The Abenaqui Carriers Inc acquisition of 39 propane and 10 petroleum tank trailers from P&H Transportation Inc in October will double the North Hampton, New Hampshire, company's assets. The purchase is in keeping with Abenaqui's record of growth over the past eight years.

"What has helped us grow is our dedication to customer service," says Curtis Marston, president of the family-owned business. "Now, we will be able to expand our service into the northwestern territories of New England."

Until the purchase of the propane tank trailers, Abenaqui operated primarily as a for-hire carrier hauling gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel. The assets from P&H Transportation, based in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, will allow expansion into the propane industry and widen the petroleum distribution. This market is expected to offer excellent potential for distribution of these products within the Northeast. Abenaqui will be working with Jerry Davichik, general manager for the P&H facility, and P&H's former staff to continue current operations, which will include company drivers and owner-operators who were employed by P&H.

Curtis and his brother, Paul Marston Jr, founded the company eight years ago. The brothers learned the carrier business from their father, Paul Sr, a former trucking company owner, who continues to offer advice. Operations manger, Rick James, works closely with Curtis and Paul Jr in overseeing the day-to-day operations to ensure the quality of service that the company requires. Curtis relies heavily on Rick's input, guidance, knowledge, and experience concerning the daily operations surrounding all aspects of Abenaqui, including current and upcoming acquisitions. Another part of the mix is the expertise of Jack Foley, safety/personnel director. Foley brings many years of experience from Coastal Tank Lines.

"His knowledge and experience in the industry are valuable assets to Abenaqui," says Curtis.

Add the ability of drivers, dispatchers, and administrative personnel and the company's success formula is complete.

Today, Abenaqui hauls product for 50-plus customers throughout the New England area and as far south as New Jersey and New York. The major companies include Sprague Energy, Mobil Oil, Irving Oil, Motiva (Texaco) Enterprises, AV Fuel Corporation, and Coastal Oil & Refining, as well as smaller privately held companies. Abenaqui will be expanding into Canada with its new acquisition of P&H to extend its delivery program of all commodities.

About 300 million gallons of refined petroleum is delivered annually, including distillates, gasoline, jet fuel, and aviation fuel. Product is transported to various gasoline stations, petroleum bulk plants, and regional and private airports.

Shipments of aviation fuels are delivered to military facilities at Bangor and Brunswick, Maine; Quonset Point (North Kingstown), Rhode Island; and Pease (Newington), New Hampshire. Regional airports are also served, including Portland, Maine; Manchester,

New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island; and Boston, Massachusetts. "Although Abenaqui's growth has been driven by a healthy market, the emphasis on quality customer service has enabled the business to keep pace with competition," Curtis says. "Customer service is directly related to the positive attitude and commitment demonstrated by all of the company's employees in their various departments."

Deliveries of aviation fuel to both government, regional, and private airports are especially demanding, calling for specific driver training because of strict safety regulations governing the fuel loading and unloading procedures. The company has 15 tank trailers that are dedicated to hauling jet fuel and aviation fuel to various airports and government installations.

Although Abenaqui drivers do not conduct the required fuel contaminants tests at the terminal, they are trained to understand the process and observe the terminal personnel while performing these tests. "We want our drivers to always be very aware of the responsibility of the integrity of the fuel," says Curtis.

Before the loading process begins, terminal personnel check the trailer by drawing samples to verify that the trailer does not contain any tank heel. They examine hose plugs, check prior bill of lading for last product delivered, and inspect the outside and inside of the trailer for cleanliness. After the product is loaded, the driver takes a sample of the fuel from the trailer, which is given to the terminal personnel for testing. Terminal personnel then record the product temperature, gravity, and appearance.

Once the product has been accepted by both parties, the valves are sealed, either by the driver or terminal employee, depending on the specific terminal's procedures. All seal numbers are recorded on the bill of lading and manifest for the customer to confirm and inspect. Every fixed base operator (FBO) requires someone from its personnel to be present when the driver is unloading the product. Not only are the drivers responsible for the fuel, they are also required to uphold the appearance of the tank trailer.

Some terminals like Sprague Energy offer training programs for all interested companies that haul and deliver aviation products to ensure their personnel understand the procedures. Selecting prospective drivers who can fulfill the requirements is a top priority at Abenaqui. Rick James and Jack Foley manage the driver recruitment process. James oversees the training programs.

"It takes about six months to a year for a newly hired driver to be completely trained in all aspects of the work," Foley says. After drivers have completed the training process, they still have to complete a 120-day probationary period.

Abenaqui requires all drivers to be over 25 years old and have a commercial driver license with tank and hazardous materials endorsements. Drivers are required to have at least two years of over-the-road experience, including hauling hazardous materials. Applicants receive various background checks, including previous employment history, drug-alcohol testing, driver and criminal records, and any other relevant information to help Abenaqui decide if the prospective new hire will benefit the company and the industry.

New hires receive a complete training program in regard to the transportation and delivery processes of all hazardous materials, which includes handling of aviation fuels, gasoline, distillates, and propane. They also receive training as specified by federal regulations for hazardous materials. In addition, they are trained in communication techniques and administrative procedures that benefit both the customer and Abenaqui.

Abenaqui Carriers schedules its trucks as a slip-seat operations, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Drivers are scheduled on a five-day work week, typically with two days off back-to-back. The company employs 40 fulltime and 10 part-time drivers and has agreements with 60 owner-operators. Deliveries are based on orders that come into the dispatch office, primarily by fax, and are dispatched to the drivers 12 to 24 hours prior to their shift, depending on their work schedule. Abenaqui is administrating a software program, Profit Tools, that will be compatible with ALK Associates PC Miler software used for highway routing, mileage, and mapping.

Vehicle maintenance has high priority at Abenaqui. Well-maintained and regularly upgraded equipment lends itself to driver satisfaction. No driver wants to contend with breakdowns or poorly operating vehicles. Jim Dowhan, maintenance supervisor, and mechanics Ron Phillips, Ed Smith, and Bill Mullarkey oversee service and repairs. They work on 35 Heil tank trailers owned by the company and 10 other various vehicles. The newly acquired tank trailers from P&H will continue to be maintained at the North Haverhill, New Hampshire, location under the guidance of Steve Davis and his staff.

The company participates in Caterpillar's Truck Owner Protection Plan (TOPPS) that records all service, repairs, and maintains all activities and provides a quarterly report. The power units are scheduled by Jim Dowhan, but serviced through the TOPPS program at various locations. Through the plan, tractors are scheduled for either a dry or wet service every 10,000 miles at an approved-Caterpillar maintenance facility. A fleet software program registers performance, such as miles traveled, pump speeds, and idle time. The vehicle performance report is recorded and added to the service information.

"This way we can see what trends are occurring," says Dowhan. "With the TOPPS program, we get a complete history of performance for each tractor. That information stays with the tractor so that the next owner knows its history."

Major repairs are sent out to dealers, including Patsy's Kenworth in Concord, New Hampshire; CB Kenworth in Bangor and Portland, Maine; and North Atlantic Kenworth, in Stoughton, Massachusetts.

Tank trailers are serviced once a month or every 7,500 miles. Recently, Abenaqui purchased six new trailers. These trailers are equipped with Stemco grease filled hubs to improve wheel bearing life, light emitting diode (LED) lighting, and air ride suspension. The maintenance department is certified for vacuum pressure testing, and all trailer work is handled in house except for vessel repairs.

Tractors are replaced every four years. Abenaqui chooses Kenworth top-of-the-line interiors, including CD players and a full range of gauges. Kenworths are chosen for reliability, driver comfort, and resale value. Ten Kenworths are scheduled for delivery this year - eight T800s and two T900Ls. The T800s have a shorter wheel base and will be used for city deliveries that require more maneuverability while the T900Ls will be put on less congested routes.

Typically, tractors are equipped with 3406E Caterpillar engines with 475-550 horsepower. They have Fuller 18-speed transmissions, Meritor front axles, Eaton rear axles with the latter having a 4.11 ratio. Blackmer pumps are mounted on the tractors.

MC306/DOT406 petroleum trailers have Knappco valves, Civacon vents and vapor recovery, Scully overfill prevention systems, and Betts dome lids.

Meritor Wabco supplies axles, and suspensions are from Reyco and Hendrickson. Aluminum wheels are from Alcoa. Abenaqui specifies Hankook or Toyo tires for trailers.

In addition, the company has just put on the road two new Heil International DOT406 triaxle tank trailers with 12,000-gallon capacity and four with 10,700-gallon capacity.

With its focus on maintenance, equipment acquisition, and customer service, Abenaqui has been successful. Curtis and Paul Jr give credit to their father for his expertise and guidance as they have grown the business. The senior Marston began his trucking career in 1968, hauling salt and potatoes from Maine to New York and New Jersey. His company eventually hauled propane, petroleum, and chemicals. In 1989, he sold the company. Two years later, his son, Curtis followed in his footsteps by starting Abenaqui. Although they focus on petroleum distribution (about 80% of the business), the men bought in 1998 an equipment carrier that had low-bed and drop-deck trailers (18% of the business).

With the latest purchases under their wings, Abenaqui Carriers has plans for further expansion as opportunities arise. To prepare for the future, the company has recently completed a new building that houses administrative offices and a three-bay shop. The two-story building on the 15-acre site was designed to provide room for expansion as the company grows. The owners have a strong base to continue to offer the customer service they believe is essential for a successful carrier in today's competitive environment.

According to the Marstons: "Despite concerted efforts of the owners and management for high quality equipment, facilities, and marketing, it is recognized that the success of the company should be credited to the professionalism, commitment and dedications of the dispatchers, administrative staff, company drivers, and owner-operators. Without a customer-oriented staff in all aspects of the organization, Abenaqui would not have had the right ingredients to create the formula for success that it has currently achieved."