Back in 1976 we headed off to Houston to build a project out off of Highway 6 between I-10 and 290. A new housing development. We installed the utilities (water, wastewater and storm sewers) while a company from Houston built the streets and did the grading for the project. This company was new to that type of work, as their primary business had been building and maintaining railroads. It may have been their first venture into subdivisions. They were really a bunch of nice guys that were easy to get along with. Something I can’t say for all companies we have been thrown together with over the years.
One of our equipment operators, Butch Martin, a cousin of mine, went over and went to work for this other company when we finished up and were heading back to Austin. Butch had moved around from job to job for years prior to that. But he stuck with that company and worked there for the rest of his life, maybe 25 years.
We only had limited contact with that company after that one project together, but I was able to keep up with them through Butch and others that were associated with them. I’d see the owner at equipment auctions from time to time.
WT Byler Company went on to do some of the largest excavation projects in Texas. I would see them in places where ever I traveled around the state.
The last time I ever saw Butch, I stopped by Minute Maid Park in Houston when they were excavating for that stadium. It was impressive. I was told that Byler did a project for Exxon in the Houston area and the excavation contract was $200 million. We consider a project in the $5 million range to be really large. So to say they grew and became hugely successful would be an understatement.
Life In The Construction Business In Houston
Below will explain how I met the Byler folks. It was an interesting meeting. We were each subcontractors, working for a large contractor that had relocated to Houston from Detroit. McComb Contracting was the company. McComb, named after a smaller city in Michigan.
The owner of that company was a fellow by the name of Leonard Capauldi. He was a wheeler dealer. You would know when he was coming by to check on the progress. He would arrive in a Bell Long Ranger Helicopter.
His attire was never that conventional for that of a Texas Contractor. Silky shirts and lizard skin shoes just seemed odd. He always had a small entourage around him. I guess there was no reason to waste a seat on those flights.
The talk of Houston was all about how McComb was bidding and getting every project. A lot of those projects were bid well below cost, or so goes the story. Then we started hearing about Mob Connections. About how making money wasn’t all that important, if you were in money laundering business.
I have no idea what the final story was on any of that. We finished our project, made money and collected it all and went back to Austin. I did continue to follow the happenings surrounding McComb Contracting closely. Within a year or two they defaulted on tens of millions of dollars of projects and closed up shop and disappeared. Made me wonder if that was a Mob thing to do or if their appetite for work just overwhelmed them. I just know I felt lucky that we didn’t get caught up in it all.
Back in those days, the 70s, Houston was so large that any contractor of much size almost had to have a helicopter to oversee what they had going on. Driving across the city was two hours, unless there was a wreck. Going to several projects would take all day and maybe even several days. So what seemed like a high roller contractor flying around from job to job in his helicopter, was really a necessary tool of the trade. Almost every contractor had one.
Now dial forward forty plus years and I can’t even imagine what life would be like working all over Houston without a good helicopter being a part of your arsenal. Just a cost of doing business.
Bell 206 Long Ranger
About this time last year, November 2018 everyone was hearing the story of the young couple leaving their wedding by way of a helicopter down south of San Antonio and were killed when it crashed. Such a tragic thing for so many people.
I didn’t pay much attention to the names, but a few nights later I looked up the story. I didn’t know the young man or his new bride, but I knew the grooms grandfather many years ago.
So I guess it isn’t surprising that WT Byler III was leaving his wedding in a helicopter. Wealthy contractors do stuff like that.