 and Dick’s $55,000 annually.

The first road they paved with concrete was County Road K-22 from Sioux City to County Road C-60 — 17 miles in length in 1972.

“That was the start of it all,” said Terry.

“I was inspired by contractors in the bridge industry,” said Dick, explaining he didn’t have much interest in it until a contractor sat down and explained how to compute grades and all the components of a bridge. “After that I just loved that work.”

Computers changed their jobs immensely.

When we started the first day, there were 13 people in the county engineer’s office. Now there are only six or seven, said Terry. “The computer has shortened work time exponentially.”

“We used to manually draw the profile of the road, the cross sections on paper,” said Dick. “Now one person does the survey and brings it in. We download that in electronically and the computer draws our profiles, cross sections, figures our dirt — everything — and it’s just a touch of a button. It’s just amazing.”

“When the computer goes down, we’re not happy people,” said Terry.

“We learned the long hard way,” said Dick, noting it’s a benefit when computers have glitches or crash. “We understood why it was working the way it was where a lot of employees now have no idea.”

“They couldn’t replicate the correct answer by long-hand,” said Terry. “It’s just a magic button to them.”

“We call it Planned Development,” said Terry, explaining Dick takes the data first and reduces all the surveyor’s notes and calculates a lot of quantities for a project.

Then Terry does the Auto-CAD drawings, “making them look nice,” said Dick.

Terry loves the Auto-CAD drawing while Dick likes the technical engineering aspect.

Since the county began using concrete, there hasn’t been much new use of asphalt on road projects.

“We’ve come to the opinion that concrete is better,” said Dick, explaining asphalt is great for speed and getting the public back on the roadways but its longevity is not that great.

Asked what road or bridge project was their worst nightmare, they responded they didn’t have any.

“Dick and I’ve always said to each other, we’ve never let them down yet and we’re never going to,” said Terry. “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

Although no nightmare projects, both have a favorite project. Dick’s is the 1974 I-beam bridge project over the Floyd River on 190th Street — it was his first I-Beam bridge project.

“Shooting elevations was very difficult but that’s the one I enjoy driving over now,” said Dick.

Terry’s is the recent repaving of County Road K-22 from Mike’s Saloon to County Road C-60.

“There were so many super-elevated curves and grade changes,” said Terry.

“The state originally owned the road so they always put in these horizontal, spiral curves that we had to reiterate that and complete the road that way.

“It was a tough one to design,” said Terry.

“We’ve stayed 50 years because we’re having so much fun,” said Dick. “We were blessed we didn’t have high difficulty and hard work (in our careers). It was mainly sedentary work.”

“It was interesting because it varied every day,” said Terry. “It wasn’t the same thing over and over — not a production line.”

“What kept us going was we tried to improve how things were done — automated,” said Dick. “It was just a challenge.”

“I personally feel we have job security because we have a boss who keeps us busy,” said Dick with Terry agreeing. “He challenges us. We’re never out of work.”

“We enjoy our jobs so much because of that,” said Dick.

Terry pointed out Dick has designed some of the computer programs that make their jobs more efficient and easier.

“We can agree where I’m weak, Terry takes over,” said Dick.

“Our skill levels work hand-in-hand that way,” agreed Terry.

“We started out as draftsmen, drawing with pen and ink by hand on every sheet in a set of plans,” said Terry. “Now it’s Auto-CAD drawings but we still do a lot of drafting.”

“We had a lot of erasers, didn’t we?” said Dick and Terry agreed, laughing.

The duo refused to celebrate their milestone, which fell on a Sunday.

“This work to me has been a very personal satisfying job,” said Terry. “I don’t want to share it with anybody because I have those memories that nobody can ever have.”

“I think we’re frightened for retirement,” said Dick, noting both are now 70. “We both say the day we retire is when they find us under our desks dead.”

“But that’s not realistic, it will happen,” added Dick.

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