Two Oklahoma Abstract firms join forces in the booming Illinois Basin of the 1940's to form DWW
DWW moves west to the Williston Basin an adds technology to the abstracting business
More technology and multistate expansion highlights DWW of the 60s & 70s
The "Original Record Abstract of Title" is introduced by DWW
DWW expands further with the energy boom of the 1980's adding a training school and computers
Energy "bust" prompts expansion into other title services and staff cutbacks
DWW ex-employees form MSLT and introduces more technology and expand in the Rockies
Going back 48 years to when Deister & Ward and Lester & Witcher joined forces, DWW & MSLT became the "New" DWW in 1991.
50 Years - On the road with Deister, Ward & Witcher
by William Weddle
In the 1930s, Oklahoma was at the center of the young and growing domestic oil and gas industry. It was the home of many industry leaders and pioneers. Among them were two small abstracting partnerships, Deister & Ward and Lester & Witcher. Active in the oil fields of eastern Oklahoma throughout the 1930s, these firms innovated the concept of specialized abstracting, gearing their services to fit the needs of the oil and gas industry. The nation was entering a period of greatly increased demand for energy. The Illinois Basin boom of the late 1930s pushed the demand for oil abstract services to new levels. Sensing the opportunity at hand, the two partnerships decided to join forces. In 1943, they merged to form Deister, Ward and Witcher.
The new company was headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, in the heart of the booming Illinois Basin. Though still maintaining a presence in its Oklahoma home, the company was beginning to focus on expansion into new areas. By the early 1950s, what was once two small local partnerships had become a growing multi-state concern. Its: operations covered 15 states, from Florida to Michigan and as far west as Utah. In each new area it entered, DWW applied the simple concept that had fueled its creation: high quality and uniform service specifically tailored to the demands of the expanding petroleum industry. The early 1950s saw yet another oil boom, this time centered in the Williston Basin of North Dakota. Once again, the young company packed up and hit the road, heading West in force. DWW opened district offices in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. In 1952, the company moved its headquarters from Evansville to Billings, Montana, underscoring its commitment to the emerging Rocky Mountain region.
By the mid-50s, DWW's employee roster numbered in the hundreds, situated in oil and gas areas throughout 20 states. Abstracting had always been a labor intensive industry, but abstracting on the scale provided by DWW gave new meaning to the term. In those days, DWW operated with title abstracters backed by crews of typists who painstakingly retyped verbatim copies of original documents. Each abstracter generally supervised a crew of three to 10 typists, traveling from county to county as needed. A frequent scene in many Montana and North Dakota courthouses in the mid-1950s was as many as 40 DWW typists clanging away on the abstracts so essential to the oil industry. Life on the road was hard, and amenities frequently ranged from basic to non-existent. An article from a 1954 edition of "Rocky Mountain Oil Reporter" recounted how in one Williston Basin county, with no restaurants, the local abstracter's wife took charge of daily coffee and lunch for the entire crew.
DWW's use of large traveling crews, though colorful and effective in the early days, became increasingly cumbersome and costly as the company expanded its: operating area. Also, the logistics involved prohibited smooth and rapid deployment and made it increasingly difficult for the company to deliver timely service. If the company was to sustain a growing client base, the awkward system had to be replaced.
Technology provided the answer, and it came about basically in two stages. In the late 1950s, DWW began using portable cameras to photograph original documents, which were then retyped verbatim in a central location. The company was able to radically reduce the size of its field crews, with their numerous logistical headaches, and to speed service through more centralized production. The second advancement came with the evolution of xerographic copy technology. Now, instead of hours of tedious retyping, the company could quickly reproduce a photographic copy of the original document. DWW established a central film lab in its Denver office. All film was developed and processed through this central lab, and then returned to the district offices to be compiled into finished abstracts. Utilizing this new technology, one field abstracter with a camera could do the work of several typing crews, traveling from county to county, and state to state, literally overnight. Before long, the DWW" field rep" with a portable camera became an unofficial but instantly recognizable symbol of the company, as had the traveling typists of a generation earlier.
Deister, Ward and Witcher had become, by the mid-1960s, truly national in scope, able to serve its vast territory quickly and efficiently. Crews could be dispatched to anywhere in the country from district offices in both the Midcontinent and the West. This cost effective system enabled DWW to manage large orders and to sustain steady growth throughout the 1960s and 70s. The new system brought improvements to the product itself, as copy quality was improved and transcription error eliminated. More-over, oil companies could rely on DWW for a quality, uniformly prepared verbatim abstract in any place needed. DWW's "Original Record Abstract of Title", with added features such as hard cover, notes and a concise index, had become the standard of quality for the entire industry. By the late 1970s, events in the Middle East shook the United States out of complacency and into another energy boom. The country witnessed an explosion of energy activity. The exploration frenzy reached all major producing areas, as well as many previously unproven. With the increase in activity came a staggering increase in the demand for title services, DWW geared up to meet the challenge, with large increases in both field staff and experienced abstract compilers in all of its district offices. As this boom seemed to know no boundaries, geographic mobility again took center stage. The company deployed crews to all major regions and it assembled highly trained crews geared to nationwide mobility. DWW remained true to its motto "go where the business is. During this time, the company extended its operations to literally hundreds of new counties throughout the nation, from the southeastern states to the pacific northwest. New district offices were planned to handle the seemingly endless workload, and in the years from 1979 to 1985, the company's client base and sales volume skyrocketed.
The energy boom was not destined to last forever. The decline had begun as early as 1982. However, DWW managed to maintain steady sales well into the mid-1980s. Indeed, 1984 and 1985 were two of the best years in the company's history. By 1986, though, the industry had almost totally collapsed. Like many other firms, DWW had spent heavily, and was burdened with large staff and high overhead when "the bottom fell out" of oil prices. The company struggled to survive in the face of rapidly plummeting sales. It did so by slashing expenses and trimming staff, actually implementing layoffs for the first time in its history. As the outlook for the energy industry remained gloomy, DWW began to explore potential new markets for its title services. Coal, hard mineral mining and right-of-way services had long provided a small percentage of the company's business. DWW began to more aggressively promote its services to these and other industries, with some success. The scaled down company survived, but by 1987 an unlikely and unexpected threat had emerged; competition.
The depths of the energy "bust" hardly seemed like fertile spawning grounds for a new venture, but in February of 1987, when things seemed at their bleakest, Mountain States Land Title was incorporated. The fledgling company was the creation of a small core of Deister employees from the Wyoming and Colorado districts.These employees believed that DWW had grown too burdened with overhead and that its level of service had declined during the frantic boom times. They believed that the energy industry, though in a severe recession, had a need for cost effective, high quality title services. Mountain States Land Title was founded on the philosophy of low overhead, lean operation and overriding emphasis on timely service.
As it had in the past, technology once again provided the vehicle for change. The innovation this time was simple yet its effect on customer service proved to be crucial. Mountain States implemented the use of small portable copiers (then relatively new on the market) in the field. This cost-effective innovation enabled MSLT's field crews to reproduce documents instantly, thus cutting days and sometimes weeks from its abstract delivery schedules.
Headquartered initially in Casper, Wyoming, MSLT moved its headquarters to Denver and established a district office in Dickinson, North Dakota in 1988. Mountain States confined its operations primarily to the Rocky Mountain region, servicing oil and gas companies almost exclusively. Nonetheless, by staying lean and mobile, and by stressing fast delivery, MSLT built a loyal and growing clientele. By 1991, Mountain States had mounted a serious challenge to its parent company throughout the Rockies. MSLT's initial success had solidified its foundation, but the energy industry, still both company's primary market, remained stagnant. With DWW and MSLT, parent and offspring, competing aggressively, a stalemate continued with no end in sight. Seeking the opportunity to create one strong and revitalized company, Mountain States offered to purchase DWW. Negotiations began in August of 1991. On December 31, 1991, the deal was completed, and Mountain States Land Title purchased the assets of Deister, Ward and Witcher.
The buyout brought immediate changes. The combined company, in consideration of nearly 50 years of continuous operations and nationwide name recognition, retained the name "Deister, Ward and Witcher". The "new" DWW established its headquarters in Denver. With the buyout, DWW changed from a primarily family owned to an employee owned company. In 1992, over 90 percent of the shares of DWW were held by employees. 1992 continued to be a year of change as DWW reemphasized its philosophy of lean management and fast service. The company cut costs and trimmed its operations. It closed and consolidated offices, maintaining offices in Casper, Wyoming, Billings, Montana, Dickinson, North Dakota, and Ft. Smith, Arkansas, in addition to Denver. Under new management, DWW committed itself to renewed growth and revitalized customer service.
1993 marked the beginning of DWW's second 50 years of service to land professionals. DWW has emerged from the turmoil of recent years smaller, yet more tempered, and focused on the challenges of the future. The 21st century is shaping up as a time of great change, but with new challenges come fresh opportunities as well. DWW is actively cultivating new markets and new applications for its land title expertise. Industries DWW serves today range from energy exploration to mining, utilities, financial services and environmental sciences. DWW has evolved from the narrowly defined "oil abstracters" of yesterday to providers of diversified forms of "land title information" for a wide spectrum of users. Operating in 23 states, Deister, Ward and Witcher still "goes where the business is" in terms of both geography and marketplace. DWW continues to build on a half century of title experience, and on solid professional relationships with both new and established clients, with local title firms and with county, state and federal officials across the nation. Throughout its 57-year history, DWW has adapted to meet the demands of the future, a future that will bring, inevitably, more and greater changes. It is the proven ability to adapt and succeed in a world of change that will be the foundation of DWW's growth in its next 50 years.