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News: From the Ground Up — 30 Years of American Asphalt

30 Years of American Asphalt —  Allan Henderson CEO

After working for seven years at Bay Area Sealers I was out a job when the company went bellyup in 1982. I had worked there since I was nineteen when they were resurfacing the City of Santa Rosa. The company owed me $20,000.  The owner agreed to give me an old broken Slurry Seal machine as repayment. It had no truck, no gears, no engines, and no parts… pretty much a useless shell.  Even so, it was enough for me to start a business. All I needed some money and a lot of luck…

Allan in Orange vest 170 X 225

I incorporated and issued stock to my brother Rick as my attorney and Mom for letting me stay at her house.  Then I sold $4000 more stock to my friend Jon Carter and agreed to pay him 100% return for each year until I paid him back.

I used my $268 weekly unemployment to buy tools, sprockets, gears, chains, welding supplies and parts. At an auction, I bought a big rig for $3600.  I mounted my slurry machine on it, and then assembled the final pieces.

But things weren’t easy.  The only way I could reload the slurry machine was to drive the truck 157 miles south to Redwood City.  I would be the first one at the gate of the Granite Rock Company to pick up oil. Once loaded with asphalt emulsion, it was a 110-mile drive back to Healdsburg. The last leg of the trip was a little dicey since I was overloaded and the road was narrow, rough and dangerous. My first job was my Mom’s condominium parking lot in Ukiah that summer. I worked day and night to get the machine ready to lay slurry.  But I had no crew to help me.  Well –no experienced crew, anyway. Sort of like a pickup band, I had my brother Matt drive the truck, brother Paul squeegeed, my friend John Carter was on shovel and I took lead as the operator.  After some small breakdowns, bad mixes, embarrassing moments and lots of sweat and tears, we got my first job laid. Mom beamed proudly. I heaved a sigh of relief. Best of all, that parking lot still has the original slurry on it after thirty years.

Back in Ukiah I got more driveway work.  Problem was, I had to assemble a new crew each day, depending on who would or wouldn’t show up.  This went on until I was able to purchase a tanker with no wheels.  I set it up in a vacant field. My days of driving back and forth to Redwood City were forever over.  I had rock delivered and rented a loader to recharge the truck.  Business was rolling!

After that first year in Ukiah, I found a yard in Redwood City, used by contractors including Daren Young of DRYCO another paving company.  I begged them for a small space.  My first office was a camper that would fit the back of a pickup. It was also where I lived. I would put the table/desk down at night and my dog and I would sleep there in the yard. In the morning I would put the table/desk up, hook up the phone and grab my filing box.  I showered at the local health club.

Pretty soon I was selling enough work to hire a real crew. I got Kim Henschel in Canada who I worked with at Bay Area Sealers and smooth-talked him into returning. I cut a deal with Bruce Yokum, the best line driver in the business.  I agreed to fly him back and forth from Oregon once a month.  It included a generous signing bonus if he would work one year with me. I also rounded up a few other guys that I had worked with in the past.  I’d put together the best crew in the business and it showed!

Soon we were doing large driveways in Atherton, Woodside, and Hillsborough. Parking lots and small streets were next. Up and down the Peninsula we were paving everything from shopping centers to 7-11’s.  Our big break came when we got the contract for Candlestick Park, then the Cow Palace, then parks and playgrounds.  Before long we had full city street projects.
By now we had outgrown our yard.  Best of all, I was able to buy a larger property in Redwood City that would be our home for the next eight years. John Carter was paid back his investment 300%.  I bought back all of the outstanding stock from my brothers and mother.  At last I was on my own.

About 1995, I was approached to take part in an environmentally friendly paving experiment.  We were going to try our hand at putting ground-up tires in the Slurry Seal and applying it to city streets for County of Los Angeles.  We did our first job on an airport in the San Fernando Valley, then the first project for the City of LA. Soon we were doing pilot programs all over Southern California.  We were the successful bidder for the first City of San Diego project.  We were awarded the next year’s contract without even going to bid.

We now had a small office trailer set up in a field in San Diego.  We worked out of there for three years before moving to Fontana, our current location. We even have been the low bidder thirteen out of fourteen years for the City of San Diego while recycling million tires.

From the beginning I have believed that if we have caring employees, good equipment, and a great reputation we would always be in business. But the real key is our employees.  Most have been with us over ten, fifteen years. Some twenty to twenty-five years and a few even longer than that. Thirty years after that first driveway we have over one hundred and sixty dedicated employees who take pride in every job they do. From Mom’s first driveway in Ukiah to paving the streets of San Diego, all of us take pride in the job we do.  If it weren’t for our employees believing in this idea, there would be no American Asphalt.