Old ED Hughes dump truck
This old E.D. Hughes Excavating dump truck ended up in Haiti after it had been donated to help an orphanage. A local who had been doing mission work in Haiti shot the photo after noticing the E.D. Hughes Excavating logo on the truck. (Photo provided by Hughes Excavation)

Dating back to 1977, E.D. Hughes Excavating established itself as a local business focused on the community while specializing primarily in residential projects. Today, Gerding Companies runs the operation and there have been a few notable changes.

Hughes Excavation management team
Hughes Excavating’s management team includes, from left, Curtis Nelson, general manager; Stephanie King, office manager; James Roush, excavation manager; and Danny Gassner, septic manager. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Those original principals that may have been starting to fade into the past have seen a rebirth through a new management team. General Manager Curtis Nelson stressed during an interview last week that Hughes Excavation — that’s the company’s new name — wants to get back to that old thinking.

“We want to get back to our grassroots — what this company was started with and that’s the community and residential,” Nelson said. “We felt like we started getting away from that and started focusing on commercial-type stuff. We want to get back to the residential, get back to (being) a prominent member of this community.”

Along with Nelson, the rest of the management team in place includes James Roush, excavation manager; Danny Gassner, septic manager; and Stephanie King, office manager. The company performs a wide range of work pretty much within a 50-mile radius of Philomath.

“We want to still have that mom-and-pop feel of the Hughes and what they’ve done here for 40-plus years,” Nelson said, “and now we’re kind of blazing our own path.”

Doyle and Harriet Hughes, known just as much if not more for their volunteer work through the years, eventually sold the business to Harriet’s son, Jim Tice, and his wife, Debbie. And then in 2019, Gerding Companies completed its purchase.

“The cool thing about that is Gerding Companies are 100% employee-owned,” Nelson said. “So basically, everybody here is an employee who has a stake in the company, so that’s pretty nice.”

As the company name indicates, the work revolves around excavating and extends into many different areas from sewer repairs and utility installations to demolition and hauling rocks.

“We’ll do anything from a small area for a patio behind the house, installing a culvert to full-fledged house dig-outs,” Roush said. “We do some smaller commercial work but our bread-and-butter is residential. That’s where we like to be.”

Nelson said it was those relationships that served Hughes well over the years.

“That’s how this company was built — the Corvallis and Philomath community, Alsea community, Benton County — doing residential projects within those communities and then also helping out in the community with all of the different stuff that they’ve done in the past,” Nelson said. “That’s what we’re trying to go back to … perfect that and then kind of see where that takes us.”

Hughes Excavating donates to schools and the youth club, sponsors sports teams and has a presence at the community’s annual downtown Halloween event.

Roush mentioned Hughes Excavation’s involvement with donating time and equipment to help a Corvallis homeless camp — putting in pads and dropping off and picking up shelters. The company also has been involved with the Graand Kinetic Challenge in Corvallis by providing a mud pit to challenge the pedal-powered vehicles.

The company’s fleet of equipment ranges from the smallest Bobcats on up to giant excavators, skid steers, a skip loader, graders, hydrovac and directional drilling machine, brush-cutting equipment and more.

“We do everything from snow removal to house dig-outs to demolishing buildings to grading a parking lot, replacing sewer lines,” Roush said. “If somebody buys a piece of land, we’ll come in and clean the land for them of all the debris, we’ll put in a septic tank and field, we’ll punch a road in for all that and we’ll dig out their house, do a patio, all of that.”

Added King, “We have a big range of talent in this company. We have a lot of different guys who can do a lot of different things.”

Hughes Excavation will even take the time to point people in the right direction if someone’s needs don’t fit with its capabilities.

“We have a lot of connections with different companies that we work with and if somebody has a question, we want to be the go-to person for that,” Nelson said. “They call us and we say, ‘hey, we can’t do that but we have a friend who can.’ We want to be that center of influence for everybody.”

Over the past several months, Hughes Excavation has seen a slowdown but not necessarily because of the pandemic.

“I think a lot of it had to do with the transition, you know, with new management coming in and a change of thoughts about how we were going to run the business,” Nelson said. “But for the most part, we’re staying fairly busy through this. I think a lot of the slowdown is coming from just the way the world is right now.”

The possibility of the United States being drawn into a war, the current economic challenges and even continuing COVID caution might lead people into being conservative about moving forward with a project.

“I think a lot of people are kind of reeling in their spending, so to speak, and so it’s slowed us down a little but not to a crippling effect by any means,” Nelson said. “For the most part, we’re still doing business as usual.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.