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The Obstacle of Progress (Part 5)

Last month I asked you to take a few moments to Google the Ames brothers and read the fascinating story that describes these pioneers of the drywall industry. In doing so you would have followed the development of what has come to be known as Ames Taping Tools. It is well worth your time and suits the subject matter of this series very well. In addition, it finally zeros in on the subject of drywall as opposed to the vast array of applications I’ve made thus far, which I’m certain to some, seemingly has little to do with our profession.

I did say “seemingly” since that impression is a misconception; actually there is a constant and apparent application to us as drywall contractors throughout this series. Anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit should grasp the importance of the concepts highlighted herein, at least to some extent. There is one caveat: The reader, the businessperson in question, must be passionate about revolutionizing their craft. He must be passionate enough to ignore the obstacle of progress!

Resisting Progress

So then, did you read the Ames brothers’ story? Probably not, so then let me just tell you what you’ll find if you care to look. You’ll see that the first prototype of the automatic taper, commonly called the bazooka, weighed more than 100 pounds and was battery operated. It was impractical—and rejected for obvious reasons. But they were onto something, and in spite of the naysayers, they persisted and resisted the resistance. Sound familiar? That is not unlike the innovators and inventors throughout all time, is it?

I can also tell you firsthand that there was a lot of resistance to Ames tools throughout the country that lingered for decades. In my earliest days as a tradesman, let’s say the summer of 1968 through the mid 1970s, Ames tools were being used throughout California. However, I will never forget a telephone conversation I had with a few contractors around the nation during a slowdown when I was desperately searching nearby states for work.

I got this one contractor just about to the point where I thought I’d get hired when he asked me pointedly, “Can you use your tools?”

I replied, “I certainly can. I use all the Ames tools.”

He snapped back at me in a sharp tone, ranting, “I’m not talking about those damn Ames tools! I’m talking about a hawk and trowel.”

I shriveled and bashfully admitted I had never used them, and that was the end of that.

Throughout my union apprenticeship and as a journeyman on the West Coast, we used Ames tools and a pan and various knives. We didn’t hand tape with a hawk and trowel. The contractor who disagreed with that approach was stuck in the past and, consequently, I remained unemployed for the time being.

For the true leader, there comes a time when you know full well that there is a better way, and people—even good people—don’t like change. But truth be told, there is no such thing as progress without change!

Change Is Good

As if I hadn’t already made the point well enough, let me give you another very relevant example: the invention of drywall itself. In the interests of time and space, let me paraphrase an interesting article but do take the time to Google “How Drywall Works” by Bambi Turner. The article is titled “History of Drywall.”

Drywall was invented by USG in 1916. Plaster interiors were typically done at the time, and drywall was rejected for nearly 25 years before being used in any substantial quantity—25 years! In the meanwhile, the name was changed to Sheetrock to bolster its image, but builders and homeowners continued to reject it, even though there were obvious numerous benefits and substantial time and cost savings.

It wasn’t until the United States became involved in the Second World War that builders came around to the benefits of using drywall. Inexpensive building materials that were easy to install were needed to offset the labor shortage and war costs, so people began to use drywall instead of plaster. Huh … Really? It’s true!

I think I’ll wrap this subject up next month with that story I’ve been promising you, the one about the anonymous contractor who felt as though he spent his entire career struggling with the obstacle of progress.

Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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