Necessity of Y2K spurs invention by local man

By Chris McDavid
Staff Writer

With a Johnson County man's invention, customers of a Hager Hill gas company and its affiliates across the nation will have one less thing to worry about when Y2K rolls around.

Speculations of a complete breakdown in practically every aspect of modern-day living prompted Ferrellgas to ensure quality customer service continues -- no matter what happens with the arrival of the new millennium.

In January, officials with Ferrellgas' main office approached Jim Thomp-son, district manager of the Hager Hill site, about devising a mechanism which will ensure a constant supply of propane to customers, even in the worst-case scenario of an extended power outage when Y2K arrives.

Thompson explained last week that all gas companies use electricity to pump propane from tanker trucks into storage tanks. A power outage will hinder the supply of propane to the gas companies, except for Ferrellgas.

The district manager invented a pumping mechanism earlier this year which will enable Ferrellgas companies to keep a steady supply of propane without the use of electricity.

"I thought about the problem before they approached me, but never really got into it," Thompson said. "It was kind of simple, though. I just thought of the basic fundamentals of how gas is supplied to us and how we supply it to our customers."

Thompson said that, to his knowledge, no other gas company has the ability to pump the gas without the use of electricity. "I really don't think they do," he said.

And because Ferrellgas may be the only company with the unique method of performing the task without power, Thompson said he has been instructed by company officials to not give specifics for the device.

The district manager explained that without the non-electric pumping mechanism, gas companies could be without propane within a week, even if they had a full supply on January 1, 2000.

He also noted that Ferrellgas has numerous affiliates within a 50-mile radius that could deliver propane to the Hager Hill site by railway or trucks if needed.

"We have more than 800 district offices throughout 45 states and all of those facilities will be using the technique to get gas supplied without electricity," Thompson said.

Although Thompson said that he anticipates only a short period, if any at all, of a power outage at the turn of the new millennium, he said Ferrellgas customers will not have to worry about going without heat.

Thompson said that the Hager Hill site has experienced an approximate 20 to 25 percent increase of calls from customers inquiring about obtaining heating devices that will run without electricity also. "Ninety-nine percent of unvented heaters can run without electricity," he said. "They're a good source as a temporary condition, but some like them as a secondary source of heat."

Aside from Thompson's invention, which could make the transition into Y2K a less stressful task, Ferrellgas is also offering a Millennium Package to customers. The package includes an unvented heater and a 120-gallon tank. Cost of the package depends on the size of heater, Thompson ex-plained, and varies from $250 to $2,000.

As for a recommendation to customers, the local inventor suggests that people wanting to prepare for the worst-case scenario obtain an 18,000 BTU heater with Ferrellgas' Millennium Package.

We have heaters ranging from 6,000 BTUs to 40,000 BTUs," Thompson said, "but the 18,000 BTU heater seems to be the most popular among customers." The district manager also noted that he doesn't expect a power outage for more than a month at the most.

Thompson also noted that Ferrellgas also has a wide variety of other supplies for customers wanting to prepare for new millennium. "Whatever somebody wants, we can get anything," he said, noting that Ferrellgas provides a 24-hour, full-service staff which has a combined total of more than 100 years of experience.

Thompson's non-electric pumping device has not only eased the minds of Ferrellgas customers, it has also earned him a leadership award, which is only given to 25 out of 4,000 Ferrellgas employees.

During an awards banquet in Kansas City, Missouri, in August, Thompson will be presented the leadership award.

And as of August 1, Thompson will take on the duties of district manager at the Hazard and Louisa Ferrellgas sites as well.

When company founder A.C. Ferrell put his name in the window of his first store in 1939 in Atchison, Kansas, he made a commitment to stand by his name and serve his customers. That commitment -- to provide safe, reliable, professional propane service to every customer -- is alive and well at Ferrellgas today.

Ferrellgas has grown from one store serving a few hundred customers to the second-largest retail marketer of propane in the nation with more than 4,000 employees who serve 800,000 customers in 45 states.

"We are proud to celebrate our 60th year of providing reliable, professional and safe customer service," Thompson said. "Ferrellgas invites everyone to share in our year-long celebration. As we mark our 60th anniversary, it reinforces our commitment to our customers and gives us an opportunity to say 'thank you' to the people in our community for their support."

In 1998, Ferrellgas announced the formation of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). With the plan in place, Ferrellgas employee-owners are working harder than ever to ensure their company's success through outstanding customer service.

Members of the Hager Hill District Team are: Charles Caudill, driver/salesman; Matt Endicott, cylinder delivery; Vineta Maynard, CSR; Les Music, serviceman; Hershel Stambaugh, driver/ salesman; Thomp-son, district manager; Suzanne Watkins, CSR; Charles Scarberry, driver/ salesman; and Tommy Williams, serviceman.