From out of a Grant County, a North Dakota dairy farmer becomes a tireless inventor and entrepreneur who is impacting the world’s oil industry.
Seymour Volk’s family and friends say he is always thinking, always looking for a better way to do things. “No means go,” is an expression you’ll hear a lot around Seymour Volk. It’s the fuse that lights his rocket. “Tell him something can’t be done and he’ll prove you wrong,” said his wife Lawana.
Volk’s rocket went off when he was 16 years old; he left the family dairy farm and headed west. Later, he went south and east, exploring a variety of prospects before coming back home to Elgin, North Dakota. Opportunities opened up due to his ability to work hard, a quality he learned as a child. “We never took a day off from milking cows,” Volk said. “I have eleven brothers and sisters and I couldn’t even get off work to go to their weddings – never went to one of their weddings.”
Although he left home with only a junior high education, Volk has natural talents that made up for his short years in the classroom. He became a ranch hand, an oil field worker, a businessman and an inventor. He raised Simmental cattle and worked an oil drilling rig. In Montana he owned and operated a motorcycle and snowmobile repair shop.
His friends and family say the work ethic he learned on the dairy farm and his ability to see a better way to do things are the keys to his success. “I’m impressed with him,” said his marketing director Weston Dent, a former General Motors executive who now lives in Elgin. “He can go into a situation, look at something, and see how it can be improved.” Volk’s creative genius and determination produced several patents that are under his name. Veterinary clinics across the country use his restraint module to gently hold small animals. Farmers and animal control officials use the live trap he invented to catch feral cats in town or skunks out on the farm. It’s rated the number one most humane trap in the world.
Now some people are saying Volk’s latest invention, the Safety Clamp, makes it easier and more environmentally-friendly for oil companies to install tank liners, the massive plastic tarps inside large-volume above-ground open storage tanks. Because they’re so easy to handle and install, Volk’s Safety Clamps are less likely to be dropped on workers below the tank rim than the traditional clumsy models now used in the oil field. Their orange powder coating helps make sure they don’t get lost to rust away in the grass near a tank. Since they are less likely to be dropped, they are also less likely to cause punctures in the plastic liners which, in turn, helps prevent fluid loss and can help protect the environment. Because workers can install them in seconds around the rim of a tank, oil companies are saving money using his invention.
Volk’s determination to build a better clamp was not an overnight success. It took months of continual re-designing and trial and error, not by a team of engineers, but by Volk himself and his sons Steve and Scott. Some nights he’d take the clamp to bed with him. It was the last thing he thought about at night and his first thought in the morning. His successful concentration on an idea such as the Safety Clamp gives energy to one of his mottos, “With determination, dreams come true.”
This summer, Safety Clamps of Elgin, North Dakota is supplying large oil field companies with thousands of the clamps to be used in the Bakken region of North Dakota. He also has orders coming in from Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania oil fields. Companies from Australia, Norway, India, Mexico and Canada are placing orders for thousands of his clamps. Production has expanded outside the Elgin area. He subcontracts the work to companies in several states including North Dakota and South Dakota. Quality assurance is still his responsibility. Every single clamp is handled and inspected in his shops in Elgin and in Bismarck.
He admits this is not the end of his creative stream. Even as the clamps are shipped worldwide, Volk is already dreaming of his next invention. “I’m gonna build something else,” he promises.