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Ditch Witch

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Charles Machine Works Inc. is referred to as Ditch Witch, named after the company's compact trench-digging machine. The invention of the compact trencher has paved the way for a niche compact trenching industry.[1]

In addition to the Ditch Witch, Charles Machine Works offers a variety of equipment including: vibratory plows, pneumatic piercing tools, backhoes, electronic guidance tools, horizontal directional drilling systems, drill pipes, down hole tools, vacuum excavation systems, excavator-tool carriers, and mini skid-steers.

The Oklahoma-based Charles Machine Works' is majority-owned by Chairman Edwin Malzahn; 30 percent is employee-owned.[2] The company has a network of independent dealerships worldwide.

Contents

[edit] History

The beginnings of Ditch Witch were rooted long before its creator was alive. In 1904, a German immigrant by the name of Carl Frederick Malzahn moved from Minnesota to Perry, Oklahoma. There, he opened a successful blacksmith shop with his sons Charlie and Gus. The company was particularly prosperous during the oil boom, with Charlie's Machine Shop, as it was now called, specializing in repairs for the surrounding oil fields.

[edit] The First Ditch Witch

In the mid-1940s, Charlie Malzahn's son Edwin felt he could apply his mechanical engineering degree and years of practical machine shop experience to invent a product he felt would be extremely useful in the residential utilities industry.[3] The slow and tedious practice of the time was to use a pick and shovel to dig a trench in which to lay the lines for residential utility services. Edwin was inspired by the design of the large trenchers used for the installation of distribution lines for utilities such as plumbing; he conceived of a compact model suitable for residential installations. This device, a compact trencher, would drastically improve workers' efficiency. Together, Edwin and his father Charles worked on a prototype; the first Ditch Witch (known as DWP for Ditch Witch Power) was manufactured when Edwin was 28 years of age.[4] This was the first mechanized, compact service-line trencher made specifically for laying underground waterlines between a street main and an individual house.[5]

[edit] Rapid Growth

Shortly after the unveiling of the first Ditch Witch in 1949, Charlie's Machine Shop was renamed The Charles Machine Works. A mere two years later, the Ditch Witch was responsible for 10 percent of the company's annual sales.[6] The growing popularity of the product was due in large part to the fact that it provided affordable utility installation to individual households. By 1958, The Charles Machine Works was incorporated. At that time, the company's annual sales reached the range of $1.5 million, and Ditch Witch sales were accountable for 98 percent of its business.[7] On July 6, 1959, 10 years after the introduction of the first Ditch Witch, Charles Malzahn died of leukemia and diabetes.

Aside from a period of economic recession resulting in 70 lay-offs in 1974, the company continued to grow steadily well into the 1990s. Charles Machine had attained sales of $100 million by 1987, at which point it had 18 models of Ditch Witch ranging from five to 100 horsepower. By 1988, the company had approximately 700 employees, as well as 105 North American and 25 overseas dealers in 22 countries.[8]

[edit] The Telecommunications Market

The continued success of the Ditch Witch was undeniably due in large part to the boom in the telecommunications infrastructure market. Companies who were laying fiber optic lines were using the company's trench digging machines to do so. Business was so lucrative during this time that 500 additional employees were hired in a very short time period; employment reached an all-time high at 1,700.[9]

While plans were being made to hire another 1,000 employees amidst this success, business suddenly dropped. A downturn in the economy had a negative effect on telecommunications companies; in turn, Charles Machine Works was deprived of some of its most important customers. Additionally, telecommunications companies were laying fewer landlines than they had previously, due to overbuilding in the earlier years, and a rise in the popularity of wireless technology. By 2001, the company had cut 75 temporary and part-time jobs, as well as 75 full-time positions. In less than six months, an additional 475 full-time jobs were eliminated. The year's lay-offs resulted in a drop in employment to just over 1,000.[10]

[edit] Changing Hands

Along with a change in profits, the beginning of the new millennium was also met with new leadership. In 2001, Edwin Malzahn appointed the role of CEO to David O. Woods. Woods had been the company's COO for five years prior to this promotion. Edwin Malzahn remained chairman and president. Two years after the promotion, Woods resigned to pursue other interests, leaving CEO responsibilities to Malzahn once again. He remained CEO until 2004 when his granddaughter Tiffany Sewell-Howard, formerly the head of Information Technology, took over the position.

[edit] Awards and Recognition

Despite fluctuations in profitability, the company has been widely recognized for its accomplishments. Fortune Magazine twice named the Ditch Witch one of "100 Products America Makes Best." In addition, Charles Machine Works Inc. received the 2002 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Bronze Landmark plaque. Two years later, Edwin Malzahn was inducted into Oklahoma Inventors Hall of Fame.

[edit] The Company Today

The Charles Machine Works Inc. continues to be headed by CEO Tiffany Sewell-Howard. The company's Oklahoma-based plant employs more than 1,300 people; its 100 independent dealerships employ an additional 1,000 employees worldwide.[11] Further diversification is in the company's plans, with the introduction of new compact products and possible improvements to traditional products.[12]

[edit] Equipment List

[edit] References

  1. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  2. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  3. Corporate History. Ditch Witch. 2008-09-09.
  4. Corporate History. Ditch Witch. 2008-09-09.
  5. Corporate History. Ditch Witch. 2008-09-09.
  6. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  7. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  8. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  9. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  10. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.
  11. Dealership. Ditch Witch. 2008-09-09.
  12. The Charles Machine Works Inc. Reference for Business. 2008-09-09.

[edit] External Links