Load 'em up
Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM
IN ANY given week, about 30 tank trailers are transloaded at the ARM-DAT Inc facility in Kansas City, Kansas, says David Tyler, company president.
“There is room to expand with both track and storage space,” he says. “We've just added a new scale and our customer base is growing.”
The nine-acre site is home to 33 railcar spots with service by Union Pacific Railroad. Although more products are shipped into Kansas City than go out, ARM-DAT handles them in both directions. “Kansas City is more of an end user,” says Tyler.
Products transloaded at the rail site include acids, hydrogen peroxide, foodgrade mineral oil, feed ingredients, petroleum deicers, and lubricants. Service is provided Monday through Friday from 6:30 am until 4:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday on call.
Two portable platforms are used in the transloading process, which includes both railcar-to-trailer and trailer-to-railcar. The newest platform, mounted on a four-wheel trailer, was designed by Tyler and has an electric motor to power a Drum compressor used to blow product into the tank trailer. He chose a local trailer manufacturer, Magnatech Engineering, to partner in the design and construction of the platform and trailer.
The second trailer was put together by Tyler several years ago, and although not a state-of-the-art design, it gets the job done with the help of an engine-driven Drum compressor. Both units transfer product from railcar to tank trailer in about an hour.
“We have Roper pumps, if we need them,” says Tyler. “We also have some stainless steel pumps that we use for foodgrade products and feed ingredients.”
ARM-DAT offers steam heating for railcars, hot water heating, a scale, sampling services, and limited railcar cleaning — depending on the product hauled.
Employees receive training in transloading procedures from a consultant that sends instructors to the facility to conduct classes. Shippers also provide annual training on site.
In addition to the transloading facility, ARM-DAT offers tank trailer cleaning and light vehicle maintenance and repair services. The tank cleaning side of the business brings in the bulk of the revenue, about 70 percent of total receipts. The company cleans about 125 tank trailers per week in the four bays. One bay is used for foodgrade products and three are dedicated to mild chemicals. Four 700-gallon vats, one for each bay, are part of the equipment designed and constructed by Tyler. Other equipment includes Sellers spinners, two Kawanee boilers, and a Culligan water softner system.
A wastewater treatment system pumps residue into a batch tank for chemical adjustment of the pH. Solids are collected, removed, and hauled to an approved landfill. After treatment, water is released into the city sewer.
Tyler notes the irony of a market that brings more products into Kansas City than are shipped out — which enhances his intermodal service, but is a negative for the tank cleaning business. As a result, the majority of the tank cleaning service stems from regional trucking companies rather than cross-country carriers.
The company's diversification reaches back to when Tyler was a teenager and met Albert Miller, team doctor for the Kansas City Chiefs. The meeting proved to be more than just a sports thrill for the boy because the doctor became his employer, hiring him to work at a tank cleaning facility in Kansas City. Later, they became partners and Tyler purchased Miller's share.
Upon Tyler's return from military service in Vietnam, he became a partner of the business in 1971. In 1975, he moved to what was then the three-acre rail site that had previously been an Armor meat packing facility. In 1988, he purchased Miller's interest in the company. The intermodal service was introduced and adjacent property was obtained.
At that time, products moving through the facility included waxes and non-hazardous petroleum products. By 1996, ARM-DAT was handling about six railcars per month when a new customer suddenly boosted that count to about 20.
With the increased business, he expanded the infrastructure by purchasing used track and railroad ties, and overseeing construction.
“We started with two rail customers and now we have eight,” he says, pointing out that the loss of transloading services in the area prompted by the Matlack bankruptcy in 2001 allowed ARM-DAT to pick up some new customers, subsequently growing the business even more.
Although the business has grown, Tyler prefers to maintain its size relative to his ability to manage with a hands-on approach. He fields almost all queries and offers personal service to customers.
Tyler predicts that the transloading service will continue to grow because of the cost-benefit it brings to shippers who can transport product via rail for long-distance savings while providing local service via truck.
While ARM-DAT provides transloading and tank cleaning, Tyler also owns T&M Transportation, a foodgrade carrier with three drivers. That part of the businesses was begun in 1983 when Tyler found an opportunity to haul liquid sugar in Kansas City. Today, T&M Transportation handles shipments in a 250-mile radius of the city, hauling mineral oil and alcohol. Eleven Polar tank trailers and five Freightliner tractors comprise the fleet.
Another side of the business focuses on commercial real estate. Tyler has 10,000 square feet of bay space for lease and 6,000 square feet available for offices. He may add another building next year with two bays and office space.
Because of an abundance of acreage, other future plans call for the installation of another 300 feet of track, in addition to the 1,700 feet now in use. To remain competitive, Tyler believes the property and equipment must be put to maximum use.
“You've really got to stay on top of the business,” he says. “You can't get lax and not know what is going on.”
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