You may notice that our 2015 holiday card includes a custom ornament that is, in fact, not actually an ornament. We took a bit of artistic license with a Texas State Highway Department marker dated 1934 that was embedded in a bridge in east Texas for many years.
The marker includes the contractor, J. Lee & E.A. Vilbig, who were brothers, born in Dallas to First generation German-American immigrants. J. Lee Vilbig is my great-grandfather. My father, David, worked for his grandfather’s construction company, Vilbig Construction, during the summer in the mid 1970’s while attending Texas Tech.
The brass marker took a rather circuitous path to be in our possession today. The marker was embedded in a concrete bridge constructed in 1934 in east Texas. Fortunately, when the bridge was replaced, a TxDOT employee was intrigued by the marker and salvaged the hunk of brass to use as a paper weight on his desk. Several years later, an uncle on my mom’s side, who worked for a different TxDOT office in east Texas happened to notice the marker on his colleagues desk. My uncle commented to his colleague that his brother-in-law’s family was probably the contractor. Several months later when my uncle visited the office again, his colleague gave him the marker to bring to us because he thought it would have more meaning for us than to him as a paperweight.
I found another clue to the location of the bridge from which the marker was salvaged on the Portal to Texas History: The Rusk Cherokeean – “Work is Resumed on Highway No. 40” October 20, 1933
WORK IS RESUMED ON HIGHWAY NO. 40
Active construction work on the last four miles of Highway No. 40 from Rusk to Alto is now in progress and the contract for this work was let to Vilbig and Co., and engineers have been busy and the work is now being done.
One part of the contract stipulated that local labor be used and several hundred men have been signed up.
The Highway Department is getting right of way from Wells into Lufkin also.
Contract for the iron ore top soil and oil on the part of the highway already constructed from Rusk to Alto – a little more than 8 miles has been let and work will begin immediately.
Highway engineers conferred in Austin Monday with delegations from ten counties on new road projects. A Cherokee county delegation was promised construction of Highway 22 from Rusk ten miles west when fund are available. Construction of this road gap would complete the Palestine-Rusk road.
We are deeply grateful that the TxDOT employee had the initial inspiration to salvage the hunk of brass. Many would have thrown this fascinating artifact away without a second thought and we are grateful that it found its way to us eventually as well.
From all of us at Vilbig & Associates, Season’s Greetings!