T.J. Campbell Construction Co. puts two of its wheel loaders, a WA380 and a WA320, to work at Cherokee Crossing, a job site in northwest Oklahoma City.
For practically every new business there’s a visionary, and for paving contractor T.J. Campbell Construction Co., that person was the late Ted Campbell.
“He was the dreamer, the motivator and the risk-taker that you have to be to be an entrepreneur in these times,” said Campbell’s wife, Jo Anna Campbell, who initially helped her husband as a bookkeeper and today serves as president of the company.
“Ted was a forward thinker.”
Ted Campbell passed away about seven years ago, but more than 30 years after he launched T.J. Campbell Construction, his drive and vision for the company continues to live on. From humble beginnings, this Oklahoma City-based business remains family-owned and today has more than 180 employees.
As president, Campbell helps oversee the financial end of the business and shares ownership with a five-person board of directors that is made up mostly of family members. Her son, David Pickens, is vice president of Finance.
Her two sons-in-law on the board are O’Flynn Sewell, vice president of Production, and Mike Thomas, vice president of sales. Rounding out the board is Vice President of Construction Don Dorn.
Other family members involved in the business include Campbell’s granddaughter’s husband, Jo Don Clanton, who runs an asphalt plant, and grandson Brian Sewell, who helps with sales and bidding. In addition, Dorn’s son, Donnie Dorn III, assists with estimating and computer support.
Working together, they lead a company that is active in both commercial and public construction markets. Those projects might include heavy highway, airport, municipal and commercial paving.
“We do road paving — streets and roads — and we do some highway work,” Campbell said. “But right now we’re primarily doing subdivision work, building new subdivisions from the ground up.”
“We’ll start off by clearing the timber and actually building the site,” said the senior Dorn of the company’s subdivision work. “We don’t do water and sanitary sewer. Another contractor will come in and do the water and sanitary sewer and then we’ll come back in and do the storm sewer and the paving.”
Dorn said the majority of that work is within the area bounded by Shawnee to the east, El Reno to the west and Guthrie to the north, although they have traveled farther as needed. “We also do rotomilling for other contractors,” Campbell added. “We take our milling machine all over the state. We’ve even been to Arkansas and Texas.”
T.J. Campbell also operates two hot-mix asphalt plants, one at the office headquarters in Oklahoma City and another north of Edmond.
Those plants each produce about 200,000 tons (181,400 t) of hot mix each year and have their own fleet of trucks to facilitate delivery.
In addition, T.J. Campbell operates three concrete and asphalt recycling centers in the Oklahoma City area that have the capacity to take old concrete and asphalt rubble and manufacture it into high-quality aggregates that meet ODOT specifications. Annual sales of its recycled aggregates exceed 300,000 tons.
T.J. Campbell also is capable of bringing its crushing operation to a jobsite.
All told, T.J. Campbell exceeds $20 million annually in sales, which is a far cry from when the business started in 1978.
“I think we had three employees,” Campbell recalled. “We started in a single-wide mobile home. Then we graduated to a double-wide mobile home and added a building to the back of that before we finally built our current building about 16 years ago.”
Campbell said it began with an asphalt plant. “Ted always wanted to have an asphalt plant,” she said. “At first, we thought we could do that and not have to deal with buying all the equipment that goes with being a paving contractor. But it didn’t take us too long to figure out we had to use our own product to really make a go of it.”
Always looking ahead, Campbell said her husband was recycling material before it was fashionable. “We had the first recycling asphalt plant in Oklahoma City and Ted was always really proud of that,” she said. “Both for the environmental impact and for the profitability.”
T.J. Campbell had to survive some challenging times when the oil market dropped in the early 1980s, but some notable projects have followed in the years since, including the construction of roadways at the Gaillardia subdivision in Oklahoma City, a 65,000-ton mill and overlay project in Midwest City and the replacement of a main runway at Tinker Air Force Base.
“We worked 24 hours a day on that runway paving project,” Dorn recalled. “We worked under the lights. All our equipment and all our help were out there doing that job. It was probably the biggest we’ve ever done.”
More recently, T.J. Campbell received a national award for its work widening the intersection of Reno Street and Eastern Avenue in Oklahoma City.
“That was a full-depth replacement job for the ODOT,” Dorn said.
“It was very gratifying,” Campbell added.
It’s a resume of accomplishments helped made possible by a top-tier fleet of equipment, including numerous pieces of Komatsu equipment acquired from Kirby-Smith Machinery. The equipment list at T.J. Campbell includes multiple Komatsu excavators ranging in size from PC220s to PC300s, several Komatsu loaders from the WA250 to WA380s, and three Komatsu dozers — two D39s and a D65.
Dorn said the company’s first experience with Komatsu was a PC200LC-5 excavator many years ago.
“We had experience with other brands and the Komatsu just outperformed them,” Dorn said. “We knew it was the best machine out there.
“Our guys today like our Komatsu excavators,” Dorn continued. “They’re comfortable. They can sit in them all day long and they like the controls. Plus, they outperform everything. For the value we get out of them, I don’t think we could buy a better machine.”
Dorn said they’ve been similarly pleased with their Komatsu loaders. “Like the excavators, they’re easy to run. I don’t think they have a down side.”
T.J. Campbell acquired its D65 dozer as a used piece of equipment and Dorn said it’s been extremely productive. “We have two rough-dirt crews that move the big dirt,” he explained. “We knock everything down with our D65. We love it. It’s a good dozer. We replaced several of our other brand dozers with the Komatsu dozer and the operators all like the Komatsu better.”
T.J. Campbell has several technicians on staff to deal with mechanical breakdowns and service. For issues that are under warranty — and even for some that aren’t — Campbell said Kirby-Smith has lent a helping hand.
“We want somebody we can depend on,” Campbell said. “We’re looking for a company that can help us out when we need it. We’ve always known we can get that from Kirby-Smith. And our Kirby-Smith Territory Manager Bill Gustafson has been great to work with.”
Three Decades in Business
With the right equipment in place, T.J. Campbell Construction marked 30 years in business in July of 2008. Campbell attributes perseverance and a solid group of loyal employees for the company’s longevity.
“We like Winston Churchill’s saying,” she said. “Never, never, never give up.”
It’s an approach to business that began with Ted Campbell, when the company was founded, and continues today.
“We never thought we couldn’t make it,” Campbell said. “At times we were stumbling, but we still felt like we were going to make it and we did.
“Ted’s credo was he didn’t want our people to do work that we wouldn’t be proud of. He wanted it done right.”
“Ted had an excellent reputation,” Dorn added. “If he were here and you had a chance to meet him, you would know that failure was not in his vocabulary. It just wasn’t an option, and that’s the same way we do business today.”
(This story originally appeared in Kirby-Smith Machinery’s Connection publication 2009 No. 1. Kirby-Smith has given permission to reprint this story.)