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Venerable NM contractor closes up shop

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the sale this spring of its final asset, long-time, locally owned highway contractor A.S. Horner Inc. passed into the transportation history book in New Mexico.

An offshoot of a Denver-based highway and heavy civil construction contractor founded in 1927, A.S. Horner came into its own in New Mexico in 1962.

In the decades since, the company has played a roll in hundreds of road projects, from the Big I reconstruction to small bridge repairs. At its peak in the mid 2000s, A.S. Horner had about 350 employees and gross revenues of around $100 million a year.

“We worked all over the state. No single town or city or part of the state had sufficient work,” said former owner Dave Krueger. “Like a bunch of gypsies, we’d pack up and go to where the work was.”

Through a limited liability company, A.S. Horner sold its stylish headquarters and warehouse/shop at 5801 Bobby Foster SE, built in 2009, earlier this year to Gandy Dancer Railroad & Excavating Services. Its other assets had already been auctioned off piece by piece.

The end of the company was signalled in 2011 when Krueger, who had headed the company since the mid 1990s, experienced a health scare that later proved false.

There was no contingency plan for a transfer in the company leadership. Bonding requirements for highway construction projects make an employee stock-option plan impractical from a financial standpoint, he said.

Krueger had taken over the Albuquerque business from his father, Carl F. “Fritz” Krueger, who had married the daughter of the company’s founder and namesake, A.S. Horner. Krueger’s sons, Jim and Jeff, are U.S. Naval Academy graduates pursuing their own careers.

The winding down process began in 2012.

“We looked for a buyer and there really wasn’t any interest in an organization of our size and scale,” Krueger said. “As is often the case in New Mexico, we were too big to be little and too little to be big.”

With construction costs going up, transportation funding in flux and the economy still in recovery, Krueger said potential buyers backed away from the risk of taking on the A.S. Horner operation in a comparatively small market like New Mexico.

“It was probably a perfect storm for trying to sell a highway business,” he said.

Looking back at the company’s long list of projects, Krueger said the two that stand out were:

n The reconstruction and expansion of the Interstate 40 bridges over the Rio Grande, a project completed in 1994 that he described as a “formidable job.”

n The reconstruction and expansion of the 2½-mile section of I-40 from Sixth Street to the new bridges, completed in 1997.

A.S. Horner famously got a $1 million bonus for completing the 2½-mile project months ahead of schedule, prompting Krueger to say, “What people don’t know is we probably spent $900,000 to earn that $1 million bonus.”

As a primarily government construction contractor, A.S. Horner never became a household name. Outside the highway and transportation sector, few apparently noticed when it ceased to be a player.

“If a highway contractor is high profile, it’s generally because something bad has happened,” the now-retired Krueger said.