In 1915, John G. Ruhlin and his brothers—all bricklayers— won their first construction bid, to build Creston School in Wayne County for $29,000. While that World War I-era price appears impressive today, what’s more impressive is the fact Ruhlin’s company survived and prospered to become The Ruhlin Company, a $200-million construction company celebrating its centennial in 2015.
In the 1920s-1940s, the company’s aspirations—outside of surviving The Great Depression—remained modest for its first few decades with the contractor building a variety of school projects in the Akron area. However, the company expanded its horizons in the 1950s when it formed a heavy civil division. By 1958, Ruhlin had its first highway job, subcontracting to build a bridge on State Route 5 near Easton, Ohio.
In subsequent years, Ruhlin added milestones—in both the nature of projects served, and geography covered—with regularity. In the last half century, the company has:
- Worked on hydroelectric projects such as the W.T. Love Hydroelectric Station in Kentucky and the Willow Island Hydroelectric Powerhouse in West Virginia.
- Built major structures for municipalities, universities and hospitals—including the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus, the John S. Knight Convention Center in Akron, and Akron General’s Green Health and Wellness Center.
- Constructed industrial facilities for clients such as Anheuser-Busch.
- Worked on major highway projects including the Inner Belt in Akron, I-76, I-71 and I-90.
In 1977, Ruhlin was one of the first companies in the U.S. to become an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) company. The ESOP was intended to reward employees for their dedication to the company’s success. Today, employees own about 80 percent of the company, which is headquartered in Sharon Township. Ruhlin has about 100 full-time employees and 275 trade workers. The current CEO, Jim Ruhlin, is a grandson of the founder.
As the full-service construction firm heads into a second century, it gets the majority of its business from heavy civil work, including highways, dams, bridges and hydroelectric plants, and from commercial and institutional buildings. However, the company expanded its areas of specialty in the 21st century, adding a division that erects and repairs structural steel, as well as another that focuses on industrial work.
Ruhlin has been so successful in completing projects that 90 percent of business comes from repeat customers. Clients praise Ruhlin personnel for their professionalism, integrity and dedication.
Today, Ruhlin is involved in major road projects including the trench express lane on U.S. 23 in Columbus and the I-90 bridge project over the Cuyahoga River Valley near Cleveland. On these projects, Ruhlin is using Link-Belt cranes and Komatsu excavators from Columbus Equipment Company.
In Columbus, Ruhlin is part of an ODOT joint venture with another 100-year-old construction company— George J. Igel & Co., Inc.—to construct a 25-foot deep, 4,000-foot-long, 40-foot wide trench that will carry two northbound express lanes under two intersections, alleviating congestion near the intersection of U.S. 23 and I-270.
The Cleveland project to replace a viaduct over the Cuyahoga River includes construction of two bridges, each around 4,000 feet long, and tying them in with I-90. The ODOT project involves a joint venture with Ruhlin, Great Lakes Construction Company and Trumbull Corporation, noted Mike Ciammaichella, P.E., VP and Civil Division Manager for Ruhlin. “It is a true joint venture where we are mixing resources and personnel. Each company has different talents, and one of ours is setting structural steel. However, we have resources involved with excavation, the smaller bridge construction, as well as the main viaduct bridge. It’s like a company was created by the three joint venture partners, being managed by a team of individuals from all three companies, not one company taking the overall lead.”
“Ruhlin’s strong suit of setting structural steel is enhanced by the Link-Belt 348 HSL lattice boom crawler crane used on the project,” Ciammaichella said. “A feature of that crane that our operators love is that they can put it in the “fine-inching” mode, which allows them to make slow movements with the load. The crane is capable of slowly moving very small distances, allowing the operator to set a piece of steel to tight specifications with exact precision. The crane’s capability in maneuvering and placing material is superior. Even our operators say it makes them look great because the crane’s capabilities enhance their capabilities. We genuinely believe the Link-Belt 348 is superior to other cranes for setting large pieces to a high tolerance.”
The company purchased the 300-ton Link-Belt three years ago initially for use on a hydroelectric project. Ruhlin owns a total of seven Link-Belt crawler and rough terrain cranes.
Three sizes of Link-Belt lattice crawlers are currently being used on the I-90 project, according to Jeff Lawson, P.E., superintendent. Crews used the 348 to drive 90-foot HP 18 x 402 piles for the pier foundation with a large impact hammer. Link-Belt 248 HSL crawler cranes are being used on substructure form work and reinforcing steel installation before concrete is poured. The 80-ton 138 HSL is used to drive pile on some of the smaller bridges and to assist ironworkers.
“The 80-tonners are very versatile. We can use them for just about anything,” Lawson said. “They are easy to move around—it takes less than a day to take down and set up again. The mobility on the 150-ton is really nice too; they are easy to walk around the job site.”
Link-Belts provide good uptime, Ciammaichella noted, with little need for repairs. “If we do have something our mechanics can’t deal with, Columbus Equipment is a very reliable partner. The technicians Columbus Equipment sends out are good, and the repairs are well done, so we don’t have callbacks to repair the same thing.”
Komatsu PC228 excavators are a common sight on Ruhlin bridge projects. “Because of the size and power of those machines, we like to use them when moving bridge deck slab. We also use them around bridges when we are performing excavation or renovation because of their tight footprint and swing radius,” Ciammaichella said.
On the I-90 project, PC228s were outfitted with a hydraulic hammer for demolition, used for excavation and for loading out dirt. “You can’t beat the Komatsu PC228’s performance,” Lawson said.
The Komatsus “cycle fast and have plenty of power. When we slab out a deck that is being rehabbed and hauled off, we use the Komatsu PC228 to pick up the concrete slabs and put them in a truck. We have had no issues with downtime on these machines. They have a high utilization rate and are reliable. They have done very well for us,” Ciammaichella added.
The relationship between Ruhlin and Columbus Equipment Company began so many years ago that current Ruhlin executives say it outdates their tenures at the company. CEO Ruhlin, whose father was in charge of equipment, says the company has purchased machinery from Columbus Equipment for more than 40 years, dating back to Grove cranes and Yale/Trojan loaders acquired in the early 1970s.
In the last 100 years, a lot of things have changed in the construction industry—the size and scale of projects, technology, equipment, materials and costs, to name just a few. It’s a rare company that successfully navigates the many variables and finds a way to thrive, grow, and make a lasting mark on the wider community. The Ruhlin Company has done just that. Columbus Equipment Company is proud to serve as a trusted partner in that process, congratulates The Ruhlin Company on its 100-year milestone in business … and wishes it much continued success.