Army Skills Apply to Asphalt Maintenance
When Mark Reuss served in the U.S. Army, he never imagined that so many of the skills he’d learned would transfer seamlessly to running a tack coat company. In fact, he never imagined running a tack coat company at all.
Reuss had no prior experience in the paving industry when a friend of his who had grown up in the industry asked Reuss to be his partner on a new venture. They purchased Asphalt Maintenance Services Corp., Mount Vernon, New York, in the late 1990s. Soon after, Reuss bought out his friend and began running AMS on his own.
“I was very much learning as I went in the beginning,” Reuss said. He gave himself a crash course in how to seal, tack coat and line stripe. However, he discovered that many of the skills he honed in the military were also relevant to his new line of work, like having a safety mindset, always being early, setting up a schedule, and following through on a promise.
“I think what I offer my customers is very simple,” Reuss said. “They know they can call me and tell me what they need and that I will get it done.”
Another skill that came in handy was making equipment maintenance a priority. He spent most of his four years in the Army working on helicopters while stationed in Europe. So, Reuss makes a point to teach his drivers how to best maintain the company’s trucks.
Reuss also reiterates the importance of a safety check ahead of each shift and proper clean-up at the end of each shift. “If you do your cleanup right, you’ll be all set for the next day.”
“It can be a complicated machine, but I want them to understand it so they can diagnose problems if they have any out in the field,” he said. “It’s important to know how things operate.”
Just this past fall, this strategy came in handy when the air system on one of the older trucks was freezing up on a job. Reuss was able to walk his driver through the problem by phone and the driver was able to fix the problem on the spot before the paver caught up to him.
Reuss is also a firm believer in having a plan B, and often likes to have two tack trucks on site for particularly important jobs. For example, when his crew was applying tack for a job at Westchester County Airport in the spring of 2020 for Tully Construction.
AMS had just purchased three new distributor trucks from E.D. Etnyre, Oregon, Illinois. The airport job was the first time they’d be using two of those new trucks, and Ruess wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly. It turned out that one of the trucks had a minor issue, which was quickly repaired by the manufacturer under warranty.
“The problem didn’t prevent the truck from working, but I believe in planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said. “When all was said and done, the customer was happy we were prepared with two trucks on the job.”
It was hard to have this mentality in the early days, when Reuss only had one truck available. But now, with eight employees he trusts and eight E.D. Etnyre distributor trucks, it’s become easier to deliver a plan B.
Roughly 70 percent of AMS’s tack work is for towns and counties, and 30 percent, for DOTs.
“Every year, we get busier, and last year  was the busiest ever and a tremendous jump for us,” Reuss said. “With the extra trucks we have now, we think things are going in the right direction.”
More than two decades after Reuss had to quickly learn the hard skills of the asphalt industry, the soft skills and strategies he learned from his time in the military continue to serve him well.
He also recognizes these attributes in many of his current employees, half of whom are also New York City firemen. This works out with the seasonal nature and varying degrees of busyness of this line of work. “They have a very similar mindset,” Reuss said. “They’re always on time and they treat equipment with respect.”
As he looks to the future of AMS, Reuss sees continued growth. “I’d like to hire more veterans in the future,” he said. “If they’re anything like I was when I got out, they would be perfect for these jobs.”
AMS Sells Sealer
AMS sells crack filler in 50-pound boxes and tack coat material in pails, drums and in bulk. The company has an 8,000-gallon storage tank for tack coat at its yard, and material can be picked up at the yard or delivered to the job site. Although Reuss has moved away from selling sealer as the other portions of his business has grown, material sales continue to be a significant part of AMS’s business. Contact Ruess at (914) 667-9044 for more information.