Myrl & Roy’s Paving still going strong

By |  November 13, 2019
Realizing their business might not survive without its own quarry, Myrl & Roy’s Paving purchased a small quarry 30 years ago that has grown into a thriving business. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

Realizing their business might not survive without its own quarry, Myrl & Roy’s Paving purchased a small quarry 30 years ago that has grown into a thriving business. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

If anyone could explain how to build a successful, strong and sustainable aggregate, concrete, portable recycling and asphalt business – one that’s grown over nearly 60 years – it would be Myrl Unzelman and his daughters, Patty Unzelman Nohr and Sue Unzelman, of Myrl & Roy’s Paving.

It was 1962 when Myrl and his late partner, Roy Schultz, began working for Hodgman & Sons, a Minnesota paving company.

“The idea that we might be able to start our own company began when my foreman at that company asked me to dispose of leftover cold mix,” Myrl says. “The first couple times, I threw it away. When I realized it could be used for small paving jobs, I asked if I could take the leftover asphalt. The foreman said yes.”

Myrl, Roy and their supervisor shared any profit they realized. That small venture sparked a vision in Myrl and Roy.

After seven years of working at Hodgman’s, they decided to take the risk of starting their own paving company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“We went from door to door here to find homeowners who wanted an asphalt driveway,” Myrl says. “Even businessmen in those days didn’t know much about asphalt. We started with a $500 dump truck, a rake and youthful enthusiasm.”

The early years

Although they encountered a steep learning curve to manage equipment and materials costs, it wasn’t long before the duo hired a few friends and family members and opened their first shop – a shed on Roy’s yard.

Roy Schultz, left, and Myrl Unzelman launched the business more than five decades ago with a $500 dump truck, a rake, a shovel and their determination. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

Roy Schultz, left, and Myrl Unzelman launched the business more than five decades ago with a $500 dump truck, a rake, a shovel and their determination. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

Their approach to their work then remains their slogan today: “Quality, Service and Pride.”

“We’ve always built monuments, not just paved highways,” Sue says. “It’s not unusual for employees to mention memories of paving a highway 15 years ago. That’s the kind of quality Dad and Roy always put into their products. They always gave a little more than what was required. If a parking lot called for 2 in. of asphalt, they’d use 2 1/2 in. Of course, asphalt was cheaper in those days.”

In the early years, workdays were often 14 to 16 hours long, sunup until sundown. By 1965, after moving to a new shop just north of Sioux Falls, Myrl and Roy began adding a few new employees and some like-new equipment, including their first asphalt plant in 1968.

Some earlier projects included parking lots, streets and highways in and around Sioux Falls. One major hurdle came with a project that had to be finished within 60 days.

“We weren’t going to be paid if we didn’t meet the deadline,” Myrl says. “The project manager didn’t think we could do it.”

But Myrl and Roy were determined. Using two asphalt plants and working 60 consecutive days, they completed the job on time and met all specs. That victory spurred them on to continue growing the company in any way they could.

Life at the quarry

Providing a family atmosphere at work is very important to the owners of Myrl & Roy’s Paving. Pictured from left are production manager Rick Peterson, Sue Unzelman, Myrl Unzelman and Patty Unzelman Nohr. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

Providing a family atmosphere at work is very important to the owners of Myrl & Roy’s Paving. Pictured from left are production manager Rick Peterson, Sue Unzelman, Myrl Unzelman and Patty Unzelman Nohr. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

By 1989, growing local competition led to changes in municipal road project specifications, and Myrl and Roy realized they either had to purchase a nearby quartzite quarry or face the real prospect that their business wouldn’t survive.

“Our competitor had one of the few quarries around,” Myrl says. “We always knew quarried rock was better than gravel in asphalt. We were fortunate that we had a lead on a small quarry, 40 acres. We bought it. I didn’t sleep too well that night.”

Myrl & Roy’s East Sioux Quarry is located just east of Sioux Falls. The Sioux quartzite they mine there is a unique stone of superior strength and quality, and it’s found only in the Sioux Falls region.

This quarried rock is the hallmark of many historic buildings in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area. Myrl & Roy’s uses the rock for concrete, riprap, chips, quartzite gravel and engineered backfill, and its Natural Rock products include washed sand, washed landscape rock, drainage rock and pea rock.

From the outset, Myrl & Roy’s did not have haul trucks at the new quarry. A loader hauled every load to the crusher.

But despite working with inferior and aging equipment, the two quarried rock as efficiently as they could. In 2006, they revamped their quarry, configured an effective haul route, and brought in the equipment necessary to keep up with growing local demand.

“We are fortunate to have such extensive and quality quartzite resources here,” Myrl says. “Historic quartzite quarries here, with some of the best stone in the nation, have played a significant role in building the city of Sioux Falls. It adds to the resilient life of our asphalt and concrete products.”

Myrl & Roy’s utilizes four crushers at the quartzite quarry. Because quartzite is so hard, it is very abrasive to crushers. In fact, manganese crusher parts are changed out about every 10,000 tons.

Among the company’s crushers are a 44-in. x 48-in. Iron Giant jaw and an intermediate T500 cone – both from Telsmith. Myrl & Roy’s finish crushers are HP400 cones from Metso, which have met the operation’s needs since the quarry was reconfigured and equipment was updated.

“Customer service is top-notch at Telsmith,” Sue says. “We haven’t found any better anywhere else. Our salesman, Jerry Hall, comes from a family who owned their own aggregate business. When they sold out, he went to work for Telsmith, and he approaches his sales and service more like a business partner than a salesperson. He’s extremely helpful with troubleshooting any issues.”

And when it comes to the company’s service from Metso?

“We don’t know because we never have breakdowns with our Metso equipment and don’t have to call them,” Patty says.

Other key equipment

While Caterpillar is the preferred brand on loaders at Myrl & Roy’s Paving, the company favors Komatsu on haul trucks because of their ability to endure strenuous use and avoid downtime. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

While Caterpillar is the preferred brand on loaders at Myrl & Roy’s Paving, the company favors Komatsu on haul trucks because of their ability to endure strenuous use and avoid downtime. Photo courtesy of Myrl & Roy’s Paving

To wash sand at the quarry, Myrl & Roy’s installed an Eagle Iron Works 6-ft. x 20-ft. screen with a classifying tank and twin 54-in. sand screws.

In the meantime, two portable crushing spreads move between Myrl & Roy’s various gravel sites to crush base coarse gravel and recycled concrete. The two are a Cedarapids 45 Roller Cone II and a 1336 Allis Chalmers gyratory cone.

Myrl & Roy’s latest portable plant addition is a Rotochopper RGI, which grinds asphalt shingles.

On haul trucks, Komatsu wins Myrl & Roy’s vote. Komatsu’s ability to handle strenuous use without downtime has continuously made their trucks a winner to Myrl & Roy’s.

Loaders at Myrl & Roy’s are mostly Caterpillar-made – and for the same reason, as they present little to no downtime.

“We credit employees with taking good care of the equipment and maintaining it properly,” Patty says. “Dad always told us we needed to treat employees like family. That has proven to be good advice. We have one employee with 55 years of service and numerous others who have worked here for 30 years or more.”

Family atmosphere

With about 150 employees working year-round, Sue and Patty work hard to ensure each one has the training required. Sue and Patty also want employees to experience a sense of belonging.

“Family atmosphere is important to today’s young labor pool,” Patty says. “They appreciate a sense of belonging. We plan several activities through the year that promote that kind of work climate. We also do small things, like take lunch out to individual crews from time to time to show our appreciation for their work.”

An annual Family Fun Day at the local fair, as well as a yearly Poker Run and Christmas party, help employees connect both with the Unzelman family and each other.

“When Roy passed away, his family sold out their share of the business,” Sue says. “We started buying Dad out in 1996. As an added incentive for employees to work here long term, we added 401(k) benefits and paid holidays at that time. We also have a six-month attendance bonus.”

Myrl & Roy’s is also happy to see fathers recruit sons and daughters to join their company’s team.

“My son, Tom, works on the paving crew,” Patty says. “The company has been in business for 57 years. One of their managers, Dan Pirrung, started with the company when he was 14 years old, and his dad was an asphalt plant operator.

Dan’s first job was sweeping the shop, and today he is the sales manager and asphalt construction manager. We see second-generation employees as a signal that we’re treating employees right.”

Forward thinkers

On the quality side, Sue is quick to point out that she implemented Myrl & Roy’s quality control testing lab at their gravel pits and quarries well before the state of South Dakota required quality testing.

Most current projects at Myrl & Roy’s are for county or city municipalities, with some private work for developers or business owners.

When it comes to landing work, Patty and Sue are happy to serve as the main contractor. But they don’t shy away from opportunities to supply materials or equipment and labor.

“We don’t have to be the prime contractor,” Patty says. “There’s value in getting at least a piece of the pie.”

This outside-the-box approach – the one Myrl employed to establish Myrl & Roy’s –continues to serve the company well.

“Quite a few years ago, a neighboring concrete ready-mix business went into bankruptcy and stiffed Myrl & Roy’s with a significant bill,” Sue says. “Lawyers told Dad and Roy that the only way they could possibly recover their losses was to buy the distressed asset.”

At the time, Myrl and Roy didn’t know the concrete business, and they weren’t sure they wanted to learn it. But they ultimately decided to purchase the company. And now, Ace Ready Mix is a strong asset for Myrl & Roy’s Paving.

Final thoughts

Intensifying competition will keep Sue, Patty, their production manager, Rick Peterson, and the rest of their crew on their toes well into the future.

According to Myrl & Roy’s, one advantage it has with its rock quarry is the depth of the 200-acre site. The company expects the quarry will provide all of the rock the company needs for the foreseeable future.

“We took out 1 million tons of quartzite in 2018,” Sue says. “We know the quartzite deposit is at least 1,000 ft. deep, and we haven’t touched the largest portion of the quarry yet.”


Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, South Dakota. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.


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