MITCHELL, S.D. - One truckload of riprap at a time, Mick and Mike O’Connor are relieving the ongoing havoc Nebraska residents are facing with the state’s devastating floods.
For the past five weeks, a Mitchell trucking company has been hauling just over 100,000 pound loads of riprap - large rocks - to Nebraska, in efforts to minimize flood damage to sections of roads, homes, businesses and grain bins.
“When we were asked to help bring truckloads of rock down south, it didn’t even cross my mind to say no,” said Mick, co-owner of O’Connor and Son Trucking Inc. with his son, Mike. “Our loads of rock have been primarily helping save roads, dams and neighborhoods.”
After the O’Connors agreed to haul truckloads of rock to the neighboring state, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts waived the weight limit for the local trucking company to legally travel on the state’s roads. The governor’s waiver is effective until April 15, and the O’Connors plan to haul a couple more loads of riprap, weather permitting.
According to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, the legal gross weight limit for 65-foot trucks with seven axles is 95,000 pounds. Nebraska law also doesn’t permit double trailer trucks to travel on its roads, which was another waiver Gov. Ricketts had to include, because the O’Connors have been using their double trailer trucks.
“We have 17-axle trucks, so we are way over the Nebraska truck length limit,” Mike said.
While driving his 108-foot double trailer truck, Mike was pulled over by a Nebraska highway patrolman on his first haul.
“When we got back, we called the state of Nebraska and made sure the governor’s office notified all of the state’s patrolmen about what we were doing, and we haven’t had any problems since,” Mike said. “We stuck out like a sore thumb, but they were grateful when we showed them our paper signed by the governor.”
While the relief efforts have kept the O’Connors occupied, they’ve been profiting from the help, as they’ve grossed roughly $25,000 from the state of Nebraska for each fleet, which consists of the two O’Connor trucks driven by Mike and Mick.
Mick said the riprap that’s being hauled comes from the Spencer Quarries commercial asphalt company near Mitchell.
The primary areas the O’Connors dump the rock are along bridges, roads and dams in parts of northeast Nebraska, such as O’Neill and Spencer, which Mike said has been dangerous.
“A lot of times they want us to dump the riprap and stockpile them in a big yard or ditch, so that way smaller trucks or equipment can place the rocks where they need to be,” Mike said. “We can’t get out to some of the areas they need the rock to be placed.”
Given the severe flooding, the O’Connors have had to reroute because Highway 81 is completely washed out, adding more mileage to the trucks. Mike said the travel distance is typically 200 to 250 miles.
Unloading the riprap has its challenges, but Mike is perfecting the art of dumping the rock, as he slowly unloads the side dump trailers and carefully drives forward to correctly place the rocks where they need to be.
“These rocks are huge, so it’s not an easy process unloading the riprap, and our trucks take a beating when we dump them,” Mike said, noting the average size rock in each truckload weighs about 600 to 1,000 pounds, which equates to 50-ton loads.
Since early March, the O’Connors have clocked in 114 loads with their 108-foot double trailer trucks.
Although they’ve had to replace several tires from the damage caused while unloading the rocks, helping a neighbor in a time of dire need is worth the cost of repairs.
“It was a proud moment seeing a group of Nebraska people cheer us on when we were hauling a load and giving us the signal to honk the horn,” Mike said. “This has taken a lot of our time lately, but it’s been great how appreciative the people have been down there.”