When Joe and John Riley started their construction business in the spring of 1974, they bought a 1948-model loader to do some small jobs on weekends and evenings. A few months later, the brothers purchased a dozer and added some jobs for farmers. Since they didn't own hauling equipment, they would crawl the dozer along the road from one job to the next. Joe Riley began working the business full-time, but because the work wasn't bringing in a lot of money, John kept his job working for a Morris construction company. The brothers would split John's paycheck and whatever else their business brought in to make ends meet. When they were able to buy a scraper, John quit his construction job, 'we were not into contracting then' Joe Riley said, 'we did not have enough equipment, we had no employees and we couldn't get a bond. We did private work, a lot of site work', 'He ran the dozer, and I ran the scraper' John said.
Today, Riley Bros (including Riley Bros. Construction, Inc. and Riley Bros. Properties, LLC) is a multi-million dollar operation employing 150 people in three states. Just 30 years after beginning with little more than ambition and the dirt under their nails, the Riley brothers goal is to not grow any further, 'we want to maintain what we have and keep doing good job with that' Joe Riley said.
From their humble beginnings, Riley Bros. Construction now specializes in road construction, building site preparation, building demolition, land clearing, bituminous paving, sand and gravel work. The 1948 loader with which they started the business has given way to hundreds of pieces of construction equipment, including: dozers, scrapers, loaders, cranes, backhoes, motor graders, rollers & packers, semi-tractors & quad-axle dump trucks, service trucks, water trucks and utility trucks. Paul Leonard was their first employee, joining the business in 1976. The operation today includes equipment operators, truck drivers, laborers, mechanics, foremen, construction supervisors and office personnel.
Riley Bros. first contract job was building Green River Road for the City of Morris in 1976. Their first state contract job was on Highway 27 near Hoffman and it took all 10 employees most of the season to complete the project. Since then, Riley Bros. have worked on huge jobs, such as rerouting seven miles of the Sheyenne River from Horace, N.D. to West Fargo, a project that cost more than $4.4 million. Perhaps Riley Bros. biggest project is one that area residents see everyday.
In 1996, the company embarked on a $7.3 million project to build the Highway 59 bypass. Riley Bros. built almost 14 miles of road to connect Highway 59 north to Highway 59 south, including building a bridge over Highway 9 on Morris city limits. But while Riley Bros. is well equipped and well managed to take on giant projects, the company still does a lot of private work for area farmers, including farm drainage and land clearing. And the Riley Bros. reach doesn't end there.
Since 1979, when Joe and John bought into an apartment building in Cyrus, they have operated what is now known as Riley Bros. Properties, LLC. The brothers cite a strong interest in helping develop the communities in which they live. We do it all except concrete, Joe Riley said. It was the natural thing to do. The property company has developed more than 100 single family residential lots in the Riley Addition, Riley's Riverside Addition, Riley's Hillside Addition, Skyview Estates and Addition and Riverview Estates. The company also has five housing developments in Alexandria and the Fairways Golf Course and Housing in St. Cloud. Recently, Riley Bros. Properties has developed the Ballpark Townhomes and Lake Crystal Twin-homes, and in 2005 developed Iowa Avenue Townhomes and Riverview Townhomes. Riley Bros. Properties is expanding into spec house building and build-to-suit projects for prospective single-family homeowners. With so many fulfilling projects ahead, the Riley's don't even consider retirement, 'its OK for older people' Joe Riley said, smiling.
Which all leads one to think back about how the Riley's got involved in the construction business in the first place. Their mother and father, Elizabeth and Thomas, farmed about five miles outside Morris. One day, a construction crew was working on the road near the farm and Joe went out and asked if they had a job for him. He got the job and the rest is history; a rich and productive history. Joe Riley said, 'we like what we do and we've been fairly successful at it'