- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: AMS Inc.
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
In 1942 Art Vollweiler opened Art’s Machine Shop Inc. (AMS), a small blacksmith and machine shop, in a modest store front on Roosevelt Street in American Falls, Idaho. Combining an inventive spirit and his skills as a craftsman, Art developed and built the very first hand auger.
“We’re from a small town with only about 4,500 people,” shares Marc Chipps, Art’s grandson and president of AMS. “The town is mainly comprised of potato farmers and their families, so earlier on, my grandfather catered to the farming community, repairing broken equipment and inventing solutions to increase a farmer’s productivity.”
Filling a Farmer’s Needs
Art’s innovative equipment quickly caught on amongst local farmers. “My father did just about anything that required welding,” recalls Rick Vollweiler, Art’s son and current owner of AMS. “He started making hitches that allowed a person to attach three 12-foot disc gangs together. At the time, a large disk was 12 feet wide. This hitch meant that a farmer could now disc 36 feet at a time; it was a big deal.”
Around the same time, Art also began crafting trailers to transport irrigation pipes; the products were the first to sell outside of Idaho. “The trailers were sold to farmers all over Idaho and northern Nevada,” adds Rick.
One of Art’s most notable inventions to-date is an automatic potato seed cutter, which automatically sizes seed stock and then slices the potato into equal seed sections. However, a meeting with a member of Soil Conservation Services (SCS) would change the direction of AMS. “Although Art originally established the business to create solutions for the agriculture industry, we began to venture into the environmental field in the 1980s,” notes Marc.
A New Niche
In 1980 Art retired and Rick took over the family business. “When Rick bought the company he decided to take things in a different direction because the environmental market was taking off,” explains Marc. “Almost overnight we went from a local machine shop to a manufacturing company, manufacturing and selling our own products for the environmental industry, some of which are still patented to this day. These items include, but are not limited to, soil, soil gas and ground water sampling equipment.”
It is evident that Marc is proud of how far the company has come. “In 1987, when I joined the company, AMS developed a variety of soil-sampling equipment, from soil probes and core samplers to augers,” he continues. “This was the beginning of where we are now, but throughout the integration of these new products we maintained a welding and fabrication facility and continued to repair broken farm equipment.”
AMS has come a long way from the small blacksmith shop in American Falls where it began. Today, the company serves a broad range of industries and international clients with its home office and manufacturing facility in Idaho. “We have distributors and customers all over the globe, in every state and nearly every country,” shares Marc. “Right now, we have guys going to South Africa for training and Rick just got back from China a few weeks ago.”
Filling a Need in Any Market
The tools AMS produces serve clients in archeology, geology, industrial site cleanup, geothermal energy, mineral exploration and soil research, all the way down to golf course and turf maintenance and pest control companies. “What continues to keep us on the cutting edge is we’ve always offered custom-fit solutions,” explains Marc. “Anytime the phone rings, it’s an opportunity. If someone has a need, we’ll fill it and if they have a problem, we’ll custom manufacture a solution. As my grandfather always said, ‘anything we build is a work of art.'”
Marc uses the pest control industry as an example. “Years ago a termite control company came to us because they needed a custom-built auger to drill a certain size hole in the ground,” he recalls. “We came up with a customized solution and we’ve had a longstanding relationship ever since.”
The company’s PowerProbes, PowerCore Systems, hand tooling and well management products have gained widespread acceptance and demand across numerous industries due to versatility, relatively low cost and ease of mobility. Mounted on pickup trucks, trailers or tracks, AMS PowerProbe direct push drill rigs are capable of retrieving soil, soil gas and groundwater samples, as well as conducting a wide variety of environmental and geotechnical drilling activities.
The company’s PowerCore Asphalt & Concrete Coring System is a convenient, cost-efficient method for retrieving core samples of concrete or asphalt from a roadway or airport runway. According to Marc, once that core has been removed the operator can continue boring through the hole to collect undisturbed samples of the base material. Rather than having to remove large sections of the concrete or asphalt, clients can simply bore through a small area of the pavement and collect multiple samples at different intervals.
Marc admits it’s this versatility and range of products that have allowed AMS to remain steady for 72 years. “We are in a special niche market, but when the economy slowed down AMS managed to maintain a full workforce and still experienced growth.”
Economic downturn or not, AMS repeatedly sets its sights on expansion. “Our goal is to continue to grow,” adds Marc. “I’d like to be having this conversation 28 years from now, when AMS is 100 years old. We’re always looking for the next innovative thing and new markets that need our specialized equipment.” For more than 72 years, the company has been finding a need and filling it with a quality product that’s kept AMS Inc. moving forward since Art’s first small shop.
For more information about AMS Inc., please visit: www.ams-samplers.com.
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