Foundations of Construction: Supplying granulars and installing overlays

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“A handful of 20mm graded construction aggregate,” Photography by Bill Bradley, October 2007/Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20mm-aggregate.jpg
“A handful of 20mm graded construction aggregate,” Photography by Bill Bradley, October 2007/Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20mm-aggregate.jpg

By Susanna McLeod

Special to Ontario Construction News

One older vehicle was all it took to launch a booming construction company. Learning the aggregates business from the inside out, the teenager decided to take a chance. With a dump truck and the drive to prosper, George Tackaberry started G. E. Tackaberry in 1957 in Athens, Ontario. Then he followed his passion, not for horses or racing, but for antique trucks.

Manually handling bags of cement for his Brockville employer, 18-year-old Tackaberry saved his earnings to buy an eight-year-old GMC truck for $325. The young businessman never looked back.

“George got work at $3 per hour hauling wood and coal with his truck, and stone for Griffin Brothers in Gananoque,” said Robert Bradford in Keeping Ontario Moving: The History of Roads and Road Building in Ontario (Dundurn Press, Toronto 2015). Business was so good that a year later he purchased another truck—a brand-new GMC dump truck for $4,500.

With the post-war construction boom, Tackaberry’s opportunities blossomed “and he soon was hauling for the farmers and companies in the area, establishing what would become the company’s customer base in the future,” Bradford added. In the 1970s, Tackaberry expanded from trucking for customer orders into the aggregates arm of the construction industry.

Initially establishing a pit on family farmland, Tackaberry acquired equipment to provide crushed stone for construction and highway projects, and residential customers as well. Purchasing properties throughout Eastern Ontario, the company now operates 51 sand and gravel pits and quarries.

‘Establishing operations in the village in which he was born gave Tackaberry many of the benefits of working close to the office but all the worries and responsibility. “’I can’t afford to screw up,’” he said to Harry Rudolphs in Truck News Magazine, February 1, 2004. “’We don’t have any big cities around here and a lot of people are depending on us.’”

While the familiar red, black, and white Tackaberry logo was visible on trucks delivering aggregates for roadbuilding projects, the owner went one step further with the acquisition of an asphalt plant in 1982. The machinery enhanced “the capability of not only supplying the granulars to local road projects but also installing the asphalt overlays,” noted Bradford.

Attending to local customers daily, Tackaberry serves contractors working in the area, but does not take on major highway or bridge projects itself. The company owner prefers to remain “small,” even though Tackaberry is one of the area’s prominent organizations with annual revenues reaching over $7 million.

Tackaberry employs about 60 full-time staff and 140 seasonal workers. “When they’re not hauling gravel or paving roads, the drivers are plowing a long section of the 401 during winter,” wrote Rudolphs.

Along with Tackaberry and his wife, Joan, overseeing daily operations, the next generation—two sons and one daughter —joined G. Tackaberry & Sons Co. Ltd. (Joan Tackaberry died in 1999.) Growing again, the firm purchased two of its competitors and affiliates. In 1987, Sweet’s Sand and Gravel in Seeley’s Bay was taken under the Tackaberry umbrella, and in 1994, one of his first trucking customers, Griffin Brothers, was purchased.

Prosperity and the company’s strong position in its sector enabled Tackaberry to generously donate time and products to benefit the region’s residents. Participating in fundraisers
and parades, plus supporting arts and sports organizations, the company and workers volunteer to help students as well. “Local schools and parts have received sand and pea stone for playground use, either free or at a discount,” stated the Tackaberry site, and “community and school gardens have also received material free of charge for initial setup.”

Tackaberry’s business acumen inspired him to create a substantial collection of antique trucks and more. The historical vehicles, die-cast models, accessories, and memorabilia are now estimated to be worth in the millions of dollars. It is a private museum, not open to the public except for selected vehicles on special occasions.

Favouring International trucks among displays in several buildings, Tackaberry’s collection also features steam shovels, dozens of farm tractors, bulldozers, and more. Some vehicles are rare, such as the 1953 RD 310. “’They only made 24 of these,’” Tackaberry told Rudolphs. The oldest International truck in the museum was a Highwheeler from about 1913.

When an automobile is added to the collection, the item is tenderly overhauled and restored by the careful hands of Tackaberry and his sons. The beautiful antique vehicles are made road-worthy and licenced, “and many are driven to the Farmersville exhibition in Athens for public display every summer,” said Nick Gardiner in Brockville Recorder & Times, May 18, 2013.

In 2015, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville presented Tackaberry with the Bill Thake Memorial Award for Economic Development Leadership for his ongoing contributions to the community.

In his early 80s, George Tackaberry remains head of the company. The aggregates are crushed but not his spirit.

© 2022 Susanna McLeod. McLeod is a Kingston-based freelance writer who specializes in Canadian History.

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