Conquering Wide-Open Spaces: Maxwell Farm Drainage

When you consider the storied history of Bart Maxwell’s family, the slogan for his hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana says it all: “Small City…Big Possibilities.” Forty-nine miles west of the state capital and home to Wabash College, Crawfordsville was founded in 1832 along the banks of Sugar Creek, a southern tributary of the Wabash River and named for then-U.S. Treasury Secretary, William H. Crawford. It’s also where you’ll find Maxwell Farm Drainage: a Fratco partner that prides itself as a company of value, integrity and relationship building.

Bart is the fourth generation of Maxwell descendants installing pipe in and around Montgomery County. In 1910, his great grandfather, Alexander Maxwell, and Great Uncle Silas began laying clay tile and constructing small bridges. Before Alexander and Silas made a massive machinery investment, all digging was done by shovel with some assistance from a few horses. Back-breaking work not for the faint of heart.

Bart Sr. and his cousin Mike purchased the company in 1965 from three of Alexander’s eleven children who maintained the family business: Jack, Birle and Walter. Not long after, Mike was drafted into the Vietnam War, leading Bart Sr. to purchase his shares. When Mike returned, he formed Maxwell Well Drilling in Darlington, Indiana. “People tease us all the time that Mike finds the water around here, I get rid of it, and that means the Maxwell’s are the most powerful family around. We control all the water,” Bart Maxwell laughs.

The struggles of farmers in the 1980s due to drought and economic undercurrents carried over into the industries serving them, including Maxwell Farm Drainage. The once-booming company began struggling as customers were consumed with saving their farms—their livelihoods. Bart Sr. regrouped. He chose to run lean and stay conservative with his zest for big business coming to a close. As Bart considers what his dad may think of where the second oldest Midwestern drainage company stands today, he believes Bart Sr. would be in awe. “In the beginning, when I worked long hours, he would have thought I was crazy. Now? I think he would be extremely proud to see that we’re still a family business and going strong.”

Bart Maxwell Sr.

A 1999 graduate of Wyoming Technical Institute, Bart was eager to traverse wide-open spaces and explore the corners of the United States. He took a position traveling the eastern region as a heavy equipment technician repairing massive and challenging equipment. This was just the ticket the Indiana native was looking for. At the age of twenty-four, a phone call changed everything. Bart’s father, Bart Sr., died unexpectedly while moving machinery to a job site. The young, grieving man packed up his things and returned home to Crawfordsville.

With an estate to manage and unfinished drainage jobs to complete, customers invested their wisdom into the son who had just lost his father. They convinced Bart to pick up where Bart Sr. left off and lead Maxwell Farm Drainage. Bart’s most significant influence during these formative years? Former Fratco president Steve Overmyer. Their relationship transcended business. “Steve not only sold me pipe, but he was also my first phone call for everything after my dad died. He gave me a feel for the market, when it was really time to upgrade my equipment, if I should hire more people—you name it. He made sure my needs were always met.”

Maxwell Farm Drainage entrance sign

The voice on the phone at Fratco has changed over the years with Steve passing the presidential and CEO reins onto his son, Chris Overmyer. Yet the way Fratco cares for their contractors remains. “Chris has done an incredible job growing and innovating the company. Chris and I have a lot in common,” Bart muses. “Good upbringings created great foundations in both of us to grow and expand our companies.”

And grow as a businessman Bart Maxwell has. Maxwell Farm Drainage has solidified itself as a Midwestern mainstay in the agricultural community. The company found its sweet spot focusing on one client category only: farmers. “We’ll do just about anything to help our agriculture-based clients. That’s what we know, what we do best, and those customers understand they are always our top priority,” Bart proudly states.

Today’s innovation and technology have driven Bart Sr.’s namesake to expand and invest in new areas of business. With a self-professed love of “tinkering with things,” Bart merged his ingenuity and fondness for making things work better with his desire to help pipe installers work smarter. That’s how Bart’s newest company was born. Maxwell Drainage Innovations, a separate entity from Maxwell Farm Drainage, is the brainchild of Bart and his fabricator and partner, Jarrod Zachary. “We wanted to create attachments for drainage machines that speed up and streamline the installation process. Making it easier for everyone out in the field is what it’s all about,” Bart shares.

Years ago, fresh out of high school, Jarrod’s talent as a welder and fabricator were immediately evident to Bart. “Jarrod and I began building some crazy things on machines. Just for kicks, we uploaded our videos to YouTube. People watched, commented that they loved what they saw, then started asking if we could build things for them, too.” What was first a hobby soon became a cross-country business. This outlet allows Bart to reengage his original passion for working on large equipment. He’s returned to traversing the country, helping others and making new friends along the way. “Drainage contractors are kindred spirits. Seeing how they tackle their businesses only makes me better at my profession,” he affirms.

Connecting with those in the business—building strong relationships—is just one of the many reasons Bart remains a loyal Fratco contractor and installer. “Although my dad started doing business with Fratco towards the later part of his career, they were with me at the start of mine as I borrowed all the money a twenty-four year old possibly could and picked up where my father left off.” The now seasoned entrepreneur values Fratco’s personal touch. It’s one of the many reasons he never hesitates to recommend the product. “You know that every foot of pipe Fratco delivers will always be up to par and meet your specs,” Bart states.

As someone who understands what it’s like to stand behind your work, Bart knows Fratco cannot be matched. “Other companies make fine products, but there’s so much more that goes into choosing what manufacturer you want to work with: knowledgeable sales staff, quality pipe and knowing they make sure it’s right when it leaves the factory. Fratco also puts a lot of time and energy into technology and testing. That matters to me and my customers.”

Family businesses run on determination, love, patience and a lot of elbow grease. Bart’s wife, Joellen, embodies those traits and more. She’s an active part of the business and the perfect partner in life for Bart. Daughter Chloe and her mom try to make Bart take a breather now and then, yet Bart admits it’s a challenge for them. “We had a family vote recently about buying a boat. The tally was two-to-one. As you can imagine, I was the no vote,” Bart laughs as he recalls being overruled by the women in his life.

If you visit the Maxwell Farm Drainage company website, you’ll find an older video of machinery in the field driven by a pro. As the cab door comes into view, a spritely young thing behind the wheel smiles and asks, “How’d I do, Daddy?” This moment will steal your heart because Chloe Maxwell, like the Maxwells before her, is a natural in the field. Currently a freshman at Purdue University studying agricultural business, this future fifth-generation owner of Maxwell Farm Drainage has Bart and Joellen’s unwavering support. The wide open spaces of future agricultural opportunity Bart envisions exploring now include working alongside his daughter. Fratco will continue to be there for Bart and Chloe Maxwell, helping them, as we help all of our clients, serve the needs of their customers out in the field.