by Paul and Marion Isom

Entry B30 from the History of Hooker County Nebraska
with permission of the Hooker County Historical Society

Franke Construction Company (1930's Shop in

R.C. 'Ole' Franke 1917

            Part 1 1922-1950

R.C. Franke "Ole" established his business
in Mullen, Nebraska in 1922. He operated his
business alone for a short time then Novem-
ber 1, 1923, his first Austin dragline arrived
on a flat car in Mullen, the `real' beginning
of Franke Construction Company. Quote
from Ben French, "I went in the shop for
something and Mr. Franke, asked if I would
like a job with a ditching crew for 45 cents an
hour." "Ole", Bert Barnett, Marion Bul-
lington and Ben French went to work piling
ties for a ramp to unload the dragline. This
was quite a machine at that time, weighing
25 tons with a 45 foot boom, one yard bucket
and traveled one mile per hour in fast gear.
It took 3 days to get to the John Vinton ranch
and then the crew had to learn how to operate
the dragline. The ground froze too hard to
work that fall but after it thawed in the
spring, a ditch was dug up to the Vinton
buildings, and then up to the Reimer Ranch.
When the job was finished the dragline was
driven back to town, loaded on a flat car and
shipped to Merriam, Nebraska where the
Coffee Ditch of about 10 miles was dug,
resulting in the drainage of several lakes.
Highway 20 west of Merriman was graded in
the summer of 1924 and "Ole" got the
contract to load dump wagons pulled by
mules for the surfacing. The fall of 1925 and
`26, "Ole" wanted to run 2 shifts on the ditch
at the Dumbbell Ranch north of Hyannis,
Nebraska and hired Stanley Meidell to oil.
Ben French operated the night shift. When
the ground froze the crew shut down for the

To begin with, most of the work was done
with a dragline digging ditches and loading
trucks, for road surfacing. Finishing was done
with horses and scrapers. Later as blades,
patrols, and scrapers became available,
horses were pretty well retired in the middle

Mr. Franke's dream was to see the day
when the water in the Sandhills was used to
the fullest extent. It pleased him anytime a
dry valley was the receptacle for the drainage
of an over-wet hay meadow.

In the 26 years following the beginning of
the company he built a business that em-
ployed up to 60 men during the construction
season, building roads, bridges, railroad
grades, dams, drainage ditches and related
earth moving jobs. For several years his
organization loaded virtually all of the sugar
beets in the North Platte Valley, west of
North Platte in 1932. When he began loading
beets for the Great Western Sugar Company,
a project which lasted 2 or 3 months every
fall, the equipment in use then for the
operation was inadequate for the job, so Mr.
Franke invented, built and patented an
overshot loader attachment for a crawler
tractor which was used for beet loading. One
man operating the Franke loader easily could
load 35 to 40 gondola cars in 8 or 9 hours.
Draglines with clam shells were also used in
this operation. Although Mr. Franke nevere
sold any of his productions they did facilitate
his job. He went to Washington State with his
patent, and Isaacson's Iron Works redesigned
his production making a smaller one to
handle coal. "Ole" was able to operate and
repair any piece of equipment that was used
in his varied projects and upon occasion did
so until his health failed in December 1949.
The construction of his shop building was
completed in 1931 and the office building in
1946. Frank Fitzgerald built the office build-

The company maintained a high safety
record considering the high danger of jobs
encountered. An accident did occur at Craw-
ford, Nebraska in 1933 when a leaking
dragline fuel tank that was being repaired
exploded. This explosion resulted in the
disfiguration of Mr. Franke's face and Fritz
Pearson suffered facial burns and an arm
injury. Stanley Meidell and Art Piester were
less seriously injured.

Shortly before Mr. Franke's death in
March 1950, he incorporated his business
including three employees, Charles Folk,
Paul Isom, and Wayne Fitzgerald.