You might say they have concrete in their veins.
Dean and Jordan West, the father and son combo who own and operate West Ready Mix in Helenwood, have been in the concrete business all their lives — Dean working alongside his father, the late Arnold West, at the plant after it opened when he was just a teenager, and Jordan now following in his father’s footsteps.
West Ready Mix opened in 1972. Dean West was just 14 when his father opened the concrete plant on the hill overlooking U.S. Hwy. 27 between Huntsville and Oneida. He purchased a used Mack truck that is still parked out front — these days as a display, long past its days of being an active part of the plant’s fleet — and two other used trucks to get started.
Arnold West didn’t have any experience in the concrete business when he opened the plant; he had worked in logging and coal mining. But, “the opportunity came along and he jumped on it,” his son said.
Arnold West might not have had any experience in the concrete business, but he quickly became synonymous with the concrete business in Scott County. From those three used trucks, West Ready Mix grew to include an entire fleet of concrete trucks, gravel trucks and water trucks, with the familiar orange-and-white color scheme that has defined the company.
Arnold — a deacon and Sunday school teacher at White Rock Baptist Church, where he was active alongside his wife, Kathleen Byrge West — died six years ago next week, on July 22, 2013. When he opened the plant, Kathleen — who died just this past April — quit her job as a secretary at Huntsville Elementary School to join him. The two worked side-by-side at West Ready Mix for more than 40 of the 61 years they were married.
“He and Mom operated it right up until the end,” Dean West said. “They were a team. They were just good people and they enjoyed what they did.”
Once Jordan came along, the concrete business just came natural to him, too.
“This was our first stop on the way home from the hospital,” he joked.
Dean said his sons — Shay West, along with Jordan — practically grew up at the plant. “Jordan and his brother were always out here with toys, running through the shop and riding bicycles,” he said.
So, when he got old enough to pull his share of the load, Jordan joined alongside his dad.
“It’s home,” he said. “I like it. I like dealing with the public most of the time.”
Dean West may have been just 14 when the plant opened back in 1972, but he jumped right in with the rest of the team. At 15, he was hauling concrete. He remembers turning over a brand-new truck on one of those early deliveries. When he called the shop, his father had just one question: “Are you hurt?”
“I said, ‘No, but this truck is on its top,’” West recalled. “Dad said, ‘Well I’ll be on down there in a few minutes.’”
With the help of Clell Reed of Reed’s Wrecker Service, the Wests spent most of the day getting the truck back on its wheels, and much longer than that cleaning up the spilled concrete. It may have been a setback, but Arnold West didn’t allow his son to miss a beat in the concrete business.
“After we got the truck turned back over, I jumped in a pickup truck to go back to the shop and Dad said, ‘No, you brought that thing down here, you will be taking it back,’” he said.
For the next four decades, Dean West worked alongside his parents in the business. He never considered doing anything else.
“I have just always enjoyed it,” he said. “There was really nothing I wanted to do more.”
Over the years, West Ready Mix has been involved in a number of big projects — perhaps none bigger than the state correctional facility in Morgan County in the mid 1980s. At the time, it was the biggest construction project in the state, and it took three years to complete.
West recalls many of the contractors who purchased concrete from the plant back in the early days: the Brewster brothers, the Phillips brothers, and others are among the names he mentions. He tells a story of his mother keeping a “swear jar” on her desk: when a visitor to the shop let a swear word fly, they dropped a quarter in the jar, and she would donate the money to a church.
The biggest changes West recalls over the years mostly relate to prices. In the 1970s, concrete was $18 a yard. Now it’s more than $110 a yard. Back then, driveways could be graveled for $4.50 a ton. Now it’s $20 a ton.
“There weren’t as many headaches back then,” West said. “You didn’t have as much traffic on the roads, the EPA looking at you and all that. But, as far as change, not a lot has changed. We are still pouring concrete and pouring driveways.”
These days, West Ready Mix has nine trucks in its fleet, and has as many as eight drivers hauling loads on a busy day — including Dean and Jordan. They may run the business, but they don’t stay in a climate-controlled office; they get their hands dirty right along with the rest of West Ready Mix’s employees. The company still sells septic tanks, and has decorative rock as well as driveway rock and sand.
Just about the only real change in 47 years has been that the father-and-son team at the helm has shifted from Arnold and Dean to Dean and Jordan. Someday, Dean says, it might shift again. His three-year-old grandson, Kyle, is already showing a keen interest in the business.
“He calls daily wanting me to come get him and bring him up here,” Jordan said of his son. “If he keeps going on the track he’s going, I’d say he’ll be right here.”