Success Stories: Griffith Excavating

For 45 years, Baker company plays role in changing region’s landscape

For 45 years, Baker company plays role in changing region’s landscape

By BRYCE MARTIN

Regional Editor

BAKER, Mont. — Griffith Excavating is a business that has literally changed the landscape of southeastern Montana. Not only by demolishing old buildings to make room for new, but also by helping to support the communities it serves.

Ken and Karen Griffith spent decades building and expanding Griffith Excavating, founding it in 1971. They ultimately handed the business off to a new generation of Griffiths in 2006, to their sons Mike and Jon Griffith. Their grandson, Talon Stoddard, became the third generation of Griffiths to work in the business.

Still, the couple’s touch remains.

“We have accomplished a lot by perseverance and dedication to work,” said Karen Griffith. That strong work ethic has been passed down.

In 45 years of business, Griffith Excavating has become known regionally and even nationwide for its services. Excavation, indicative by its title, is the company’s primary job. But don’t let its name fool you; the company does much more than that, also extending beyond its title to help the community in moments of need.

Griffith Excavating opened its doors in Baker in 1971. Howard Stanhope, who installed water lines and septic tanks around the area, asked Ken Griffith to take over his backhoe service. He obliged. Griffith rented his backhoe and trailer then rented a Terex scraper from Lee Lewis, which they ultimately purchased, along with a D7 Caterpillar, establishing the groundwork for the future business.

The business would go on to purchase more equipment to build oil well locations, complete back fills, build scoria roads, plow roadways, crush gravel and scoria and demolish structures to make way for the future of the region.

Since that first day, the business expanded its services to encompass several others, most notably building a prominent garbage service.

Once the business received authority from the Montana Public Service Commission in 1993, and purchased a garbage truck and Dumpsters, Griffith Excavating began G&G Garbage. It was an endeavor that would ultimately grow to service far outside Fallon County.

Russ Stoddard was one of the first drivers for G&G, later becoming manager of the Coral Creek Landfill. Then Cleo Barkley, who had already been working for the excavating company, took over as a driver for several years.

Rolloff and hooklift trucks were later purchased along with 30-yard containers for G&G to serve Plevna, Ekalaka, Wibaux and Beach, N.D. Only starting with four, G&G ended up with over 800 containers.

With the oil boom in North Dakota, G&G extended even further upon noting the high demand for such services. When a Dickinson, N.D.-based company was wanting to sell, it opened the door for G&G to begin work from Dickinson up to Williston, N.D.

In 2014, after decades of garbage service, Griffith Excavating sold G&G, handing off one of the company’s largest undertakings.

Meanwhile, the other sides of the business thrived. The business took on large-scale projects such as demolishing the Baker Hotel and the county fairground’s grandstands, even doing excavation work on a dinosaur dig by Marmarth, N.D., which attracted the national media’s attention.

But the success that the Griffiths most cherish was creating the ability for their four children and their spouses, and grandchildren — which Karen Griffith called the best assets they have — to stay in Fallon County and make a living for generations to come.

Even through the business’s lean times, with the economy’s ups and downs, Griffith Excvating was able to make a name for itself. With the help of the local bank and various vendors, the excavation company was able to sustain its place in Baker’s business economy.

“It is a feast or famine world and you roll with it,” Griffith explained.

The Griffith Excavating family continued to grow larger over the years with the addition of many dedicated and hardworking employees, which were fondly recalled by the Griffiths.

Griffith Excavating reinvented the pole tipping industry after a large snowstorm buried Ekalaka in May 2008. The heavy snowfall easily tore down electrical poles, leaving the community without power for days. Southeast Electric wasn’t able to fix the poles fast enough with all the snow and mud from melting. The problem continued until Ken Griffith came up with a faster, more feasible way to tip the fallen poles back upright, with a special attachment strapped onto a Bobcat. He and crews from Griffith Excavating quickly stood up hundreds of the poles. They worked from the early morning to late at night. Had it not been for Griffith and the 10 other companies to help the area, Ekalaka would have remained without power for months.

Jerry Pratt joined their workforce in the early 1980s. He was allowed to purchase his own equipment and work alongside the Griffiths. Pratt was a valued employee for Griffith Excavating until his death on Jan. 3, 2013. And Brandi Griffith has served as the company’s dedicated secretary, who Karen credited with helping things run smoothly.

Continuing the solid Griffith family tradition of doing business in Fallon County, Jason Griffith started a separate business called Griffith Rental. That business rents out excavating equipment, Bobcats and trailers.

Another facet of the Griffith family brand, separate from its excavation company, was the creation of Griffith Development, responsible for a variety of residential and commercial developments being established throughout the area.

Griffith Development first purchased the old livestock yard north of Baker. That area was developed into individual sites for sale, leading to its expansion. Land of the Baker Estate was also purchased for the building of a residential subdivision.

Through their business, the Griffiths have also been able to give back to the community.

In treacherous winters they used their excavation equipment to rescue stranded motorists. They would head out into the strong Montana winters when no one else dared. In the wake of the devastating 2016 tornado and a hailstorm one month later that struck southeastern Montana, Griffith Excavating was there to lend a helping hand.

Crews from Griffith worked tirelessly each day after the tornado’s touchdown to help sort through the chaos. They boarded up windows and brought in Conex storage units, bought earlier when it was realized nobody in the community was fulfilling that need. The storage units helped people whose homes were destroyed by the tornado find some salvage for their belongings.

Generators became a top commodity following the tornado; Griffith Excavating made them available for those who didn’t have one.

Aimed at attracting attention to Baker, the Griffiths purchased a building on Main Street to open a free museum for the public to enjoy old cars, pickups, tractors and other memorabilia. In 2015, they added a large mural to one side of the museum’s building, bringing color and spectacle to downtown.

Griffith Excavating has helped build a stronger community over its nearly half-century of operation. And the Griffiths, with their children now leading the company, don’t foresee the business ending any time soon.

“We plan to continue providing the best service for many years to come,” said Griffith.

      



GAMES