Ranch Life and Propane Wars

Living out in the high desert, one has the option of electricity or propane for utilities, as there is no such thing as natural gas anywhere near here. And since electricity can be quite expensive to heat and cool a house, I opted to put in a 1,000-gallon propane tank when I built this place to use for cooking, hot water, and heat pump back up.

Looking around at the time, the closest propane company was Suburban Propane in Boise, which had agreed to sell me a 1,000-gallon tank and bury it. When the time came to install it, the company changed their mind and said they were no longer selling tanks. Rather, all customers had to rent them … $180 a year opposed to $3,000 one-time cost. So, being stuck due to time, in it went. The original cost of filling the tank was $1.45 a gallon, which was more than in town, but still reasonable.

Over the next five years the rate per gallon continued to escalate. It was bearable, but the final straw was August 2012, when they came out and filled up the tank with less than 350 gallons. When I got the bill, I went through the roof: $1,498, which was about $4.30 a gallon. Not a mile from me, the truck stop, which is 20 miles from town, was selling it at $2.79 a gallon. The resulting call to the billing office of Suburban Propane was less than cordial, and the final straw was being told that that was the delivery price. I said I was done, and was promptly told my contract stipulated that I must buy gas from them if I was renting the tank.

That’s when I started to look for an alternative supplier.

Since I had already paid the following 12 months rent, and was told in no uncertain terms that it was non-refundable, I moved to find another source. Lo and behold, four months before my rental contract was due for renewal, I found V1 Propane in Mountain Home, about 30 miles from the ranch. Mary, the lady on the phone, said yes, they sell tanks and offered me a smoking deal on a 1,000 gallon above ground tank: $2000. But, I could also rent it for $120 a year, which was a $60 savings over the inflated Suburban Propane’s rate. To seal the deal, she quoted me a price of $1.79 a gallon. A call to Suburban Propane and I was told their delivery price was $3.59 a gallon. That was the last straw. I asked Mary to send out a rep.

The next week, Bryon, the regional manager for V1 showed up. I told him I needed to have the existing 400 gallons removed from the Suburban Propane tank, have him install a new tank, transfer the gas, and fill the new tank. He said no problem. All I had to do was dig up the old tank at least half way down and he could rock it out.

No problem, my ass. That sucker was 16 feet long, 42” round, and the top was some two-foot deep.

I told him I’d have it done within two weeks.

Soaking the ground around the tank. You can see the access tube sticking up from the ground.
Soaking the ground around the tank. You can see the access tube sticking up from the ground.

For two days I watered around the buried tank to soften up the hard soil that is normal for this area. When I thought it was moist enough, I outlined where I thought the tank was and started in. It wasn’t more than half an hour and I realized this was going to be a big job. So, I offered a neighbor’s son the opportunity to make some money digging the tank up and he jumped at the offer of $150. But after less than five hours work, he lost interest, so I paid him for his time, and went to work myself. It took two days to get the tank uncovered half way down, and the only reason it didn’t take longer was the simple thought that one eats an elephant one bite at a time. So, one shovel at a time, break for tea and a swim, and back at it. I was ready for the new tank.

Bryon showed up with his lift truck and another guy in the gas truck. We ran into problems getting the gas out of the buried tank, as the six-foot height made it slow. But out it came and by the time it was empty, the new tank was installed on blocks. Bryon was able to lift the buried tank and set it beside

After a day's digging, the tank starts to emerge.
After a day’s digging, the tank starts to emerge.

the new one, and his partner transferred my gas into the new tank and we hooked up a temporary line until I could did a trench to bury the line.

It needs to be stated that Suburban Propane was going to charge me about 25¢ a gallon to transfer the gas; V1 did it for free. In fact there was no charge for anything: labor, old tank removal, new tank install, transfer of gas, or hooking up new lines. And with a credit of $738.71 for pre-paid gas with Suburban Propane, I had enough to fill the tank for another year. The only problem was how to get my money back.

I made several calls to the local Suburban Propane dealer, but never got a person to pick up. So, after two weeks I drove down there (stopped by Cabela’s to pick up more Ak47 ammo first) and

The mini submarine is finally exposed and ready for removal.
The mini submarine is finally exposed and ready for removal.

walked into the office. Two women were there and I told them I had bought my own tank and was no longer interested in renting from them and needed them to come get it. The one lady in charge asked, rather snidely, how much gas was in the tank? I told her zero; it had been transferred for free by another supplier. The look on her face was priceless. She then said it had to be dug up, to which I said it was, and that the same new supplier had moved the tank to where her company could come and get it. I also advised her, showing her my last statement, which stated they owed me $738.71.

She became rather flustered, and said, “Do you still want automatic delivery?” Dumb question, for sure, and I told her no, I was going to shop around for the best price now. At that, she said, “We really appreciate your business and want to keep you as a customer. Can I have the district manager call you and see if we can make some sort of deal with you?”

“Sure, but I doubt you can match $1.79 a gallon, can you?” She got that deer-in-the-headlight look. She then made a copy of my statement, handed it back to me, and said she would have the manager call me.

The new above ground tank is set and ready for gas.
The new above ground tank is set and ready for gas.

As I walked out the door, there was some guy grilling hot dogs, handing out sodas, popcorn, chips, and water; it was Suburban Propane Customer Appreciation Day. Right. So, I loaded up with couple dogs, grabbed some Cheetoes, and two water bottles knowing it was pittance for the amount of money they had stolen from me over the years. It was bittersweet, but still enjoyable to take something back from them, albeit cheap, and not very good for me.

It was over two weeks later and yet they still had not come for tank, nor did I receive my check for prepaid gas. I sent a second email to them stating that I had no intention of ever buying propane from them again, that it had been two weeks since they told me they would come and pick up the tank, and I had yet to see my refund check.

After the propane was removed, Bryon lifted the in-ground tank and set it out where Suburban Propane could come and get it.
After the propane was removed, Bryon lifted the in-ground tank and set it out where Suburban Propane could come and get it.

No answer. No answer the next day; however, while having coffee the following morning, a Suburban Propane crane rolled down the driveway.

The kid was young, energetic, and quite pleasurable. He went to work right away getting the tank loaded up and asked if I had bought that other tank. I said yes, but they are lending it to me for free for a year. After a little small talk, I told him that I couldn’t afford Suburban Propane and they had been absolutely gouging me for years. He said he knew this; they had been losing customers left and right the last few years. He even said one guy chased him off his property with a gun, telling him he better not come back.

As I was signing the paperwork for his retrieving the tank, he asked if the manager had called me. I told him he had left a message, but never called back, and I had no intentions of dealing with him. “They owe you $738.71, so I’ll write it on the receipt so you’ll know if they try and short you.” Good man, for sure, and feel sorry for him working with such a corrupt company.

So, the tank is gone, I have already talked to a neighbor down the road who is going to switch, and am going to find as many people as I can to dump

Transferring propane back into the new tank.
Transferring propane back into the new tank.

Suburban Propane. Besides, I get $50 gas credit for everyone I send to them!

Karma, baby, karma.

Now … where’s my check?

Postscript;

About two weeks later the refund check showed up in the mail; however, there was a note saying the charge to come and pick up the tank was $90. Looks like I will have to hit a few more Customer Appreciation Days …

 

 

Saying goodbye and good riddance to the old tank, and the corrupt Suburban Propane.
Saying goodbye and good riddance to the old tank, and the corrupt Suburban Propane.

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