A Greenville Favorite

Sept. 9, 2004

Every contractor gets mud on its shoe. The Ashmore Brothers can never seem to shake it off—the trail has lasted 75 years.

There are just too many layers of roadwork, which in turn has created a heavy coat of pride in this family business located in Greenville, S.C.

“I was driving a dump truck on the job when I was 12,” Richard Ashmore, CEO of Ashmore Brothers, told Roads & Bridges. “We all grew up in this business.”

Every contractor gets mud on its shoe. The Ashmore Brothers can never seem to shake it off—the trail has lasted 75 years.

There are just too many layers of roadwork, which in turn has created a heavy coat of pride in this family business located in Greenville, S.C.

“I was driving a dump truck on the job when I was 12,” Richard Ashmore, CEO of Ashmore Brothers, told Roads & Bridges. “We all grew up in this business.”

And serving the people of Greenville County will never grow old. Ashmore Brothers graded some of the original roads back in the early 1900s during the transition from wagons to automobiles, and today the contractor can be seen laying new road for a subdivision or a private company. There’s even time for a free basketball court or two—part of Ashmore Brothers’ annual charitable contribution.

Since the Depression, nothing has slowed down this family business. There’s always a fresh layer of mud on the sole.

From mule power to horse power

L.C. Ashmore and Sons had the grading business moving early in the 20th century.

“They handled some of the first U.S. highways in the county,” said Richard Ashmore.

The roadbuilding industry lacked complication back in those days. Crews graded the road and placed a fresh layer of topsoil on it. Tar and gravel and asphalt came later.

“A lot of the roads were considered finished when you put the topsoil on it.”

The Depression, however, marked an end to several businesses across the country, including L.C. Ashmore and Sons.

“My grandfather was just caught like a lot of firms back at that time. He couldn’t collect for the work he had done.”

The close was only temporary. A year later, in 1930, Richard’s father, Russell, came in with a chain-drive Mack truck, a couple of mules and horses and a crew of four men. They fell back on the company specialty, grading, and soon found themselves operating at full capacity again under the Ashmore Brothers name. The company even handled the initial grading for Clemson University’s Death Valley and during WW II took part in the construction of Donaldson Air Force Base.

“They did side work for the structures and covered ammunition bunkers that were underground. And they did a lot of grading work,” said Richard Ashmore.

Russell’s younger brother, Mack, also joined the business in the early 1940s and was a Navy CeeBee who helped build runways in Iwojima. Ashmore Brothers found itself deep in the industry trenches in the 1950s and ’60s. Richard and his brother, Russell Jr., were well-educated and ready to do business, and that’s when the decision was made to purchase the company’s first asphalt plant—a Madsen model which cost $160,000.

“We did grading and we did paving,” said Richard. “Then we started bidding on state DOT projects. The asphalt industry was growing at that time.”

The business kept on stretching its legs, concentrating on paving roads for both the public and private sector. The cost of materials certainly encouraged positive movement. On one particular state highway project in the early ’60s, Richard Ashmore recalls paying just $5.83 a ton. “And that included the mix, hauling and laying,” he said. “Now it’s about $40.”

Ashmore Brothers established a healthy relationship with some of the largest private companies in the state, which helped cut through the turbulence of the oil embargo of the 1970s.

“We survived that,” said Richard. “I remember we were paving five miles of highway for the state DOT and we were buying liquid asphalt for $17 a ton when we quit in the fall. When we returned in the spring to put the surface course on we were paying $36 a ton. All of that price increase we had to absorb.

“We had enough private work and the margins were good enough to offset the losses on the public work.”

The fire escape, however, was destroyed in the early ’80s. Richard Ashmore’s tone turns somber when asked about what he refers to as the “Jimmy Carter Depression.” South Carolina was wallowing through an extremely weak road program, and with interest rates soaring to 19-20% the private sector started to bail on its financial obligations.

“This was our biggest challenge as a company,” said Richard. “Everything came to a stop and those were exceedingly tough times.” Ashmore Brothers came to a split, as it was forced to sell one of its two asphalt plants and lay off 100 of its workers. “We sold a lot of our personal assets just to survive.”

Big business made a comeback in the early ’90s, with BMW anchoring a plant in the area. Ashmore Brothers handled all the paving on the site.

“We’re a little unique in the fact that we can do a turnkey job,” said Richard. “We can come in and clear it and put the striping down on the pavement when we leave. That’s appealing to a lot of people.”

Ashmore Brothers can also train it. The company recently constructed a training facility where crews learn about personal safety. On July 2 the contractor reached 2 million man-hours with no loss time due to an accident—a golden milestone few have achieved.

“I was in Washington earlier in the year and the safety director of the Associated General Contractors of America said only seven firms reached the 2 million mark in the U.S. last year.”

Good for Bad Creek

Ashmore Brothers may never come across another Bad Creek project. In 1991 Duke Power had put together a turbine generating plant up in the mountains of South Carolina. The generators were actually underground, and during construction temporary roads moved crews up and down the terrain. When it was all said and done it was decided to put in a permanent road, and the call went to Ashmore Brothers.

The challenges of the job placed a premium on innovation. Ashmore Brothers decided to execute some in-place recycling and use a fiber-mesh concrete for v-ditches. The concrete was slipformed. All are claimed to be industry firsts for the state.

V-ditches essentially drained the mountain, and to construct them required the creation of an excavator bucket that was 4 in. bigger than the mold for the concrete ditch. After cutting the v-ditch, Ashmore Brothers came in and poured the fiber-mesh concrete.

“It was very new at that time,” Mark Ashmore, project manager of the Bad Creek job, told Roads & Bridges. “Fiber-mesh concrete was just a theory and we thought it would work.”

Working with the steep grades of the mountain was another challenge. Some of them were close to 17%, a far cry from the 6% grades of the interstate. A Cedarapids tracked asphalt paver handled the new road construction, while a Bomag MPH100 asphalt recycler executed the in-place work.

“It was difficult to get the trucks in and out,” said Mark. “Sometimes we had to load the paver with a loader.”

The higher elevation also created a lot of rain. Most of the concrete pouring came in the morning, because the precipitation came in the afternoon.

“There was a lot of starting and stopping.”

Special jobs continue to roll in for Ashmore Brothers. The company recently finished a test track for Michelin. The pavement was 11,000 ft long and 80 ft wide, and required eight paving passes. Ashmore Brothers used a Cedarapids paver with ski poles. Hamm and Ingersoll-Rand steel double-drum vibratory rollers and a Caterpillar pneumatic rubber-tired model were used for compaction. A Roadtec Shuttle Buggy served as the material transfer vehicle.

“There was a very, very close tolerance that we had to deal with,” said Mark. “There was a smoothness requirement, and we met it with the right paving technique. There were no real tricks. It was just making sure everybody was doing what they needed to do.”

Ashmore Brothers also is back doing work very, very dear to its heart—road construction for Greenville County. It is the prime contractor for a $9 million program in 2004. The county provides all prospective companies a list of what needs to be done every year, and after each bidder properly evaluates each job a price is submitted. After working with Modern Continental South for several years, Ashmore Brothers earned control this year.

Sponsored Recommendations

The Science Behind Sustainable Concrete Sealing Solutions

Extend the lifespan and durability of any concrete. PoreShield is a USDA BioPreferred product and is approved for residential, commercial, and industrial use. It works great above...

Proven Concrete Protection That’s Safe & Sustainable

Real-life DOT field tests and university researchers have found that PoreShieldTM lasts for 10+ years and extends the life of concrete.

Revolutionizing Concrete Protection - A Sustainable Solution for Lasting Durability

The concrete at the Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center is subject to several potential sources of damage including livestock biowaste, food/beverage waste, and freeze/thaw...

The Future of Concrete Preservation

PoreShield is a cost-effective, nontoxic alternative to traditional concrete sealers. It works differently, absorbing deep into the concrete pores to block damage from salt ions...