Blacktop Innovators: Sahuaro Petroleum & Asphalt
Bill Brake calls his years at Sahuaro Petroleum & Asphalt some of the best of his life. He started as a salesman, and then later became president of the company that pioneered rubberized asphalt. “Probably nobody knows it started in Phoenix, Arizona, in the ‘60s,” Brake says.
Sahuaro Petroleum began with two men in 1961, Doyle Willis and Warner Gable, on 19th Avenue, just north of Van Buren Street. At the time, there were only two companies that distributed liquid asphalt: Chevron and Arizona Refining, which was owned by Arco. However, Sahuaro broke into the market by distributing liquid asphalt for Edgington Oil, a refinery based in Long Beach that became a one-third partner in Sahuaro. Using aggregates from sand and rock companies like Union Rock, Bentson Contracting, and Tanner Brothers, Sahuaro also paved roads around Arizona.
Brake broke into the business in 1969 when his friend asked him if he wanted to have lunch with Gable and Fred McWenie, Sahuaro’s then-president. The company was expanding and looking to hire the best in sales. Brake was a University of Arizona graduate with a degree in agriculture and range management. “As I had just gone through a snowstorm in Delaware, and hated it back there, I said I’d be interested,” Brake laughs, “I went home and told my wife to pack and get out of Delaware.” Just like that, he left his job with DuPont’s agricultural division to get his name on the sales board for Sahuaro.
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This article originally appeared in the Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Mar/Apr 2019 issue, Vol. 8, No.2. The Arizona Contractor & Community magazine is a bi-monthly publication.