It’s hard to funnel a life as big as Ray Speerbrecker’s into a profile, especially as he is so unassuming.
“I don’t know if there is much history to me,” he says, surprised when I ask to interview him.
Speerbrecker grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. He enjoyed farming, but he didn’t see much of a future in it.
“It’s a hard life,” he explains, “and I couldn’t see getting land and getting ahead enough to buy the equipment.”
When he wasn’t working on his father’s farm, Speerbrecker hauled for the local co-op with a gas truck he bought. Eventually, Speerbrecker decided not to pursue farming or gas driving, but to adventure westwards.
After working construction as a machine operator, spending five years as a logger in Prince George and a year on the pipeline built from B.C. to Ontario, Speerbrecker headed to Revelstoke.
“I met my wife here,” he says of Greta Speerbrecker, a well known local artist. “I had my family here. I stayed.”
When talking to Speerbrecker, it isn’t surprising the conversation flows to Speers Construction. It is, after all, a company he started. Around town, Speers Construction is synonymous with success. This local endeavour has been thriving since the 60s, and has employed many Revelstokians. Speers Construction has built everything from exploration, logging and mining roads, to sections of the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla highways. They helped double-track parts of the CP Rail line and worked on run-of-the-river hydro projects and dam reconstruction all over B.C. and parts of Alberta.
Undoubtedly, a large part of Speers Construction’s success is because of Speerbrecker’s foresight regarding new technology and equipment. He was the first person to own a D7 Cat in Revelstoke (the other was owned by the government), which he purchased to build exploration roads near Mica Creek.
When the excavator came out, Speerbrecker bought one.
“I could sorta see the future and knew it would be a popular machine for lots of things,” Speerbrecker explains.
It turned out, he was right.
After purchasing the excavator, Speerbrecker rented it to a company building the power line from Mica to Vancouver. When he brought it back to Revelstoke, Speerbrecker set out to show the excavator could build roads.
“It wasn’t the sort of machine anyone could use,” he explains. “I had to prove it would work. I knew it did because I had seen it.”
To make his case, Speerbrecker took a low ball contract that he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish using older equipment.
“I took the job to show people what could be done with the excavator.”
Within three short weeks, companies from nearby towns were coming to look at the logging road because it was working so successfully. With no muss or fuss, Speerbrecker had succinctly proven his point.
Now more of a figurehead, Speerbrecker still goes to the office to help out and his work ethic is reflected in his three children. His youngest son Michael runs Speers Construction. His older son and only daughter both live in Vancouver and manage their own successful ventures.
When he’s not with family (the day after we chatted he was heading to Kelowna to watch his grandson play hockey) or helping out at the office, look to the skies for Speerbrecker.
“There’s not a lot of surprises. Everyone’s known me long enough, but maybe I could be the oldest person in the Guinness Book of World Records for learning to fly,” he chuckles.
I raise an eyebrow at him. He’s been flying for at least a decade. He learned so he could more easily access Speers Construction’s first remote job on Vancouver Island. I figure him now to be in his early seventies.
“I was 73,” he corrects me. “I’m 83 now.”
“Revelstoke has been a good place,” he says. “I don’t intend to leave.”