Huge turn-of-the-20th-century mule teams, believe it or not, are not the most interesting aspects of the late Amis Materials Co.’s history and legacy.
Mules don’t come up that often in everyday conversation. They were, however, the first interesting thing in Amis business history. So, David Amis, 82, who ran the company since 1985, and I talked about mules for a minute Friday morning.
His grandfather, R.T. Amis, and great-uncle, Gil Amis, started the family business in Roswell, N.M., as a drayage and commercial construction company. It shut down last summer.
Robert Hawks Auction Co. — www.hawksauction.com/ — will sell excavators, trucks, trailers and other equipment at 10 a.m. Wednesday at 1647 Exchange Ave., where Amis Materials Co. has been located since 1946.
Drayage doesn’t come up that often in everyday conversation, but then it’s not every day that you start out talking about a 112-year-old business that started out with a bunch of mules — more than 100 of the critters.
“Drayage” is the short-haul trucking of goods and materials — by carts pulled by dray horses or mules back in the day, by short-haul truckers moving containerized goods between long-haul freighters today.
Amis rattled off some other technical terms, like “shooting,” which, in excavation and blasting, is what you do with ammonium nitrate as a blasting agent to have your way with the earth for, say, a new highway, a dam, runway or what have you.
Amis Materials Co. did more than its share of it over the past 112 years. The story ends in 2012 with David Amis and his wife, Susan, since none of their children are interested in keeping it going.
The family business went from Roswell to Kansas City, Mo., around 1910-12 to do work for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway; then to Muskogee and eventually to Watonga, Waurika, Chickasha, Woodward — Coldwater, Kan., was somewhere in there — before coming to Oklahoma City and staying in 1940.
David Amis’s father, W.D. “Bill” Amis, then ran the business, which had around 500 employees at its peak. Oklahoma City was the base for work in Texas, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and all over the country, David Amis said.
He said he “broke in” to the business in 1957 by leading work on a highway job through 9,426-foot Rabbit Ears Pass, straddling the Continental Divide in northern Colorado.
“Aero Commander” doesn’t often come up in conversation nowadays, although it was probably a household word in Bethany in the 1950s. It seemed natural, though, recalling the highlights of a 112-year-old family concern. R.T. Amis Jr. started Aero Design & Engineering Co. in 1950. By 1951, the twin-engine planes, comparable to Cessna, Beech and Piper, were rolling off a plant floor near what is now Wiley Post Airport.
President Eisenhower used Aero Commanders as his personal transport starting in 1955. Rockwell bought the company in 1958 and later became a division of Gulfstream Aerospace, which shut down in 2002.
The most visible result of Amis work is along Interstate 35 in southern Oklahoma where it runs clean through the Arbuckle Mountains and their banded and faulted layers of granite, limestone, dolomite, glass sand, sand and gravel and shale.
The eeriest? The structural excavation that Amis Materials did for nuclear missile bases — silo systems with names like the Atlas E “coffin launcher” series, the Atlas F “superhardened” series, and the largest, the Titan 1 with its two-story Power Dome and two-story Control Dome.
Amis Materials, RIP.