Don Gallagher, Three decades of energy, leadership and vision

Don Gallagher of Gallagher Asphalt Corporation has always been a man of vision, limitless energy, and enduring love and loyalty to the asphalt industry.

His contributions, innovations, exploits and implementations are many. But most of all, he is a man that is always willing, approachable and ready to help someone learn about the asphalt industry.

“When the young engineers at Illinois DOT wanted to learn something about asphalt paving, we would go see Don,” says Tim Murphy of Murphy Pavement Technology. He was the teacher of the young lions at IDOT and he was always willing to teach and to learn.”

Don heard his calling early and has spent his life fulfilling that call. He heard that call from his father, J. F. Gallagher, Asphalt Institute Roll of Honor recipient, and founder of JFG Asphalt (now Gallagher Asphalt).

Early Years
Don grew up in the Beverly-Morgan Park section of Chicago with his two brothers — never far from an asphalt plant or an asphalt paver.

After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Don started working for Acme Steel in Chicago. Later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he spent two years working in Huntsville, Alabama, doing wind tunnel and rocket engine testing for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“After the Army, I joined Gallagher Asphalt and worked side-by-side with my two brothers where I learned the real world of asphalt paving,” says Don.

“My passion for road building was further fueled by becoming increasingly involved in asphalt industry associations,” says Don. “Because my father was one of the founders of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association (IAPA), I realized that it was important to work with them and other associations to shape the future of the industry.

“During the 1970s,” says Don, “I was able to contribute to the development of asphalt and fuel escalation clauses, which ultimately enabled the industry to survive the Oil Embargo.”

Don was elected President of IAPA in 1978, and again in 1988. IAPA also selected him as Most Active Member in 1980 and again in 1987. Nationally, Don was active both in NAPA and NCAT. He served on NCAT’s Executive Board for a number of years and on NAPA’s board for 15 years as a representative of IAPA.

Willing Volunteer
“Don was always a good volunteer and worked hard for the industry,” says Tim Docter, Don’s friend and former owner of Maclair Asphalt Company in southern Illinois. “He was a brilliant inventor and innovator — always very technical, a mechanical engineer by education. He was always ahead of the curve. IDOT engineers, asphalt plant manufacturers, and university professors came to Don for ideas.”

“He worked with Don Brock (Astec) and other pavement equipment manufacturers to test and improve their equipment. He designed and tested storage silos and contributed to innovations in asphalt plant dryers,” adds Docter.

Don was constantly thinking about ways to reuse asphalt. He was the first to get into the hot mix recycling business in Illinois. He was interested in hot mix recycling because it was an effective way to reuse asphalt. For years, he was known as Mr. Recycling in the Chicago area — long before recycling was popular.

Constantly Innovating
Don was constantly tinkering and innovating. His company was one of the first in the country to have an asphalt lab and one of the first to do QC/QA . Don and his brother, Jack, were among the first to use computers in their hot mix plants.

He was always designing new asphalt mixes and was the primary innovator of several new mixes in the Chicago area. He and his lab designed and tested Superpave-like mixes before they were recognized as Superpave mixes. When Superpave was introduced, Don was one of the first to embrace it.

In the early 1980s, Don worked with Astec Industries to develop a “warming plant,” a plant to warm or preheat RAP before mixing it.

In the late l960s, Don devised a program to increase asphalt mix delivery that was well ahead of its time. He put color-coded stickers on asphalt trucks to match the type of mix they needed, and then managed the trucks’ efficiency by a color-coded electrical panel that indicated mix type and the length of time the truck was in the yard or at the site. His program decreased average truck time in the yard by 15 minutes.

He then went to the site and put time clocks on the pavers to see how much time it took the paver to use a truckload of asphalt mix. He was one of the first time-management pioneers.

“Dad’s nature was always to totally commit himself to whatever he did,” says his son, Dan. “Whether it was asphalt or photography, time management or computers, he became passionate about it and did everything he could to learn more about it. He always tried to find a better way to do business. He was never satisfied with the status quo.”

Don believed in training his employees. Consequently his employees were loyal to Don and his company. “Employee loyalty is an important part of Gallagher Asphalt,” says his son Dan. “We have given away 46 rings for twenty-five years or more of employment. Most of our employees like the way we operate and are happy to stay with us.”

Don’s father, J. F. Gallagher, had a dream to establish a school that would teach contractors about asphalt and how to use it correctly. J. F. referred to his school as “Gallagher’s College of Knowledge.” After listening to his dad talk about the school for years, Don made his dad’s dream come true by establishing the JFG Technical Center. The center still works with its partner, Lakeland College, to train young men and women in the proper use of asphalt technology. Learning how to do the job right has always been at the forefront of the Center’s curriculum.

A+ Work All the Time
“Quality has been drilled into us time and time again,” says Dan Gallagher. “We’re the third generation that has embraced quality. We believe it is important and we believe it will pay off every time.

“We don’t want to do just acceptable work—C-grade work,” says Dan. “Here at Gallagher we want to do A+ work all the time, on every job, and that’s how we train our employees to operate. Dad taught us that and I believe we have learned it well.”