Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shovels: From Blacksmith to Holding Company

Josh M. sent me an email to say the post man just delivered his new Ames Pony shovel. Excellent!

A good shovel is the second most important tool you can have in your working terrier kit -- right after a small dog from working lines. On that last score, Josh also followed advice, and picked up a pup from David Mason down in Tennessee. Josh was looking for a small brown rough-coated Patterdale, and there are not a lot of those, but Dave was a reliable name, and the dog is small enough to get anywhere. My bet is that it will finally tip the scale at 10-11 pounds, which is perfect for groundhogs here on the East Coast. Different horses for different courses, but I have never known anyone to want a larger dog, and quite a few to want a smaller!

Back to shovels.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese-made shovels to be had these days, but give them a pass. A good shovel will last a lifetime, and you will know the difference if you dig a few hundreds holes. I value my Ames Pony, not only for the memories I have had with it, but for the solid weight of the blade and the look of the solid ash handle.

Ames has been making shovels since before the American Revolution, and for that alone an Ames Pony is the right tool for terrier work.

  • In 1774, blacksmith and Revolutionary War Captain John Ames begins making iron-bladed shovels in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
  • In 1803, Oliver Ames (son of Capt. John) comes to Easton, Massachusetts to convert a bankrupt nail factory on the opposite side of what was to become "Shovel Shop Pond: to establish the “O. Ames” company to make shovels.
  • In 1852, fire devastated the factory and they built what became known as "the Long Shop" to replace it.
  • In 1870, the Ames shovel company is producing over 5,000 shovels per day, and the company is producing 60% of the world’s shovels.
  • In 1901, the Ames Shovel and Tool Co. forms from merging with shovel companies in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, Maine, and Texas.
  • In 1931, at the height of the Depression, the company reorganizes as Ames, Baldwin, Wyoming Co., as it merges with shovel makers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The Corporate Headquarters is moved from Easton, Massachusetts to Parkersburg, West Virginia.
  • From 1941-45 the Ames company makes 11 million entrenching tools for the US Army. 
  • In the 1950s. the Ames company ceased being a family owned company, and ownership changes and product line acquisitions fueled a diversified entry into the larger hand tool and hardware market.
  • In 1999, Ames purchased True Temper from the Huffy Corporation and the "Ames True Temper" company headquarters was moved to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
  • In 2005, the Ames company closed its Parkersburg, West Virginia shovel works when cheap Chinese imports killed the factory.
  • In 2010, the Ames True Temper company was purchased by the "Griffon Corporation," a diversified management and holding company.

  • So, to summarize, the old Ames shovel company has gone the way of all things and is now a faceless conglomerate competing head-to-head with companies in China, and around the world, where workers are happy to sleep 20 to a room, and where meal time is a bowl of rice and a fish head on top.

    The good news is that at the very top of their line, they still make a very good shovel.  Not cheap, but worth it if you are going to be a serious digger.


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