Petron's new safety training propane trailer attracts plenty of attention from customers
Jun 1, 2002 12:00 PM
THREE YEARS ago, the 10,500-gallon propane trailer was showing the wear and tear that come with decades of hard use. It was parked at a used trailer lot in Houston, Texas, and was destined for the scrap yard.
That was then. Today, the 40-plus-year-old trailer has been thoroughly overhauled and given new life as a training tool in the Petron Inc safety program. It has quickly become a hit with customers and emergency responders, as well as the tank truck carrier's own drivers and other personnel.
“We are gratified by the response to this training trailer, especially from our customers,” says Steve Ayres, president of Alexandria, Louisiana-based Petron Inc. “They are as excited about this safety training trailer as we are.
“So many of the shipper personnel at truck loading racks lack a clear understanding of how the hardware on a tank trailer functions. The more they learn, the safer we all are.”
Dick Ayres, Petron chairman, adds that the new training trailer has brought a positive response from the carrier's insurance company. Petron was praised for its proactive approach to safety training.
Completed in April, the training trailer made its debut at one of the regular orientation classes Petron holds for newly hired drivers. The first customer training with the trailer was conducted in May at the Valero Refining plant in Krotz Springs, Louisiana.
Training sessions with the cutaway propane trailer also have been requested by the hazardous materials division of the Louisiana State Police, the Texas Railroad Commission, and the Conoco plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Petron drivers will have an opportunity to examine the training trailer at the safety meetings held by the carrier every 60 days.
“We believe we'll get more requests for the trailer as more people learn about it,” says Rick Cleveland, Petron vice-president of transportation. “In time, we think we could be doing as much as a training session a week with this trailer. We're not charging anything to conduct these sessions. We believe it's worth a lot to us as a public relations tool.”
Interest in developing a propane-training trailer grew out of a desire by Petron management to provide its employees with a better understanding of how this equipment operates. Petron had expanded into propane about five years ago.
“We wanted to make sure that we handled propane as safely as the other products we transport,” Cleveland says. “We are committed to providing the safest working conditions possible for both customers and employees.”
Founded in 1934, Petron serves customers across the southern Gulf Coast region. Refined petroleum — especially gasoline — was the primary cargo from the start. Asphalt and propane round out the cargo mix.
Customers are served by trucks located in Arcadia, Alexandria, Eunice, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, Louisiana; Greenville, Vicksburg, and Collins, Mississippi; Brenham, Winnie, Corpus Christi, and Midland, Texas; and Foster, Oklahoma.
Distributed among the terminals are 120 MC306 and DOT406 aluminum petroleum trailers, 75 MC330/331 propane trailers, and 35 asphalt tankers. Owner-operators provide a significant percentage of the 220 tractors in the fleet.
All drivers — owner-operators and company employees, alike — are put through the same orientation when they sign on with the carrier. A two-day orientation at the Alexandria headquarters is followed by up to six weeks of on-the-job training with a driver trainer.
“Our training program is designed to give drivers as much information as possible,” Cleveland says. “It raises their comfort level and helps with retention. In fact, our turnover rate in 2001 was just 27%.”
The initial training program includes six hours of defensive driving instruction, and a driver repeats this part of the program after any accident. Considerable time is devoted to familiarizing drivers with the trailers operated by Petron, and the new cutaway tank has been an invaluable addition to this part of the program.
“This trailer is so important in providing hands-on instruction to drivers who have not worked with propane previously,” Cleveland says. “It has a very dramatic impact on them because they can see how everything operates.”
Finding the trailer
After management had discussed the idea of a propane-training trailer, a likely candidate was found by John Herrington, a transportation consultant working with Petron. The 10,500-gallon MC330 trailer had been trailerized by Fruehauf using a Trinity barrel and had spent most of its life hauling butane for Wanda Petroleum. Headed for the scrap heap, the trailer was purchased for $1,200.
The process of turning the trailer into a training tool took three years, and all of the modifications were made at the main Petron repair shop in Eunice, Louisiana. The team performing the work consisted of maintenance director Sean Richardson and mechanics Jeff LeJeune, Lionel Edwards, Everet Pickell, Tommy LeJeune, Matt Daigle, Shelton Smith, Willie Lewis, and Tony Daigle.
Their task was to make the trailer as operational as possible within the context of hands-on training. Individuals, such as Jerry Rice, Petron special projects manager, salvaged much of the hardware for the trailer out of scrap bins at various tank trailer shops across Texas and Louisiana.
Some components were fabricated new, such as the aluminum flange that replaces the steel flange over the manway. The aluminum flange is much lighter and safer to handle during training.
While the hardware was being collected, the shop team went to work on the trailer. The unit was completely disassembled, and the barrel was sandblasted inside and out. Openings for four large windows were cut out on the road side of the tank.
Once all of the hardware was on hand, the process of reassembling the trailer began. Where the windows had been cut, tempered glass was mounted in thick rubber gaskets. All of the internal piping was replaced, as well as the bulkheads.
Fisher pressure-relief vents and discharge valves were installed and are functional. The brake interlock works. About the only non-functioning piece of hardware on the trailer is the cutaway Blackmer pump behind the landing gear. However, the mechanics did fabricate a prop shaft that connects to the pump from the tractor PTO.
New fenders and a hose tube were installed. Inside the hose tube is a propane hose with the Smart-Hose passive shutdown system, which is now standard equipment on the Petron propane trailer fleet.
The trailer got all new wiring inside and out. The wiring inside provides power for spotlights used to illuminate various components inside the tank. Power for the lights comes from a bank of 12-volt batteries mounted behind the cab of the tractor that is paired with the trailer.
The tractor is a 1987 Peterbilt 379 conventional that Petron had been using in shuttle activity. The powertrain, including the 350-horsepower Cummins engine, was still in good shape. The main refurbishment effort was directed toward the tractor exterior, which received an extensive paint and body makeover.
A new aluminum bumper and dual exhaust stacks were installed. The aluminum wheels, fuel tank, and battery box were polished to a bright shine.
With the amount of interest being shown, the training trailer and its tractor may log as many miles this year as some of the other propane trailers in the fleet. There is no doubt that the rig will draw plenty of attention along the way.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.