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The History and Overview of Ditch Witch Company

The History and Overview of Ditch Witch Company

Today, Ditch Witch is known as one of the industry leaders in underground utility construction equipment. From directional drills and trenchers to vacuum excavators and skid steers, contractors rely on their heavy-duty machinery on job sites around the world.

Yet, to understand how the company reached its current status, you'll need to take a step back 120 years. Today, we're sharing the fascinating history of the Ditch Witch brand, and how its incredible legacy came to be. 

The Very Beginning: An Early Blacksmith Shop

The story of Ditch Witch begins in 1902. That year, a man by the name of Carl Frederick Malzahn moved to Perry, Oklahoma. 

A German immigrant who never could get used to the harsh winters in Minnesota, Malzahn found a milder climate in Perry. There, he went to work and set up a blacksmith shop with his two sons, Charlie and Gus. 

While the business was a modest success, it really took off as the nation's oil boom gained speed. While the largest and most significant oil strike took place in 1901 at Texas' Spindletop geyser, that discovery set a major movement in motion. 

Over the course of a few years, the shop grew exponentially. In time, it became Charlie's Machine Shop. It's new focus? Servicing the many repair requests that came out of the nearby oil fields. 

True to form, the shop remained a family business. Charlie's son Ed eventually took the reins in the late 1940s, applying his academic expertise to the product design process. With a mechanical engineering degree from Oklahoma A&M College (Oklahoma State University), Ed knew how to create systems that would solve issues and meet demand. 

The Issue: Residential Utility Installations

For Ed, the most pressing issue to solve was that of residential utility installations. When he took the lead at Charlie's Machine Shop, the installation process was painstakingly long and dull. 

To install electric, gas, and plumbing lines in a house, builders were forced to dig trenches using little more than picks and shovels. As a result, the effort took far longer than it needed to and was much more back-breaking than it should have been.

While Ed knew that big machines could be used to dig big trenches for the main lines, there was no comparable solution for the small, narrow trenches needed for service lines. 

If you've ever wondered "What is a Ditch Witch used for?", the answer came about right at this moment. 

Putting his engineering skills to the test, Ed devised a new concept: a compact trencher. He knew the trencher would slash the time and effort required to build a residential or commercial utility ditch. Little did he realize that the innovation would go on to revolutionize the utility industry altogether.

An Early Trencher: The Ditch Witch Power

Ed and Charlie worked together to turn Ed's vision for the compact trencher into a reality. 

The result was a prototype known as DWP, which stood for Ditch Witch Power. Ed was only 28 years old when the first DWP rolled off the assembly line in 1949. The design was simple but innovative, using a vertical bucket line with an endless conveyor chain that carried off the spoil. 

When it was created, the DWP ushered in lots of new, exciting firsts. Not only was it the first compact service-line trencher in existence, but it was also the first one to be mechanized. While there was a companion product already in existence, it relied on manual operation for mobility and was nowhere near as efficient. 

This changed the game for contractors around the country. They could now use the DWP to lay underground water lines between a home and the main sewer under the street. 

Initial DWP Success

Once the original DWP production model was complete, it was time to debut it to the world. The company held a public demonstration in 1950, which resulted in three sales. 

In 1951, they sold five more DWPs. The next year, they set up a partnership with their first specialist dealer in Oklahoma City. That was the catalyst that set real growth in motion.

Soon, every contractor knew about the "Ditch Witch" and wanted the small trencher for their team. To keep up with demand, the company added a marketing department in 1953 and officially incorporated in 1958. 

From that point onward, the company manufactured products under the Ditch Witch brand name. Not only did their product mechanize the process of digging utility service-line trenches, but it also made indoor plumbing that much more accessible and affordable. 

That one product also put an entirely new niche into motion: the compact trencher industry. Today, contactors can find a variety of tools that make it easier than ever to install underground utilities, including:

  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Gas
  • Telecommunications
  • Fiber-optic cables
  • CATV

None of this would have been possible without Ed and Charlie's collaborative efforts, and the DWP. 

From DWP to The Charles Machine Works

While the DWP was the first product to come out of Charlie's Machine Shop, it was far from the last.

Following the success of Ditch Witch Power, the company name changed to The Charles Machine Works. To this day, it's still a leading manufacturer of underground construction equipment, including:

  • Trenchless machines
  • Trenchers
  • Vacuum excavators
  • Mini skid steers
  • Vibratory plows

In addition, The Charles Machine Works also produces a range of electric tools, such as:

Construction and utility customers can also take advantage of the company's maintenance and repair services to keep their equipment in top shape. 

The full line of products was born out of the original DWP, and continues to expand to this day. Under Ed's leadership, the company developed one of its most innovative and industry-changing pieces of equipment: the horizontal drilling bore. 

This bore allows Ditch Witch users to install both pipes and cable under existing roadways, ponds, and other obstacles.  

what is a ditch witch

Family Roots and a Lasting Local Legacy

In 2003, Edwin Malzahn transferred his title of CEO to his granddaughter, Tiffany Sewell-Howard. This marked the fifth generation to take over the family business, which still remains firmly rooted in Perry, OK. 

Yet, this is far more than a mom-and-pop shop. In addition to hiring generations of the Malzahn family, the company also employs residents in and around their headquarter city. 

Since its expansion in the 1950s, hundreds of Perry locals have worked at The Charles Machine Works' sprawling campus. This facility includes individual spaces for training, testing, research, and product development, as well as a massive 30-acre manufacturing plant. 

Today, more than 1,300 employees work at the Ditch Witch plant. While the company could undoubtedly reduce operating expenses by moving some or all of those jobs out of the country, they've remained dedicated to producing only American-made products. 

Ed passed away on December 15, 2015, at the age of 94. Heralded as the heart and soul of The Charles Machine Works, his legacy and life's work continue to thrive. 

Independent Dealer Expansion

In the decades since its inception, The Charles Machine Works has expanded far beyond oil field and farm repair services. In addition to its major presence in Perry, you can also find Ditch Witch products in a vast number of independent outlets all around the world. 

The Ditch Witch Museum

Wondering what happened to the original DWP that Charlie and Ed produced back in the 1950s? The landmark model was purchased in 1952 by Alex Boken of Long Island, New York. 

Boken bought it directly from the factory in Perry. He used the trencher faithfully as a lawn sprinkler system contractor until 1969, when he traded it up for a newer model. 

The first DWP has been fully shined up and restored to its original condition. You can find it on display at the Ditch Witch Museum in Perry, where it sits just a few blocks away from the location it was first manufactured. 

Part of the local Heritage Center, the Ditch Witch Museum is dedicated to telling the story of The Charles Machine Works, and all of the products that have come out of the brand. 

Find Refurbished Ditch Witch Transmitters 

Now that you know a little more about the history of the Ditch Witch brand, it's clear that these are solid, dependable products you can continue to trust. With 12 decades in the industry, this is one company you can count on to deliver quality and integrity at every turn.

If you need a new transmitter for your Ditch Witch locator, let us know. We offer refurbished transmitters designed to be compatible with all Ditch Witch 750 Trackers, 752 Trackers, TK Series, and Recon Series. Contact us today for more information. 

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