Utah retailer overcomes geography to celebrate 20 years in propane

December 5, 2012 By    

Basin Propane Systems owner Scott Sowards added a 1939 Butler Corp. propane tank to a 1951 International truck for a local parade.

The Uintah Basin in eastern Utah poses some unique geographical challenges for Basin Propane Systems, a retailer that serves about 2,000 customers in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Based in the city of Vernal, a place owner Scott Sowards refers to as the largest city in the United States without a railroad, Basin Propane is forced to truck all of its propane into the basin. Bobtail drivers are faced with steep mountain passes, including one that’s 8,700 feet, as they come and go from the basin. So they’ll chain their tires to overcome the lack of four-wheel drive and make maneuverability more manageable.

The lack of an available offloading rail facility also keeps Basin Propane continuously on the move to keep its own storage capacities full. Fortunately for Basin Propane, it’s developed a sales strategy that balances delivery throughout more of the year versus focusing heavily on delivery during cold-weather months.

“In the West, we don’t contract with our customers and we don’t contract our gas,” Sowards says. “We basically run a special in the summer and try to get it to everyone cheap. It keeps us busy in the offseason. Also, when you have a snowstorm, the phone’s not ringing off the hook.”

The balanced strategy gives Basin Propane a better shot to maintain its eight employees throughout the year, too.

“During slower times, we’ll maintain our tanks and work our trucks over to get them ready,” Sowards says. “If anything’s in our yard that needs tending, we’ll take care of that.”

This past summer, Sowards used some of his downtime to replicate a mid-20th-century propane delivery truck to participate in a commercial vehicles parade that commemorated another one that occurred 60 years earlier.

Sowards pieced together a 1951 International truck and a 1939 Butler Corp. propane tank, transforming them into a blast-from-the-past parade vehicle – and an ideal Basin Propane Systems advertisement – after polishing the tank’s brass parts and applying fresh paint to it.

The truck itself needed plenty of mechanical work too, but Sowards eventually got it to run after some handy work. He acquired the truck in somewhat unusual fashion.

“I’m driving down the road one day, and I see this truck going down the road on a flatbed,” Sowards says. “Scrap prices are really high right now, so I was thinking surely he’s not taking that truck to the scrapyard.”

With his curiosity piqued, Sowards made a U-turn and chased the truck down. The driver was headed to the scrapyard after all, and Sowards negotiated a deal to purchase the truck for the price the scrapyard intended to pay.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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