In February, a 95-year-long era of Platteville business ended.
Lenny and Marilee Lonsberg sold their business, Rural Excavating, to J&N Stone of Lancaster, owned by Ron Yager of Lancaster and his sons Jake and Nick. Jake runs the Lancaster operation, and Nick runs the Platteville operation, and their wives run the offices.
“Seeing Platteville’s growing, we felt this was a good place to expand,” said Nick. “It’s basically doubling our employees. Lenny sold a lot of rock for people, and we were already into the rock business, and he got us a couple quarries in Platteville, and we were looking at basically boosting our sales in rock and keep readimix.”
The purchase brings to an end 95 years of Lonsbergs in business in Platteville, moving rocks, dirt and snow. Lonsberg will be 70 soon, and their three daughters were not interested in going into the business.
“My era is done, and the Yager family was interested in buying it and keeping it going,” he said. “Platteville is growing — anybody can tell you that.”
Lonsberg still works at the company, however.
“They let me run a Cat,” a Caterpillar, he said. “I don’t want anything to do with management. It’s just the stuff I enjoy doing.”
Rural Excavating began as Ben Lonsberg Trucking & Materials in 1918, started by Ben, a Platteville-area mine supervisor, and his brother Herman, at a building on the east side of Broadway. The company hauled sand and gravel materials from their source to customers, including coal to the Platteville Mining School and Normal School.
“When Grandpa Ben started the business he used hard rubber-tired chain-driven two-yard trucks to haul materials,” said Lenny. “All the coal and rock products had to be shoveled onto the truck and off the truck because there were no dump trucks at that time.”
Lonsberg’s father, Len Sr., attended the Platteville Mining School before he completed his electrical engineering degree in Rolla, Mo. He worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., before moving back to Platteville after World War II.
Len Sr. introduced redi-mixed concrete to the Platteville area in the 1950s, and also operated a feed and fuel business until the early 1970s, and gas stations in Platteville, Benton and Shullsburg. The materials for the concrete were hauled from Janesville to Platteville by the Milwaukee Road railroad, while coal and fertilizer was shipped by the Burlington Northern Railroad to Potosi. Barges also shipped coal to Cassville. Len Sr. installed the concrete plant now used by one of the company’s competitors, Bard Materials, formerly Kowalski–Kieler.
Len Jr. started working for the company in high school dispatching trucks. Len Jr. started Rural Excavating with Roger Hauri in 1986.
Rural Excavating’s work went far beyond its name, including, said Lonsberg, “waterways, dams, street work, [digging] basements. We did everything we needed to do. You can go by a house that we dug the basement for 20 years ago.”
Lonsberg’s most memorable job was demolishing The Timbers restaurant to make way for the Walgreen’s drugstore. The company also did the first blacktop paving for what then was Dick’s Supermarket, and poured foundations for the first UW–Platteville buildings. At the company’s height, Rural Excavating employed 40 people.
Rural Excavating has a significant snowplowing operation, which J&N plans to continue.
“You get here about 11:30, quarter to 12, and then you bring people in at 1:30, and you wait until the bars close to start plowing,” said Lonsberg of a typical post-snowstorm day.
J&N Stone started in 2000, when truck driver Ron Yager got into rock crushing on the farmland he owned. Yager’s neighbors turned out to be customers.
“I ran a dozer when I was 16,” said Nick.
The yard at 285 Milwaukee St. (so named because the street was near the former Milwaukee Road) has a 786-foot well whose water will be used to cool the concrete in the new redimix plant, which may be operating as soon as this week.
“We’re hoping it makes us more economical,” said Yager.
Rock and concrete are local businesses because, said Yager, “Concrete can only travel so far, so you have to have plants within about a 20- to 25-mile radius.” Fuel costs also make moving rock much farther uneconomical. J&N has lease arrangements with six rock quarries and one sand pit in Southwest Wisconsin.
J&N was the only potential buyer Lonsberg approached.
“I’ve lived in Platteville all my life,” he said. “And Nick grew up in Lancaster. And I think it’s going to be great in here.”