NAPA’s First Members Organized for a Stronger Voice

Tue May 24, 2005 - National Edition
Margaret Blain Cervarich

Throughout 1954 and 1955, a group of hot mix asphalt (HMA) producers held a series of meetings to discuss the formation of a new organization to promote their interests. Several forces drove them. One was the ongoing national debate — both in the halls of Congress and in the press — about a massive new federal-aid highway system. The founders of the new association knew that, without an organization to represent their interests nationally, they would not have a unified voice in the building of these important national routes.

Another worry was that, in 1954, the Air Force had banned all asphalt runways at its airfields. While runway construction was not a huge market segment, the fact that HMA pavements had been branded as inferior by a branch of the armed services was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Then there was the fact that the concrete industry was pouring millions into a marketing program that was already cutting into the market for asphalt. In addition, although the refiners of petroleum asphalt had an association, the Asphalt Institute, there was no organization that exclusively represented HMA producers.

Among the people driving the formation of the new group were the leaders of the state asphalt pavement associations, including the following: Illinois Black Top Roads Association; Kentucky Plant Mix Asphalt Industry; Michigan Asphalt Paving Association; Minnesota Bituminous Pavement Association; New York Bituminous Concrete Producers Association; Ohio Bituminous Concrete Association; Texas Hot Mix Association; and Wisconsin Bituminous Paving Association.

Scanning the names of these groups reveals how little unanimity there was about something as basic as what an association for the asphalt pavement industry — and even the product it was to represent — should be called. The minutes of the early meetings refer to the planned association as the “National Asphalt Paving Association” or the “National Plant Mix Asphalt Paving Association.”

At the meeting of April 26-27, 1955, Scott Baker, executive director of the Michigan association, recommended that the new organization be named the National Bituminous Concrete Association, or NBCA, based on the fact that more than half the state groups used the term “bituminous concrete” in their names. His recommendation was adopted. Two other decisions were made at that meeting: to incorporate as a non-profit “so you won’t have to pay income tax,” and to locate the headquarters in the vicinity of Washington, D.C.

Dues were set at $150 for regular (HMA producer) members and $100 for associate members. Thus far, the association had spent $500, which had been covered by the Michigan association. During the April meeting, H.E. Schroeder, of Sun Valley, CA, presented a personal check for $500 to help defray the costs of forming the association. Due to the donations, NBCA was able to apply all dues paid in 1955 to cover the 1956 membership year.

The birthday for the new association was established on May 17, 1955, when legal papers establishing the corporation were filed.

First President

The founder and first president of NBCA was Sheldon G. Hayes, a contractor based in Michigan. He and his father founded S.G. Hayes and Company in Chicago in 1921, when he was 26 years old. In 1946, he started Cadillac Asphalt Paving in Detroit and later helped to organize the Michigan Asphalt Paving Association. Hayes and Scott Baker, the executive director of the Michigan group, worked together in founding the national association.

Chicago Hosts First Convention

NBCA’s first convention was held at Chicago’s Conrad Hilton Hotel in February 1956, and “well over 200 members, guests, and their ladies registered,” according to the NBCA Newsletter. A highlight of the meeting was an address by J.E. “Jess” Buchanan, president of the Asphalt Institute, titled “So We Have Problems.” Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia were represented.

Also addressing the first convention were Fred Burggraf, director of the Highway Research Board, who discussed the WASHO Road Test; Sheldon G. Hayes, on the aims and purposes of NBCA; Roy E. Jorgensen, of the National Highway Users, on the proposed federal-aid highway program; and Captain Charles M. Noble, of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, who spoke about “Bituminous Concrete on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

Social events included a luncheon, cocktail receptions, and a banquet where Frank Lovejoy, of Socony-Mobil Oil was the principal speaker.

First Official Publication

The first official publication was the NBCA Newsletter of March 1956. The Newsletter was a monthly (or almost monthly) summary of members’ activities. The first few issues were typed on letterhead with the NBCA name and address across the top. In addition to carrying member news, the newsletter also functioned as a promotional tool, extolling the virtues of hot mix asphalt pavements and debunking myths about concrete.

The April issue reported that “asphalt used for paving in the United States for the year 1954 amounted to eleven and one-third million tons, which is 70.7 percent of the asphalt used for all purposes. In 1946, it was five million tons.”

By the time the July 1956 issue of the Newsletter was published, NBCA had adopted its distinctive “magic carpet” logo.

How NBCA Worked

The fledgling organization had an elaborate governance structure that may have been dictated by the travel and communication restraints of the times. NBCA organized itself into nine geographic regions. Each state had a representative on the board of governors. The state governors elected one person from each of the nine regions to the board of directors. The board of governors had a chairman, and the top volunteer position was that of president of the board of directors. There was also an Executive Committee composed of three directors, the president of the board of directors, and the chairman of the board of governors.

Dividing the country into regions made sense in light of the difficulties and slow pace of both travel and communications at the time. In 1955, there were no passenger jets, so taking a commercial flight from New York to Los Angeles involved an overnight stop. The passenger train was the most common means of long-haul travel. There were no interstates yet, of course, making travel by car slow and uncertain. There were still only 48 states; including Alaska and Hawaii in the operations of the organization would have been a real challenge.

Even using the telephone to call long distance was more difficult, not to mention more expensive, than today. The area code and the touch-tone phone had not yet been invented, so placing a call from one city to another required the help of an operator. In letters written to and from the association’s members at the time, it was common to say “Call me collect” as a courtesy and to indicate that the matter was urgent. Air mail was faster than ordinary first class mail, and it cost more. Telegrams were still a popular mode of communication, particularly when a member wanted to notify someone at the last minute that he would not be able to make it to a meeting.

First Executive Director

All the association’s work was accomplished by volunteers until Jan. 1, 1956, when the first staff member — H. Keith Griffith, executive director — came on board. The organization’s staff leaders were known as executive directors for more than two decades.

Even after the association began to hire professional staff, member involvement was intense. Even the annual conventions were organized entirely by volunteers for many years.

First Legislative Victory

One of the first issues the NBCA faced combined elements of a challenge to asphalt’s market share, action by the United States Congress, and questions about engineering and research. In 1954, the United States Air Force decided not to allow the use of asphalt pavements in constructing runways.

During World War II and for years thereafter, the issue of asphalt vs. concrete was a contentious one in the Air Force. The entire course of an officer’s career could be affected by his preference for one pavement or the other.

The 1954 decision to build all runways from concrete was apparently prompted by Gen. Curtis LeMay. LeMay was known as the father of the Strategic Air Command and became the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961. LeMay, known as the fiercest of cold warriors, also was an ardent supporter of rigid pavements.

In six days of hearings before the Subcommittee for Special Investigations of the House Armed Services Committee, witnesses from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Portland Cement Institute, and NBCA offered testimony about whether asphalt pavements could take the punishment of the takeoffs and landings of military planes.

Hayes and then-president, and Keith Griffith, the first executive director, testified before the subcommittee. They were joined by a number of consulting engineers and NBCA members as well as engineers from the Asphalt Institute.

Drew Pearson, a widely syndicated columnist and radio broadcaster, aired a commentary on the subject, saying that “the Armed Services have wasted $100 million this year by insisting on all cement runways instead of asphalt for military planes.”

Congress ordered the Air Force and the Army to undertake testing of asphalt runway pavements at Columbus Air Force Base, MS. The eventual outcome was that, in 1958, the Air Force again opened bidding for runway pavements to asphalt.

First Phase of the Interstates

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 led to the construction of more than 41,000 mi. of highway. It created the Highway Trust Fund, which used revenues from user fees. Under the Act, state highway departments were to be reimbursed — not advanced — 90 percent of the cost of construction. It was the largest highway project in the world; 25 percent of it was to be built within the next four years, and another 25 percent in six more.

In retrospect, the wise timing of the founding of the association is clear. The Highway Act was on the horizon when the founders gathered for their first formative meetings in 1954 and 1955. They saw the Air Force ban on asphalt runways as a troubling portent of what could happen to a product and an industry that lacked national representation.

With the congressional hearings on military runways drawing public attention to the high cost of portland cement concrete pavements, and with the well-publicized vindication of the durability of asphalt pavements through the military testing program, Hot mix asphalt was well positioned to compete for its fair share of the market.

First Organization for Spouses

The NAPA Ladies Auxiliary was founded in 1960 to support the participation of the wives of NAPA’s members at conventions and other meetings. The first name proposed was the “Sisters of Asphalt.”

First Research Program

NBCA’s first, highly ambitious research program was launched at the Fourth Annual Convention in Miami Beach in February 1959. At the same time, the appointment of Charles R. Foster as technical coordinator of NBCA was announced. Foster, who had been chief of the flexible pavements branch at the Corps of Engineers’ U.S. Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, MS, was a nationally respected figure.

Dick Stander, of Mansfield Asphalt, Ohio, was the first chairman of the Quality Improvement Program (QIP), and he served in that capacity for many years.

In 1960, after a national search during which a number of university locations were considered, the QIP found a home at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. The association members donated generously to support the research and technology transfer programs under the QIP aegis.

First Training Films

Two films, “Hot Mix Raking Techniques” and “Hot Mix Rolling Techniques,” were introduced in 1962. Each had a companion “leaflet.” Described as “color-and-sound movies,” the films were available to members on loan from NBCA headquarters or from any of the 26 state asphalt pavement associations.

A Shocking Event

An event that truly rocked the association was the untimely death of its executive director, H. Keith Griffith, in February 1963. Griffith and his wife had traveled to Chicago for the eighth Annual Convention at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Early on the opening day of the Convention, Griffith succumbed to a heart attack in his hotel room.

Edward Konkol, of the Wisconsin Bituminous Paving Association, had joined the Griffiths for a Coke in the hotel’s drugstore the previous evening. He recalled that Griffith had looked well and was full of enthusiasm for the meeting ahead. Despite the shock, the convention proceeded according to plan, with U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph as the keynote speaker.

John Gray Takes the Helm

Griffith’s successor, John Gray, was appointed a few months later. A native of Scotland, Gray had immigrated to the States in 1954 and served in the Seebees from 1955 to 1957. As director of public works for the city of Rockville, MD, Gray pioneered the “Smooth-Seal” resurfacing program that has been widely copied and is still used in Rockville today, more than 40 years after his departure from the department. Gray was to remain in the post of executive director (with the title later changed to “president”) until his retirement in 1992, nearly 30 years later.

Changes come to NBCA

Gray brought new energy to the association and his impact was felt immediately. In one two-month period, he traveled more than 15,000 air mi. and attended more than a dozen state association meetings and conferences.

New staff members were brought on board and the association began to enhance the services it offered to its members. Within a few months, a new design for the newsletter was introduced. Gray also championed a new “Quantity Improvement Program,” a marketing and public relations effort aimed at increasing the market for asphalt by capitalizing on the QIP.

First Magazine

The NBCA Newsletter was both a membership newsletter and a promotional vehicle that included items about the benefits of asphalt. In 1964, the association introduced its first magazine, Public Works Paving Forum, aimed at city and county engineers, and refocused the newsletter as a members-only service.

(This article was reprinted with the permission of National Asphalt Pavement Association from its “HMAT” magazine, March-April, 2005.)