How to Build a Paving Dynasty
BY Sandy Lender
The preamble to the 1971 L.M. Pike & Son Inc. employee manual states it is written “to stabilize policies and eliminate confusion in our method of operation.” The family-oriented company had already been in operation for 90 years and this second revision of the manual went on to give a history of the company that begins with asphalt itself.
“As early as 3800 B.C., asphalt was being used as mortar for building stones and paving blocks. The streets of ancient Babylon are said to have been paved with asphalt…the same material mentioned in the Bible was used to caulk Noah’s Ark and seal the basket in which the infant Moses was set adrift on the Nile.”
From the callback to biblical times, the manual’s author moves to modern day, saying, “The use of asphalt for street paving in the United States began in 1870 with the laying of a stretch of pavement in front of the city hall in Newark, New Jersey. The asphalt used was made of rock asphalt from the Rhone Valley in France. Two years later, Luther M. Pike of New Hampton, New Hampshire, founded Pike’s Improved Concrete Company, specializing in the paving of streets and sidewalks.”
From that early company of about 30 employees and 12 teams of horses, his son Milo L. Pike (1872-1947) developed L.M. Pike and Son Inc. in 1886. His son, Randolph K. Pike joined in the family business around 1923 and, in 1972, it became Pike Industries Inc. under the leadership of the current Milo L. Pike, great grandson of Luther.
“My son Randy worked for us from his high school years throughout college, learning from the ground up the asphalt business,” Milo Pike said. “In 1988 we sold Pike Industries Inc. Randy, who is an MIT graduate in economics, took over as president for the new owners, CRH Holdings. Randy stayed with them around 23 years, later changing careers to do private counseling for various companies mostly in New England.”
Other Pike family members could have been candidates for today’s Women of Asphalt.
“My daughter Cynthia, Cindy, as she is known, is a college graduate of UNH with a major in business,” Milo Pike said. “She’s a math whiz like her brother. She worked for the company in various capacities and later attained the position of CFO of Pike Industries. A lofty position which she fully deserved. We were lucky to have her and proud of her work ethic. Cindy also worked under the new owners and retired several years later.
“My daughter Miki joined the company following graduation from Colby-Sawyer College, and worked for us in human resources, later becoming the head of that most important department. Miki was great working with our people and a quick study learning and keeping up with government regulations and all the yearly changes and updates. She stayed with us several years until she retired to raise her family.”
In 1971, doubling down on the importance of family and industry, Pike Industries Inc. developed a scholarship for employees’ children in honor of Cindy, Miki and Randy’s grandfather. The Randolph K. Pike Scholarship was designed to help defray a portion of a family’s expenses for college or trade school education.
“In our growing society, there are continuous demands upon parents, one of which is to see that our children have the chance to further their education,” the company shared in 1996. “This award is presented annually to a member of an employee’s family who is a full-time student and whom the scholarship committee determines as most deserving.” Applicants for scholarship funds were accepted annually at the human resources department by a June 1 deadline.
The scholarship award is still in effect to this day but is now called simply “The Pike Scholarship.” A spokesperson explained it’s handled much the same way with a scholarship going to an employee’s son or daughter toward college expenses.
Building On Success
More than a family’s commitment to paving the Northeast helped build the legacy that Pike Industries Inc. represented. The company turned its employees into family and turned its projects into works of art to stand the test of time.
Pike’s successes included the purchase of a 500-pound-capacity Warren Bros. crumb rubber batch plant after World War 1, which got them away from mixing asphalt by hand. They used that batch plant for nearly 20 years before purchasing a 75-TPH Hetherington and Berner (H&B) plant in 1954, which they located about a quarter mile from the old batch plant.
And that’s when things really picked up.
“We added two to three H&B plants per year for several more years,” Milo Pike said. “In early 1960, we bought two, 6,000-pound H&B plants. These were portable, which we could move and re-set in 24 hours. They had portable lights and we used our own cranes.”
The New Hampshire Highways October 1972 magazine featured the company and gave tribute for its overwhelming growth during the 20th Century to father-and-son team Randolph and Milo: “Randolph K. Pike who modernized the firm, and the man most responsible for making L.M. Pike and Son Inc. one of the largest and most respected paving contractors in the nation, Milo L. Pike,” the editor wrote.
Keep in mind the 1956 Eisenhower Highway Program kicked in as L.M. Pike and Son Inc. was hitting its stride. “Our crews were willing to work 16 and 18 hours a day and we paid them double and triple time,” Milo Pike said. “And the work was there.”
For example, they took on what their 1971 employee manual calls 1958’s “biggest resurfacing project” in New England, paving a 14-mile stretch of the New Hampshire Turnpike with three pavers in echelon to place a 34-foot-wide mat in one pass. They used tandem rollers close behind the pavers to get compaction. Of the 36,000 tons of asphalt used on the project, 32,000 of it was produced in two portable mixing plants that L.M. Pike and Son Inc. strategically located in the area. Daily asphalt production ran as high as 2,850 tons for a 10-hour day, six days a week.
Strategically placing plants became a standard, according to former employee and paving consultant John S. Ball the Third. He remembered stories from before his tenure and examples during his time with the company when asphalt plants were purchased and placed on an almost-yearly basis to complete specific highway or special projects. Bringing on more plants meant more production and more workers.
The 1971 employee manual stated: “Today, L.M. Pike & Son Inc. employs between 300 and 450 men in work crews and 22 plants in New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York during the construction season.”
“I always believed my employees were my most valuable asset,” Milo Pike said. “My employees built that company. I was just the quarterback. I had people that blocked for me and people down the field who caught the passes.”
He estimated that, by the time they sold to CRH in 1988, Pike Industries Inc. employed around 900 people, operated 22 asphalt plants, 6 quarries, and 16 paving crews, and produced about 1.5 million tons of hot mix and 3.2 million tons of stone and aggregate per year.
“Things were starting to get tough with the government rules and regulations,” he said. “The energy of our workforce was very strong. Even though government regulations made running a business more difficult, we were blessed with an excellent workforce who came to work ready to do battle each day. And they were rewarded with excellent benefits and lots of overtime. We worked hard to stay between the lines with all labor related regulations.”
He reiterated: “The operators, truck drivers, laborers, mechanics, salespeople, office staffs, and so on were our most valuable assets. If I was the quarterback, those folks were always there to catch my ideas and make things happen. Plus, they never hesitated to block some of those ideas, which, in retrospect, was probably instrumental in leading to the success of Pike Industries.”
A few employees who were instrumental to the company’s growth last century include Bruce Homer, Paul Swenson, Alphonse “Buster” Maheux and Walter Smith. He reminisced about these specific workers and some of the accomplishments they helped the company achieve.
“Bruce Homer was on our team of executives and had the highest degree of education. He was a graduate from Syracuse College with a master’s in civil engineering. As our chief engineer, he was instrumental in our job bidding and respected for his expertise in crunching the numbers.”
One of the executives who demonstrated promotion-from-within was Swenson.
“Paul Swenson came into the company in 1955, after a year of accounting school in Boston, followed by a stint in the Coast Guard,” Milo Pike said. “He started in the garage gassing up vehicles and chasing parts for us.”
When Milo Pike learned that Swenson had attended accounting school, he added Swenson to the office staff. “His family was well known in the Laconia area as his father was a detective with the Laconia Police Department,” Milo Pike recalled. “After learning our accounting system, he was promoted to treasurer of the company, which at that time was L.M. Pike and Son. His job grew along with the company; we got into more states. We were qualified to bid in 27 states along with Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
“We landed a job in Alabama, but soon decided the four New England states were where we belonged. Paul was a personable guy, great golfer and very savvy and smart. Through his expertise, we were able to considerably raise our borrowing limit at the Bank of Boston.”
One of Milo Pike’s employee stories had him laughing.
“Alphonse ‘Buster’ Maheux was our chief dispatcher and truck manager for over 100 trucks. He was on our radio at 5 a.m. and stayed there until 7 p.m. or as needed. No matter where I was at any given time, Buster could give me the tonnage at any of our 27 plants throughout the day.
“As dispatcher, Buster knew where every piece of our equipment was at all times except once. I needed a paver at a job in Franconia. Buster was unable to locate it and got very frustrated. As it happened, I was flying over a job we had completed earlier, and I spotted the paver still sitting there. So, I radioed Buster the location and he sent a vehicle to move it to Franconia. I can’t recall that happening ever again, but the story was always good for a laugh. He was another hard working, loyal individual, respected by all.”
That’s right; he said he was flying. Both Milo Pike and Smith attained their pilot’s licenses.
“Walter Smith was a classmate of mine in high school. He was one of 12 other classmates ranging from executive levels to supervisors, foremen and mechanics. Walter began as a grader operator who came to us from the town of Gilford; the salary was better at $2 per hour!
“As time went on Walter was buying our equipment, got a pilot’s license (before I did a year later). He became our pilot and as such traveled all over the states checking on jobs and equipment needs. He was a wonderful and loyal employee, and great family man.”
Keeping tabs on equipment and jobsites is everyone’s job, though, and back in the days before fleet management software made that easy, mistakes could pop up.
“Once again, on the humorous side, one of our trucks was supposed to drive from a plant over to Rt. 31, and he mistakenly went to Rt. 13,” Milo Pike shared. “Unknowingly, he dumped into a paver owned by the Lane Corp. Luckily, it was the same mix we were laying on Rt. 31. Lane did eventually pay us, but it was a lot of red tape.”
As stated above, employees became part of the Pike family. Ball got his start at Pike Industries Inc. in 1967. He recalled standing in line to fill out an application, proud to get hired on and receive his uniform to start as a laborer.
“Everyone wanted to work for Pike,” Ball said. “They treated you right and did anything they could to help us to stay together as family. Back in the ’70s, if you needed help with gas, you could fill up your tank at work and they’d deduct that from your paycheck for you.” He worked his way up to equipment operator, operations manager, area manager, and, in his final years with the company, as the director of training.
Ball said one of the programs in place to assist workers was a pooled fund from which employees could borrow.
“They put money into a fund every week to help each other out,” Milo Pike explained. “It was a local Pike company program, not union. We would pay for meetings so they wouldn’t lose any time.”
Culture of Excellence
The expectation was one of working together to grow not just a company, but also to grow one another. And expectations were high.
The 1996 employee manual stated what it expected of workers in terms of environmental excellence. “We recognize that we are stewards of our environment, and only through proper and positive actions can we preserve the potential for a quality life for future generations….Our employees must act in a manner that is sensitive to the environment, and any behavior which subordinates correct environmental procedures to operating expediency is unacceptable.” The manual directs workers to pick up a Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) department manual from their district office and encourages workers to raise any questions they have after reviewing it.
“My most memorable, proudest memory is the paving of the New York Northway (I-87) in the early ’60s,” Milo Pike said. “This was in preparation of the Montreal World’s Fair. Along with that, portions of both I-87 (from Lake George and north) and (from Plymouth to Franconia north) on I-93, both were awarded ‘the most picturesque sections’ of Interstate highways.”