Midwest Equipment Sales
Jim Ashmus • 262-859-1888
“Grandpa was a gold miner,” Jim Ashmus said
as a prelude to the family’s history in the recycling business,
“He went into recycling after World War II.” That business started
off recycling the surplus army equipment left after the war.
“He traveled all over the world,” Ashmus said.
That business later transitioned into buying,
selling and recycling mining equipment; a natural choice considering
grandpa had worked in the mining business and had hands-on experience
with the equipment.
“Mom and dad owned a sand and gravel pit,”
Ashmus continued. “I was sort of born into the recycling business.”
But like his father before him, Ashmus’s father also transitioned
his business into something else. “In 1962, my father bought
the property here,” Ashmus said, referring to his current site
in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Ashmus’s uncle started a business
making conveyor belting, continuing with the family’s interest
in equipment used in the mining industry.
“I worked for my father for pennies,” Ashmus
said of his early years. “All I knew was that I was going to
learn a trade.” His father’s business was involved in building
conveyors, often for the mining industry, but also for recycling.
Ashmus said that in the 70s, the recycling
conveyor business really took off. “We built conveyors for the
largest recyclers in the world.” While the need for recycling
conveyors ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, it always
remained part of the company’s focus.
In 1996, Ashmus’s father was thinking about
retirement, and Ashmus bought the business. “We’re still building
recycling conveyors and recycling plants all over the world,”
he said. Ashmus rattled off a mind-boggling list of countries
where he has customers, and ended with “every island in the Caribbean,”
an impressive accomplishment for a company that has had a maximum
of 13 employees during its lifespan.
“We take new and used surplus parts from
power plants, mines, iron ore plants, post offices, quarries
– anyone who uses conveyors,” Ashmus said. Those conveyors are
shipped out as-is, or reconditioned for resale. “There are not
a lot of people doing what we do.”
Twenty years ago, Ashmus was the one who
went to jobsites to tear out the equipment, but “now I instruct
people how to repair it,” Ashmus said. Customers come from all
over the world to buy the refurbished equipment because “it costs
a fraction of what it costs new – and some of what I have is
Ashmus said that he never did well when he
was in school, but he credits a good friend and mentor for helping
him learn about engineering, and for giving him an important
life lesson as well. He quoted that friend, Glen, as saying,
“Jimmy, nobody in the world can take away what you know.” Ashmus
took that to heart and started learning as much as he could about
the conveyors he was selling.
“My dad guessed at horsepower, ratios, etc.,”
Ashmus said. But he wanted to do better, so whenever he did some
work for Glen, he asked to be paid back in information. Glen
was an engineer with advanced degrees, and he gave Ashmus lessons
on horsepower, torque, ratios and how all of that related to
the conveyors Ashmus was buying and selling.
Now, even though he doesn’t have a formal
education on the subject, he’s proud of what he has learned.
“The greatest feeling in the world is helping people solve their
problems,” Ashmus said. “People call with problems and I don’t
even need the fact book any more. I astonish them.”
Even though the business has been around
since 1962 under his father’s ownership, and since 1996 as his
own venture, Ashmus insisted, “We’re just starting – I just bought
out my father, and it took me ten years to buy him out.”
“We buy it right and we sell it right,” Ashmus
said of his business philosophy. “We learned by our mistakes,
and that’s why we do it right, now. We stand behind what we sell.”
He also said that his broad distribution is a great sales tool,
because when someone comes to him to buy, “you give them references
in their home town.”
The Ashmus family saga isn’t over yet. Ashmus
has two sons, aged 18 and 20, who are becoming interested in
the business. “They’re young, yet,” Ashmus said. “I wasn’t serious
until I was 20.” Both sons are in college, and both are working
part time for the business at the same time.
While his original business sold a lot of
equipment to the mining industry where his grandfather started
out, the customer base has shifted. “Ninety-five percent of our
business is now recycling and five percent is mining. It used
to be the opposite.”
But it’s not all about the business. The
engineering knowledge he picked up along the way has turned into
a bit of a hobby as well. “I’m kind of an eccentric,” Ashmus
said, “with the things that I build.”