Under construction (1:29 p.m.)

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The blistering sun beats down on a crew of construction workers in Helena just after lunch.

Winston Contracting supervisor Keith Parris glances at his watch. It’s 1 p.m. now, and he still has two more projects to check on before making his way back to the office.

“This business keeps me going. I probably log 70,000 to 75,000 miles a year on my truck traveling from one end of the state to the other and back,” Parris said.

Winston Contracting keeps things moving in Shelby County and around the Southeast.

“There’s always a need for infrastructure no matter how bad things are,” owner Don Duncan said. “That’s the backbone of our economy — bridges and highways and railroads give us the ability to move goods and people.”

The company, based in Pelham, builds infrastructure such as turn lanes, box culverts and railroad tracks for the state and private companies.

Their work spreads throughout Shelby County and into Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Florida panhandle.

Winston received recognition just last year from the Association of General Contractors for a project that reduced travel time for CSX trains.

Installing a second track along the company’s route from Birmingham to Montgomery cut transportation time by four hours.

The danger of the project — it required crews to work alongside an active rail line, with trains coming by throughout the day — didn’t compare to what safety hazards crews face when working on highways. “We have to be very conscious of safety,”

Duncan said. “We tell our guys to watch out for each other when they are out there because you never know when a car might swerve behind the cones.”

Parris began working for the company nine years ago. He’s worked in the contracting business for more than 25 years. He agreed the job could be risky at times.

“It’s a hazardous business,” Parris said. “One time, we had just finished up work along I-20 and a piece of steel coil rolled off a truck, hit a concrete barrier, rolled back across the road and right through where we had been working earlier — we got lucky.”

Winston Contracting moved to Pelham in 2003. Despite the potential danger, both men said they were drawn to the work at an early age.

Duncan’s grandfather worked for U.S. Pipe. His father followed and exposed Duncan to the vocation he loved by occasionally taking him to work with him. Duncan’s own sons now work at the company.

“This was all I ever wanted to do,” Duncan said. “It was my lifelong dream to be an engineer. There is nothing better than getting to the end of a project and seeing the fruits of your labor.”

Parris himself, is a fourth-generation contractor.

“That’s [toy dump trucks] all I played with when I was a kid,” Parris said. “I was always told as a kid to find a job you loved because you’d be doing it for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Parris said he takes pride in being able to drive through Alabama and point out things that he had a hand in building.