Keeping the Company Rolling
April 24, 2016
Written By Adam Buckallew
Sliding through the narrow spaces between bobtail propane trucks and 10-wheelers for refined fuels, Bob Powell makes his way around the MFA Oil Truck Services Shop to check on his team’s progress with the day’s work. His crew is working efficiently to get trucks in and out of the shop as quickly as possible. The faster they complete their work, the faster the trucks can return to the road to service customers.
“We handle all of the work on the trucks except for repairs on engines, transmissions and vehicle rear-ends,” says Powell, who manages MFA Oil’s Truck Services. “I call my guys the ‘Can-Do Crew’ because they are all great at their jobs and can handle just about anything I throw at them.”
The truck shop team consists of three mechanics/welders, two painters/body repair technicians, a crane truck driver and an office secretary. In addition to vehicular repairs, they handle refurbishments on tanks, certifications on tanks, trucks, tie downs, hoses and bumpers, compliance with Department of Transportation standards, Weights and Measures audits and testing on propane and refined fuel tanks.
All repairs and alterations the shop performs on pressurized vehicles must meet federal requirements.
“We have to keep stringent records and follow strict quality control procedures to maintain our R Stamp, which is a certificate of authorization work on pressure vehicles,” Powell says. “R stamp certification is regulated by the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. Due to the potential for catastrophic danger of a failed high pressure system, the review process is highly scrutinized.”
A Great Team
When Powell discusses the performance of his employees, you can hear the pride in his voice.
“Everyone here is talented at what they do,” Powell brags. “We’ve got an outstanding crew that works well together and is extremely focused on what needs to be done.”
James Greer, MFA Oil vice president of supply and distribution, says the truck shop’s performance is of immense value to the company.
“Bob and his team at the truck shop have proven themselves to be very capable,” notes Greer, who has served as Powell’s supervisor for the last two years. “Being able to handle the majority of the repairs and maintenance on our own trucks makes the company more efficient and saves us money because it minimizes the work we send to outside vendors.”
Powell joined the truck shop as a painter in 1986. Since then, he’s worked in every position within the truck shop on his way to becoming manager in 1995. Although he’s now the boss, Powell does not let that stand in the way of occasionally rolling up his sleeves and tackling projects himself.
“I like to do some of the work now and then to show I’m willing to do anything I would ask my crew to do,” Powell explains. “That includes lots of hands-on work and training for my employees.”
Powell’s leadership, experience and can-do mantra have resulted in an excellent record of maintenance and safety under his watch.
“Bob is an exceptional manager and you can tell his crew follows his lead on how they go about their work,” Greer says. “Safety is always a top priority and we’re proud of the department’s diligence and commitment to maintaining a safe workplace.”
Fixes over the Phone
Sitting at his desk at the back of the shop, Powell frequently fields calls from MFA Oil employees who are experiencing problems with their company trucks. Powell, who has earned a reputation as a sought-after mechanical guru, is often able to determine whether the equipment needs to be brought in for repairs or if he can solve the issue by phone.
Powell says a phone call for help might sound insufficient when dealing with today’s highly-sophisticated trucks, tanks and related equipment, but in many cases, it gets the job done.
“You’d be surprised how many problems can be solved by phone,” Powell says. “I get a lot of calls from guys who think their truck needs to visit the shop when it’s really not necessary. It takes a lot of interpretation, but we’re able to figure things out in a lot of cases.”
To help make the calls as efficient as possible, Powell puts a vehicle specification book onboard every new company truck his shop works on. The books serve as a quick reference guide by providing Powell with the information necessary to diagnose problems faster.
The troubleshooting calls can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. In the winter, he usually fields up to 10 calls a day.
“Our trucks, especially the newer ones, can be quite complex,” Greer says. “Bob does an impressive job of helping others understand what they may be seeing or experiencing. His ability to come up with solutions over the phone is remarkable.”
Moving to Moberly
The L-shaped building currently housing the truck shop was built in 1958. While it has served its purpose well throughout the years, upgrades were needed in order to keep up with the demands of the company.
Soon, MFA Oil’s Truck Services will move from the corner of Paris Road and Vandiver Drive in Columbia, Mo., to its new home just off U.S. Highway 63 on the MFA Oil Business Support Campus in Moberly, Mo.
“It has been a struggle at times for the truck shop employees to work in the limited amount of space we have available at the Columbia location,” Greer acknowledges. “The new facility will not have such constraints, which should improve the speed and efficiency of repair work and the overall safety of the shop.”
Powell says the new truck shop will be roughly four times as large as the current facility.
“There’s going to be so much more room in the new building, which will allow us the opportunity to work on more trucks at once,” Powell notes. “We’re going from 8,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet. It’s going to be massive.”
The expanded workspace in Moberly will also make it possible to bring in additional staff.
“In years past, we farmed out a lot of work because we didn’t have the room or personnel to handle it all, but now we’ll be able to bring all of that work back in house,” Powell says. “Space restrictions will no longer be a concern.”
Besides his excitement for a bigger shop, Powell looks forward to the enhanced equipment and facilities his crew will have at its disposal. The new and improved shop will have two cranes, one more than the current shop. The new crane is bigger and able to lift 10-wheeler-sized trucks. Additional new features will include: a truck wash booth, a sand blasting booth, a fabrication shop and a state-of-the-art paint booth.
Powell says the bigger building will also allow his crew to take on customer tank work.
“We’ll be conducting inspections, re-doing valves and applying fresh paint to customer tanks,” Powell says. “The company has recently purchased a new flatbed truck capable of hauling up to 25 tanks at a time to transport them back and forth from our shop.”
Powell expects the move into the new facilities to occur by April.
“It may be a little bit of a logistical challenge because we have a lot of tools and equipment to move,” Powell explains. “I anticipate it will take about 30 days to get everything transferred from Columbia to Moberly. However, we should be back up and operational quickly.”
Greer sees the proximity of Powell and the truck shop to the Moberly Business Support Campus’ training facility as a big benefit to the company.
“Bob is a go-to guy in our industry and a great source of information for our employees,” Greer says. “People from outside the company call him regularly for help. Having him in Moberly will mean we’ll be able to better utilize Bob’s expertise in our training process.”
Likewise, Powell is enthusiastic about the chance to conduct more training sessions with drivers.
“We’re going to be installing new tablets in our trucks beginning in March,” Powell adds. “The opportunity to work together with our drivers as they are learning the new system will be valuable.”
A Mechanic and Family Man
Powell has always enjoyed mechanical work and the challenge of fixing things on his own. He got his start working at a full-service gas station when he was 16. Powell continued working at the service station until he joined the U.S. Army at age 18.
He would spend the next four years in the military as a heavy wheel mechanic and wrecker operator stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, and a U.S. outpost in Amberg, Germany. It was in Germany where Powell met his wife-to-be, Doris. They tied the knot in 1984 and have enjoyed 31 years together.
In their spare time, the Powells enjoy playing volleyball and spending time with Bob’s family and caring for their dog, Bear, a 10-year-old Newfoundland that weighs 200 pounds. They like to play volleyball so much that Powell built a white sand volleyball court at their home. He and his wife have played in recreational leagues for years and Powell has also participated competitively in the Show-Me State Games.
Powell’s family lives in the Columbia area and he makes time to see them frequently.
“I’m a big family guy,” Powell says. “I see my brother every Sunday and my sister lives in town so we see her a lot as well. My mother and stepfather are also easy to visit in nearby Pierpont.”
Changes Through the Years
Many things have changed at MFA Oil since Powell first started working for the company in 1986. Truck tank sizes have grown from 1,200 gallons to 2,700 gallons. The pumping speed of the trucks is another area of improvement he has observed, going from speeds of 40 gallons per minute up to as much as 85 gallons per minute on some equipment.
“Everything has mostly gotten bigger and better,” Powell says. “But we’ve also got more regulations and safety considerations to worry about now than we once did.”
The appearance of MFA Oil’s trucks and tanks have changed as well. Powell has seen three different sets of decals since he joined the company. He has a board with all of the old decal specifications hanging in the current truck shop that shows how much the signage has evolved over time.
Another difference is in the electronic systems used in the trucks to calculate deliveries and print customer tickets. MFA Oil is on its third system since Powell started.
Sometimes change can be difficult and create new problems to solve, but that doesn’t bother Powell. He likes a good challenge and says his team is up to the task.
“We’re soon going to be operating out of one of the newest and finest facilities in the state and we can’t wait to get our hands on all of our new tools and toys,” Powell says. “To say we’re excited about the future of the truck shop would be an understatement.”