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Standing the test of time

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Long-lasting cranes give venerable propane company a lift

Written by: Troy Johnson, Two Rivers Marketing

In the spring of 2006, a thief struck respected northwest Georgia propane provider Judd & Sims Inc., making off with a service truck loaded with a telescopic crane, trencher and tools. 
 
Beau Sims glumly prepared to say goodbye to the custom service body and crane that had performed so reliably since the mid-1980s.

“That was our horse,” said Sims, a company leader. “I called (Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. local distributor representative David Nichols) about it right away and said, ‘Dave, maybe the time has come.’”
 
But crime couldn’t stop the ticking of the equipment’s clock.

Two weeks after the incident, police nabbed the perpetrator and recovered the stolen unit, which was gutted of tools but undamaged. Today, 25 years after purchasing the body and crane, Judd & Sims is still using them to provide propane delivery and service to more than 7,000 residential and commercial customers in 12 counties.
 
Sims chuckled while looking back on the ordeal, but he turned serious when asked about the good fortune of his 86-year-old company.
 
“We’ve been very blessed,” Sims said. “We’ve been able to stay in business through all this. We’ve been around a long time, and we hope to stay here awhile.”
 
Trendsetters

Sims’ grandfather co-founded Dalton-based Judd & Sims in 1924 as a distributor of Texaco fuel oils, lubricants and gasoline.
 
Beau worked at Judd & Sims in the summers as a young man but went his own way after college. When he returned home from South Carolina in 1985 to take a position at Judd & Sims, he was thinking forward and eager to make a difference. He didn’t want the industry to leave the company behind.
 
“I had a burr under my saddle as a late 20-something that we had to modernize,” Sims said. “It was, ‘Hey, we’re going to get a computer’ and ‘We’re going to get a new boom truck.’ At the time, it was just a way to advance.”
 
Service trucks designed specifically for the propane industry are still emerging. For example, in 2009, service-truck and crane manufacturer Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT) released a propane body capable of transporting one 500-gallon propane tank or up to 13 100-pound propane cylinders with the assistance of a telescopic crane.
 
So Judd & Sims was well ahead of the times with its purchase of an IMT 2115 articulating crane and an IMT 2015 telescopic crane in 1985 and 1986, respectively. The company mounted each crane on a 1-ton truck chassis, forming new vehicles for moving propane tanks to a customer’s home or factory.
 
“We kind of got in on (the trend) early, and a lot of people have gone to it,” Sims said.

Long-term solution
 
The innovation quickly boosted productivity and expanded the capabilities of Judd & Sims, which offers underground and above-ground tanks for homes and small business heating applications, cylinder exchange for forklifts and poultry-farm heating.
 
Before acquiring the cranes, the company delivered tanks to residential-heating customers — its largest customer base — in a traditional manner.
 
“Everybody has a trailer they set propane tanks with — it’s got a hoist mounted over two wheels and you back the tank over,” Sims said. “That’s what we were using up until ’85. We thought, ‘You know, we can do this better.’
 
“(The old way) was labor intensive, for one, and you put a guy out there with a truck and a trailer and he’s backing around in their yard, he’s going to miss two or three times. So we’re sitting there cutting up their yard.
 
“It was a lot of work to tote those things around. It was a manual winch, with a block on it. It was great that we grew up into those cranes to haul them.”
 
The cranes have made the delivery process more efficient for Judd & Sims and more convenient for its residential customers. The cranes’ reach has enabled the company to place tanks — ranging from 120 gallons (360 pounds) to 500 gallons (1,200 pounds) — in places previously inaccessible without significant manual labor. Meanwhile, the trucks have tread more lightly on customer property than the truck-and-trailer combination.
 
“If you put this on a six-wheel truck, it leaves less of an imprint out there and then you can reach out with that crane, too,” Sims said. “You can put the tank in a place where you weren’t able to back over it with a trailer. You can put it up against their fence line, or smaller tanks you can put right against the house without having to manhandle it over.”
 
The method and equipment have been working for 25 years and counting, helping Judd & Sims endure — and thrive.
 
‘Amazed’
 
When not serving residential customers, Judd & Sims covers the propane needs of the “Carpet Capital of the World.”
 
The company’s commercial customers include carpet mills in and around Dalton, which bills itself as the “Carpet Capital of the World.” According to Dalton’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 90 percent of the functional carpet produced in the world is made within a 65-mile radius of the city, which is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
 
Judd & Sims once employed the cranes to deliver 500-gallon drift tanks to some of the region’s 150 carpet mills. Factories would draw from the tanks to fill the propane cylinders that fuel their forklifts. There are more safety measures in place nowadays, so Judd & Sims provides cylinder exchange to keep the forklifts on the move and productive.
 
Though the construction-industry downturn and recent trending toward hard-surface floors have negatively impacted the carpet industry — forcing the closure of numerous mills — focus on residential customers has enabled Judd & Sims to stand the test of time.

Working with reliable, long-lasting equipment has helped, too. One of the cranes is on its fourth chassis and the other is on its third. The return on investment went off the charts years ago.

“These are the only two cranes we’ve ever had,” Sims said. “We do tend to take better care of our equipment than the next guy down the street, but we are really amazed that this has not been a big expense for us to have to replace these things over and over again. We’ve certainly been very pleased that they lasted this long.”

You might even call the equipment a steal.