Angus McColl graciously got out of his vehicle in the mid-day blazing heat of July in Denver, having driven to a parking lot not far from his business to rescue a lost sheep, taking pity on the writer who followed all the directions to McColl's business near I-25, except one.
This College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Outstanding Alumni Award recipient with the iconical first name of Angus has been a stalwart of the U.S. wool business for decades.
"The Angus McColl-led transition to an internationally accepted standard was instrumental in stopping the extinction of the wool business in the USA," states Terry Martin of Anodyne Inc. of San Angelo, Texas.
Adds Rick Powers, trading manager at Lempriere USA Inc., "Without his testing house, our business would completely stop. I just want to thank Angus for his dedication over the years."
And one more - "For nearly 50 years, the entire U.S. wool industry has depended upon Angus as contracts are written and value is determined," wrote Larry Prager, president of the UW Alumni Association and general manager of Center of the Nation Wool Inc. of Belle Fourche, South Dakota. "Millions and millions of pounds of wool have gone to market with the stamp of Yocum-McColl test results. Few can comprehend the importance of Angus' role."
For now, McColl, who graduated in 1960 with a bachelor's degree in animal science, acted as shepherd leading the writer to Yocum-McColl Testing Laboratories Inc., the center of wool testing activity in the United States. A wide range of wool samples awaited for average fiber diameter, staple length and strength, as did llama, cashmere, llama, and alpaca samples. McColl has contributed to several studies that changed the way animal fibers are sampled, tested, and sold, says Professor Christopher of the Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University in San Angelo.
Those studies included evaluation and different coring tube sizes for sampling wool in bags and bales; evaluation of instruments that use laser and automatic image analysis to measure characteristics of animal fibers; and new studies about near-infrared reflection spectrometry for clean yield, ash content and residual grease in wool, as well as evaluation of developing technologies to measure luster in alpaca and mohair.
"The core tests his lab issues report fiber fineness detail and percentage of yield," notes Prager. "The values our producers receive each year for their wool depend on the accuracy of the test results. The wool mills that purchase the wool also depend on the test results as different wool lots are combined for processing. The entire wool marketing chain takes for granted the accuracy and integrity of Yocum-McColl because we know Angus McColl and his clinical procedures are in place. Even our export customers accept his tests without question. Yocum-McColl is truly an international business, and his reputation is known wherever fiber testing is to be done."
Not more than nine years after emigrating to the U.S. from Scotland (see related story), McColl became co-owner of Yocum-McColl in 1964 with his former manager, Ira Yocum. The original building was on Blake Street, and, in 1972, the business moved to West Elk Place, both locations close to downtown Denver.
McColl, drawing upon his experience working with machinery on his grandfather's farm in Scotland, designed many of the machines in his shop because he knew what he wanted was not available.
"I went to a machine shop and found someone good with machines," he says. "I told him what I needed."
He easily ticks off the major changes that propelled Yocum-McColl to the forefront: the development of the subsampler for reducing wool samples to meet testing specifications and the introduction of the Sirolan LaserScan to measure fiber diameter.
Measuring the fiber diameter of wool had been a laborious process - individual operators sat in the dark peering at images of wool hairs displayed onto a flat surface by microprojectors. The operator would then hand-measure and then record up to 800 hairs per sample.
McColl knew there was a better way. When Professor Robert Stobart in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Wyoming asked if McColl would be interested in bringing a laser scanner into the country, he jumped at the chance.
"He asked if I was interested in working with the University of Wyoming, and I replied, ‘You bet I would!'" McColl says. "I told him what I would like to do is have the LaserScan with the understanding we would keep it long enough so the mills could use it in their quality control labs."
The Sirolan LaserScan had arrived in the U.S. duty-free because it was used to be used for education. When the LaserScan had to be returned to Australia, McColl found out how much the machine cost and purchased it.
"That way we exposed wool industry people to the instrument and what it could do," he recalls. "From then on, it was a big turning point in the whole testing procedure. We were getting swamped with the projection microscopes. At that time, I was also voting on two instruments that were being accepted into international trials for fiber measurement (Sirolan LaserScan and OFDA100). We actually participated in international trials, and we were right on the money on both instruments, which gave us a lot of confidence the new laser scanning and image analysis instruments would work for us here."
Getting involved in the alpaca industry was a second major development. "It helped us tremendously," he says. Individual animal fiber measurements for alpacas, angora goats, llamas, and, of course, sheep, expanded the customer base of Yocum-McColl in the U.S. and abroad.
Since 2007, the facility has provided fiber testing for expected progeny differences (EPD programs). He has been a proponent of using wool samples as a means for selecting animals and has written articles and given numerous talks to producers on the value of measurement of objective measurement in their selection programs.