January 25, 1996
Phil Albertson, as a Ditch Witch engineer, devoted a lot of years to the development of machines that are used for installing material beneath the ground's surface and to methods of doing the job as well. Some examples of material involved in this would be gas lines, phone lines, water lines or cables for electrical service and TV, but his primary interest for some time has been in flexible lines used with ground source heat pumps. This type of home heating and cooling systems relies primarily on water circulated through underground storage lines at a constant temperature. The use has been spreading rapidly for several years now, and Phil was involved virtually from the beginning.
Albertson retired a few years ago from the Ditch Witch company, where he was heavily involved in the concept and design of several pieces of equipment that became standard parts of the company's product line. His responsibilities at different times also included manufacturing engineering, tooling design, production scheduling, purchasing and research and development. He came to the Charles Machine Works, Inc., manufacturer of Ditch Witch equipment, in 1959 after graduating from OSU with a degree in industrial engineering. A native of Norman, he was the son of an OU professor of economics and a nephew of the founder of Albertson's Food Store. He entered OSU in 1955 upon leaving the Air Force following service as a jet fighter pilot in Korea. Although now retired from Ditch Witch, he is still on the cutting edge of its technology.
In 1978 Phil attended one of the first ground source heat pump workshops at Oklahoma State University and became acquainted with Dr. Jim Bose of the OSU staff. There he learned that the greatest problem with water source heat pump installations was placing pipe in the ground to circulate the water, so he brought the group to the Ditch Witch proving grounds here and demonstrated how much faster and easier it can be done with one of the Perry-built chain trenchers. That also served to draw him into the new industry as a major player.
Recognizing a potentially large market segment for Ditch Witch equipment, he worked with the OSU group on different applications, including vertical systems. Phil designed two vertical drilling machines. One could trench and backfill, the other was more compact with a unique mud pump design that minimized wear. Art Deken and Fred Nichols, two Ditch Witch colleagues, contributed a great deal to the design and utilization methods study at that stage, Phil adds.
In 1981 Phil designed and installed a ground source heat pump, or GSHP, system for his own home on Skyline Drive. Compared to propane heat and air-conditioning systems, he estimates a 60 percent saving in operating costs alone, or approximately $1,000 a year. Partly as a result of the on-the-job training of burying pipes and subsequent installation projects at their home, three of the Albertsons' four children, Mike, Phillip and a daughter, Sarah Beth Wilcox, are now carving out their own careers in the business. Their other daughter, Amy, is an international sales representative for American Airlines. All four children used Phil's notes from the home installation job on school project papers while they were students at OSU. And Phil freely credits his wife, Mona, with supplying support and encouragement to the entire family along the way.
A profile of Phil, headlined "IGSHPA Who's Who - Phil Albertson," appeared in a recent issue of "The Source," the official newsletter for the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association which has headquarters at OSU. The center spread in the same issue illustrates the use of high-pressure water in compacting the soil after installation of water lines to improve thermal conductivity. All machines used in the two-page photo layout are Ditch Witch products, another indication of the Perry company's dominant role in the underground field.
The newsletter contains quite a bit of interesting information about Phil and his pioneering efforts in ground source heat pump work. He has been a tub-thumper for the industry since his initial exposure to the idea. As a result of his efforts, Fortune magazine in 1981 published a feature story about the first installation of a four-pipe horizontal configuration at OSU.
Phil is still working on designs for new types of GSHP systems. He does consulting work at Ditch Witch regularly on equipment used in the installations and represents the company to the ground source heat pump industry. Phil sees a great future for the GSHP, but with a lot of work still to be done in promotional activities, training, better quality of installations and improved installation productivity. With his personal ingenuity and love of innovative ideas helping to lead the way, the gound source heat pump business may just be about to blossom.