'They've treated me like family'; Ulmer moves on to next job as final touches are put on new bridge This photo of the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge, taken about a week ago from the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, shows there isn't much work left before the span is completed. As of this week, the bridge is only about 30 yards short of reaching across both banks of the river. by David Lias Monday was bittersweet for Steve Ulmer, project superintendent of Jensen Construction Company of Des Moines, IA.
The Newcastle/Vermillion bridge, which he has helped build since July 2000, is nearly complete.
It was bathed in Monday's warm sunlight. Ulmer, standing in the center of the span, watched the river flow beneath him, and even spotted some fish lazily exploring the shade created by the new structure.
He's grown fond of the river, of the scenery, and of the generous hospitality shown by the people of Vermillion.
But Monday was his last day here. Like a troubadour, Ulmer puts down roots where his work is.
That means that during the 20 years he's worked for Jensen Construction as a bridge builder, he hasn't stayed in one place for very long.
He traveled Tuesday to Lake of the Ozarks, MO, where he will supervise the construction of another span.
He left Vermillion with only about only 30 yards of the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge left to be completed.
"I've run a crew of anywhere from 10 guys to a high of about 34 people," he said, "and I'm still running a tad over 30 people right now. That's going to change at the tail end of the week, though. We're going to start laying them off. It just gets a little slower during the winter time."
Ulmer no doubt hopes he won't experience a repeat of last winter the next time he works on a bridge in a northern climate.
"One of the main challenges we had to overcome was the winter we had," he said. "We lost most of November and December. In January and February, we did all right, but November and December were so cold and snowy and windy that we didn't get a lot done during those months."
Practically everyone who helped construct the bridge came from the Vermillion area.
"All but my supervisors are local," Ulmer said. "They either come out of Nebraska, Minnesota or South Dakota. Basically, everybody's local. I even consider myself local.
"I move my family with me, and wherever we live at is just where we live at," he said. "We don't really have anything that's home."
Ulmer began working for Jensen Construction a week after he turned 18 years old. He's following a multi-generational tradition in his family.
"My family's been doing it; my dad is with the same company. He's got 40 years in. I've got an uncle who has 40 years in, and a cousin who has put in 25 years with Jensen Construction.
"Pretty much every Ulmer I know has worked for the company (Jensen Construction). Even my grandfather has worked for them. We have a long history with them. Just with my uncle and dad and my cousin and me, I would say we have roughly close to 150 years of bridge construction experience with the same company."
Ulmer couldn't help but feel satisfied Monday as he looked at what has been accomplished in the last 16 months.
"This has turned out to be a good job," he said. "This is good quality work, and this bridge will be here for 75 years, for the full life expectancy of the project."
Ulmer especially has appreciated his good crew, and being able to live for a short time near Vermillion.
"It's truly been a good experience," he said. "I've met a lot of good people here. They've treated me like family, basically. It's hard to move away."
He's not particularly fond of that aspect of his work.
"But yet, I enjoy it, too, because you get to meet a lot of great people and get to see a lot of different country," Ulmer said.
He's especially grateful for the hospitality shown by the Brown family and the Stewart family in Vermillion.
"They turned out to be some good friends," Ulmer said. "They are people I will respect and remember for a long time."
He's lived in the region long enough to know that the bridge will bring new opportunities for Newcastle, Vermillion, and other communities in both South Dakota and Nebraska.
And there's one day for sure that he won't miss.
"I'll be here for the grand opening," Ulmer said.
Ceremonies to officially mark the opening of the bridge will be held Nov. 10.
He hopes his work will eventually bring him back to southeastern South Dakota again.
"Hopefully, when they let the (bids for the) Yankton bridge, we can come back to South Dakota and do that," Ulmer said.