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Ditch Witch inventor remembered
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Gus Edwin George "Ed" Malzahn
Gus Edwin George "Ed" Malzahn

The creator of Oklahoma brand Ditch Witch will be remembered during a memorial service Friday.

Gus Edwin George Malzahn, known as Ed, died Dec. 11 at Perry Memorial Hospital in Perry, Oklahoma at the age of 94.

The memorial service will be 6-8 p.m. Friday at the Ditch Witch Training Center in Perry. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Perry.

The family is asking, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Perry Memorial Hospital Foundation, in care of Brown-Dugger Funeral Home in Perry.

Malzahn is being remembered for his support of Perry and Oklahoma.

“Ed was the inspirational leader of the Ditch Witch and the Charles Machine Works family for over 65 years,” said Rick Johnson, chief executive officer for Charles Machine Works. “He possessed a sharp mind, strong rural work ethic and generous spirit — all of which he used to better those around him.”

Charles Machine Works continues to operate as a family business. The company’s executive chair represents the fifth-generation of the Malzahn family, Malzahn’s granddaughter Tiffany Sewell-Howard.

After passing the torch, Malzahn continued to be involved in Perry. He was a member of First Presbyterian Church, worked to transform Perry Masonic Lodge into a multi-unit residence and continued to serve on a variety of boards.

“Even though Ed Malzahn’s Ditch Witch company became a household name in the worldwide construction industry, he made sure his organization remained true to its roots: family and community,” said Gov. Mary Fallin. “The extended family of his company, which his father started more than a century ago in Perry, included residents in the city and surrounding area. Since the early 1950s, hundreds of Perry-area residents have started and had lifelong careers at Ditch Witch, considered the lifeblood of the community. Ed was a great businessman and Oklahoman who cared deeply about Perry and its residents. Ed told me that he had opportunities to move his company to bigger places, but he said he never gave it much thought. For many years he did all the employee interviews himself; worker turnover then often was about 5 percent, which was low for manufacturing.”

In a promotional video on ditchwitch.com, Malzahn said he never moved Ditch Witch overseas because he wanted to keep its roots in Oklahoma. The company “bleeds orange,” and he said he wanted employees to be invested in the company and community.

Malzahn, born in 1921, was a Perry High School graduate and completed his degree in mechanical engineering at Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State University.

In 1949, Malzahn launched the first service line trencher, the Ditch Witch model DWP. He and his father had spent months working to create the Ditch Witch Power prototype in an effort to find a better way of installing residential utility lines.

The product went on to become named “one of the 100 best American-made products in the world” by Fortune magazine.

The idea came to Malzahn when he had a discussion with a local plumber about the tedious task of digging utility lines by hand. Malzahn was working at his father’s shop, Charles Machine Works in Perry, at the time.

Today, Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works company, employees more than 1,500 workers, has more than 175 dealerships and serves 195 countries, according to a release from the company.

Malzahn has accepted many awards over the years, including Inventor of the Year by Oklahoma Car Association: Patent, Trademark and Copyright Section. He was inducted into Oklahoma Inventors Hall of Fame, American Rental Association Hall of Fame, Construction Equipment Hall of Fame and North American Society for Trenchless Technology Hall of Fame.

Today, the Charles Machine Works has eight companies, including Ditch Witch, American Augers and HammerHead. It is the only manufacturer and distributor that solely exists to make underground utility construction profitable.

Malzahn is survived by three children, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

 
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