When German immigrant and blacksmith Carl Frederick Malzahn settled in Perry in 1902, he could scarcely have imagined that within two generations, his family would create and distribute across the world one of the most iconic products ever built in an Oklahoma that was at that point still largely a territorial prairie.
When Oklahoma’s early oil booms exploded into play, Carl’s innovative sons Charlie and Gus expanded the family operation into a machine shop. “Growing with the young industry itself,” according to Charlie’s son Ed, they began to develop equipment that could serve the oil patch. When Gus died in 1928, Charlie gave the Malzahns’ growing enterprise its permanent namesake title of Charles Machine Works (CMW).
Charlie’s greatest accomplishment may have been persuading Ed to make his career with the family business after his World War II service and graduation from Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) in 1945 with a mechanical engineering degree. Ed soon perceived the absence of mechanized equipment for installing underground residential electrical, gas, and plumbing utility lines. Instead, sweating men spent hours digging them with picks and shovels.
Within four years he designed, with his father’s help, the company’s greatest invention, the revolutionary “Ditch Witch.” It was “the first mechanized, compact service-line trencher developed for laying underground lines between the street main and the house.” Ditch Witch quickly grew into CMW’s most famous subsidiary company.
In less than a decade, CMW developed a headquarters plant west of Perry, established national and international dealerships, and birthed an entire new industry—compact trenching. Taking on and beating some of the giants of industry, Ditch Witch pioneered trenchless boring and many other products and rolled out the greatest compact trenching machines in the world.
By 2019, the competition, in the form of the great Toro Company, raised the white flag and bought CMW and Ditch Witch for $700 million cash.
Ed claimed, not long before the end of his eventful, 94-year life, not to have any wise advice for the young. Yet he shared a story that seemed perhaps to gently belie that notion:
“Henry Bellmon was an unknown candidate for governor of Oklahoma in the early ‘60s. He taught our Presbyterian Sunday School class and asked if I would substitute for him. He said it would only be for about six months, because he wouldn’t be elected. But he was. He and I joked about it the rest of his life. He was governor a couple of times and U.S. Senator a couple of times. I was still substituting for him when we had his funeral.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.