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A day on the job at Linden’s Propane

February 22, 2016 By    

I felt larger than life.

Having never ridden in a bobtail or anything remotely similar prior to visiting Linden’s Propane Inc., I was in unfamiliar territory looking out at the road from the passenger seat of the Ohio company’s 2014 Freightliner truck. I enjoyed seeing the farmland in Wellington, Ohio, from up high as the bobtail drove down country roads on a December day.

Gary Farner, a Linden’s Propane delivery driver, says the area was a little unfamiliar to him, as well.

Farner seldom delivers propane to this particular community. He and another employee devote most of their time serving the southern portion of the company’s customer base from its West Salem location. Routing software and GPS devices help him with any unfamiliarity, especially on a day when the company has welcomed LP Gas magazine staff for a tour and ride-along.

On a typical day, though, Farner says he and the other employee at West Salem deliver fuel in a 30-mile radius.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but you add up all the stops, I can easily put 125 miles on my truck each day,” he says. “On a rough winter day, that can get nerve-wracking with bad roads.”

People at Linden’s Propane say Farner is one of the company’s safest drivers. He has only been driving a bobtail for three years, but he takes safety seriously and enjoys taking Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) classes with the Ohio Propane Gas Association to advance his knowledge and skills.

“Safety makes sense to me,” he says. “It doesn’t pay to get in an incident, especially with propane, because things can go really wrong on the road if you’re not careful.”

As a proponent of safety, Farner took caution while driving around a less-familiar community, double-checking all addresses before stopping to deliver fuel. If we approached a house with a long, winding driveway, Farner would back in very slowly.

After the first two stops, Farner could tell I wasn’t too fond of working outside. I would shudder and hesitate a little before climbing down from the bobtail at a stop. Still, I lucked out on this ride, with a mild, sunny day.

While driving through downtown Wellington, Farner mentions how the slow start to winter has been a little alarming at Linden’s Propane. He says the Energy Distribution Partners (EDP) company is keeping busy, but it’s definitely not like the last two winters he’s worked there. Usually, the winter heating season ramps up in October, but this winter it hardly started, even by mid-December, Farner says.

The past two winters, Farner made almost 30 stops a day in December. This season, he made between 15 and 18 stops a day during the month.

“A lot of customers will wait until it actually snows or gets seriously cold to call us,” he says. “We seem to be functioning fine on business, even though it’s slower. The only difference is we’re not pulling the 10-hour days like we did the last two winters.”

Linden’s Propane delivers fuel primarily to residential accounts, though it has a handful of agricultural and autogas accounts.

During the ride-along, we stop only at rural residential accounts to fill 500-gallon tanks. The stops went smoothly. Farner made 40 to 65 percent fills on the tanks on most stops.

I decide to ask Farner how he was able to bear sub-zero-degree temperatures the last two winters, especially with those being his first years on the job as a propane driver and technician.

“I’m an outdoor person and don’t like being inside,” he says. “The 2013-14 winter was my first. Challenging is how I describe it. But I would say the winter of 2014-15 was worse because the ice outside never thawed. It was constant ice. I’m glad my first two winters were challenging. It’s like nothing could get much worse.”

Prior to leaving, Farner tries to say hello to customers, let them know he has their bill and hand them a 2016 calendar, courtesy of Linden’s Propane. Only one of the five customers was home, but Farner says that tends to be typical for midday on a Wednesday.

In the West Salem area, though, Farner sees customers more regularly. This is especially the case on cold, snowy days when customers might be waiting for their propane. During the winter of 2014-15, one woman rushed outside as soon as she saw Farner’s bobtail, extremely thankful he had arrived to refill her tank.

“She said, ‘I could hug and kiss you for coming so soon!’” he says, laughing. “I saw she had a plateful of cookies with her, so I said, ‘Oh, that’s not necessary, but I’ll take some cookies.’”

Farner says that sort of customer appreciation is possibly the most rewarding aspect of his job.

“You wouldn’t think it, but they’re so thrilled to see the propane guy,” he says. “You feel important because they value you. So to me, what matters most is if customers got their propane.

“Even if I make dozens of stops in one day with no break, I’m glad our customers can rest easy with their supply of propane.”

Meet the driver

Gary Farner started at Linden’s Propane in October 2013. He works at the company’s West Salem, Ohio, location with one other driver. His first career was in the steel industry. About 10 years ago, he switched lines of work and became a milk truck driver. Farner says he always wanted to drive a truck or operate heavy machinery, so this line of work suits him. In his spare time, Farner enjoys camping with family and friends.

About the Author:

Megan Smalley was an associate editor at LP Gas magazine.

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