Digging Through the Archives: Sinagua Paving
Philip Chesley has encountered some unforgettable people while working in the paving field, including a man wearing gold chains and rings who watched him pave the auxiliary entrance road into Firebird Lake in 1991. “He was carrying a little dog with a large diamond tennis necklace for a collar,” Philip recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘This dog’s collar is worth more than my house.’ I later found out it was local contractor J.W. Nicks, who was Stevie Nicks’ father.”
This encounter is just one of Chesley's fun memories from a career that includes running Sinagua Paving, with his wife, Laura, for almost 27 years in the Valley. In 2020, MR Tanner Construction purchased the paving company, after having a long business relationship with the firm. Philip’s son, James Chesley, continues at MR Tanner as a paving supervisor with their old crew, and Philip is still in a support role for the team. Despite such an impressive track record, it took a lot of work and help from friends to turn Sinagua Paving into a successful business.
Philip started in the field fresh out of high school in 1978 as a laborer for Roadrunner Paving, which was operated by his father, Elmo Chesley, and his business partner, Leon Slade [see article on page ??]. He mostly shoveled asphalt or ran a vibra-plate on the job. After a two-year mission in Chile for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Philip returned to paving but with a newfound world view.
“The experience gave me a foundation in the Spanish language, which I rely on a lot, even today, and an opportunity to learn how people in less-fortunate circumstances live,” he says. In 1982 Philip returned to Roadrunner Paving and soon became an asphalt roller operator and later added equipment repair and maintenance to his duties.
The position proved to be a fantastic opportunity to learn about the industry. After a few years, Philip felt ready to stretch his abilities, and broaden his horizons, and he launched Sinagua Paving in 1993. Sinagua, which means “without water” in Spanish, seemed like an appropriate name for the region, according to Phil. “I will not lie; the first six months were full of challenges,” he says. “Lack of capital, hiring and training a reliable workforce, and learning all the aspects of business administration are probably common challenges to most new businesses, and we were no exception.”
Philip credits P.J. Smith, the owner of TSR Contracting and an associate of Elmo and Leon's, with helping Sinagua get on track by providing access to his paving equipment at an hourly rate. “Smith’s help, along with other associates of Elmo, allowed Sinagua to become established with some capital and credit history, both necessary in purchasing equipment and growing a small business,” he says. “I learned that even though construction is a competitive field, the paving community is a close-knit family of individuals willing to help others.”
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jul/Aug 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 4.