By Rodney Hays
The great British leader Winston Churchill once said, "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give." Local resident Corky Underwood is pretty successful in both areas.
Six months ago the lives of the people of West, Texas were changed in a tragedy. An explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people, injured another 200 and destroyed 161 homes. On top of the personal loss of life and property, the City of West also suffered damage to their infrastructure.
That’s where Underwood came in.
Underwood and his wife Elaine started RECS, a construction equipment rental company, in Prosper in 1988. Before that, Underwood was a construction superintendent in the Dallas area working on many of the area’s marquis jobs, including work on the Dallas North Tollway in the early 1980s. He has survived both 9/11 and the downturn in 2008, both bankrupting many construction companys. RECS, while smaller than it once was, still has about 10 employees in two locations — one in Prosper and one near Glen Rose.
Underwood has always been good about helping those in need, whether it’s a natural or man-made disaster. When the tornados hit Moore, Okla. earlier this year, Underwood had equipment in place the next day. When the fertilizer plant exploded in West, Underwood also put some equipment there for workers to use.
But West was different. Instead of blame being placed on Mother Nature, nobody knew who was to blame really.
"The difference was this was a crime scene," Underwood said. So, his equipment sat for several months while investigators tried to make sense of the chaos. Underwood finally picked his equipment up. But he wasn’t satisfied.
A couple of months ago, he read a story about how the city was still struggling to put things back together half a year later. So, he paid another visit.
Underwood said he walked into the office of West Public Works Director, C.J. Gillaspie and was told that Gillaspie didn’t have time to see him.
"I’m not buying anything today," Underwood said Gillaspie told him. "I’m not selling anything," Underwood responded.
The city didn’t need additional equipment, they had more than they could use from other rental companies. But he did need one thing only Corky Underwood could help with: a Bayonet Breaker.
For the uninitiated in construction work, busting up rocks and hauling the debris away from a site is usually a two machine job — one rock-busting machine and one backhoe to haul away the large rock fragments. About 10 years ago, Underwood changed all that with the invention of the Bayonet Breaker, a rock hammer that fits under the "stick" of the backhoe. Now one machine can do both.
Now, it takes Underwood’s backhoes about three seconds to bust up the rock, fold the Bayonet out of the way, and start lifting the rocks away in the backhoe bucket.
"It’s probably faster than that, but nobody likes to brag," Underwood says with a laugh. It doesn’t take long to see that he is proud of his invention.
The idea came to him in his pickup truck on the way to a job. He called a friend to share the idea over lunch. He drew the crude drawing while sitting at the table.
"The first depiction of the Bayonet was on a Hooter’s napkin," he said. It’s come a long way since that day.
Underwood said that some experts estimate his invention to be worth $30 million. It’s probably worth a lot more than that to the people of West.
Underwood picked up a backhoe from the city, brought it back to his place, installed the donated Bayonet and redelivered the new dual-purpose machine back to West. The donation was about $27,000. The City of West will use it to help with projects around town, including digging water lines and a new pump station.
RECS is currently working to secure a deal with the United States Marine Corps and Raytheon Company, which would be a major coup for the company.
Without a doubt Corky Underwood has found success in the construction rental business. But, as Churchill said, it’s the things Underwood gives back to the community that will make his life truly successful.
"What good are you if all you do is rake it in," he said. "You have to kick back a little bit too."