Sampling Associates International

Before 1980 coal sampling in the Tidewater area of Virginia (and, indeed, on all the coal terminals in the United States), was strictly limited to “car top” sampling from railroad cars as well as stockpile sampling. However, these sampling methods are deemed less reliable than other higher order sampling techniques such as mechanical full stream cutting. Many different firms in the area competed to provide this car topping service and, after proper vetting, each was allowed on terminal properties to perform the required work. However, with the advent of large mechanical sampling systems into the industry, which could provide a higher order of sampling reliability, the railroad companies came under pressure from overseas buyers to install such systems at their terminals. While the terminal managers recognized the need for 3rd party sampling and analysis, they also recognized that the large capital outlays required for such systems generally exceeded the ability of commercial labs to fund. The rail companies also feared having subcontractor equipment integrally imbedded in their own facility. As such, they opted to finance (own) and install the systems themselves and then contract out the use and maintenance to the commercial labs. Moreover, it was quickly realized that use of the same equipment by many differing companies was a recipe for confusion and disaster and, consequently, they elected to have the commercial labs bid against each other to compete for exclusive operation and maintenance contracts.

This innovation (mechanical sampling) clearly favored the laboratory company with the most customers (and particularly overseas customers) who could influence the railroads in their decision about which laboratory to award the contract. At that time, Commercial Testing and Engineering Company headquartered in Chicago, Illinois was many times larger then other potential bidders with much greater international recognization and, consequently, was seen as the probable winner of these contracts. This was seen as harbinger of complete collapse of the market for the myriad smaller laboratories.

In short order, a few of these smaller firms began to discuss with each other the possibility of cooperating by collectively bidding the sampling contracts and remaining independent with regard to analyses. This strategy was also presented to the railroads who, in turn, agreed that this arrangement made for stronger bid packages and eventually would be acceptable to a larger number of terminal customers.

In 1982 several like minded firms in the tidewater met to discuss the situation and they decided to form a company to bid these new sampling contracts collectively. The new company adopted the name, “Sampling Associates International” (SAI) and comprised Andrew McCreath and Sons, Inc., Hamption Roads Testing Laboratories Inc, Std Labs, and Tidewater Coal Inspection Bureau.

Each of these companies brought unique backgrounds and histories and specific customer relations to the new corporation. Norfolk Testing, a division of McCreath, was probably the largest and oldest lab in the area and its manager, Joe Gatling, was named SAI’s first president. Hampton Roads Testing was managed by Robert Lanier and his brother-in-law, Dan Mooza and their firm had a long family history in the area.

Standard Labs was predominantly doing work in the interior of the country with only one branch lab in the Tidewater area and as a part of the deal agreed to close that branch and become a partner of SAI.

Tidewater Coal Inspection Bureau was also a closely held family concern dating back to 1957 and was managed by Carlisle Wroton and his brother, William Wroton.

SAI prepared bid proposals and was successful in winning all of the contracts in the Tidewater area with the exception of Dominion Coal Terminal. Shortly thereafter, Joe Gatling died and an employee of Hampton Roads Testing, Jay Williams, was made President. After a couple of years Jay was replaced by Paul Reagan who made the partnership a very successful venture.

SAI’s creation was unique, and it remains as such to this day. Four companies combined their experience in coal sampling and analysis to create an entity focused on providing the best available mechanical sampling services to an ever-growing energy market. In their own right, each partner company was already well-respected from their decades of professional service in laboratory analysis, sampling and inspection, and in their contributions to ASTM and ISO standards. To this day, SAI’s success remains rooted in the continuing support of those founding partners.