Kersten Trailer Sales Serves Tank Repair Needs in the West

With shops in three western states, Kersten Trailer Sales Inc offers some of the most extensive cargo tank repair and service capabilities in the region. The company also custom-builds petroleum trailers and truck tanks. Customers are served through three shops, including the main location in Henderson, Colorado, a suburb just north of Denver. Kersten Trailer Sales also has shops in Casper, Wyoming, and Wichita, Kansas.

"Tanks account for about 95% of our business, and we've been working on them since 1973," says Gene Kersten, who started the company with his wife, Leona. "Federally required tests and inspections keep us busy, but we also do a lot of vessel repair. We have the largest tank repair shop in Colorado.

"New tank building has grown substantially since we started doing that in 1990. We build 40 to 45 DOT406 tanks a year, including a few aircraft refuelers. Our specialty is truck tanks, and most of the units are heavily customized. We also have the capability to extensively modify the used tanks we sell."

Industry Veteran Gene was no newcomer to the tank repair business when he set up shop in 1973. He had already spent 10 years as general manager and vice-president of a Denver-based tank trailer manufacturer.

The decision to go out on his own was an immediate success. Within the first nine months, the company had grown from a three-bay, three-man operation in a 5,600-square-foot shop to eight bays and 10 men in a 12,600-square-foot facility. And the growth didn't stop there.

In 1997, Kersten Trailer Sales moved to its current location, a 30,000-square-foot shop on 10 acres. Twenty mechanics work in the 15-bay facility, and all are code welders. The other two Kersten Trailer Sales shops each employ five mechanics, who are also code welders.

Six mechanics in the Henderson shop are registered inspectors, and the facilities in Casper and Wichita have two each. All manufacturing is done in the Henderson shop, and a design-certifying engineer is shared with another Colorado trailer builder.

Shop operations are under the direction of Butch Herman, service manager and vice-president of service. He has been with the company since it opened 26 years ago. Gordon McDowell, assistant foreman of the service shop, has spent more than 13 years with Kersten Trailer Sales. Chris Martin, a 21-year veteran of the company, oversees tank building.

Code Welding The Henderson facility holds both "U" and "R" stamps, while the other two Kersten repair shops have "R" stamps. Kersten Trailer Sales works on most tank types, including petroleum transports, stainless steel chemical units, pressure vessels, and dry bulkers. Services include bottom-loading conversions, major barrel repairs, tank passivation, and lining repairs. Pick-up and delivery service is provided when requested by customers. However, all service work is performed in the Kersten Trailer Sales shops.

"We don't have the personnel to send out on the road to perform tests and inspections at customer locations," Gene Kersten says. "Besides, we'd have to bring the tanks to our shops if repairs are needed."

Located at 8999 East 96th Avenue in Henderson, Kersten Trailer Sales is next door to one of the largest petroleum loading racks in the Denver area.

"We get a lot of the tanks that are rejected by the loading rack," Gene says. Beyond the tanks that are rejected by the loading rack, the Henderson shop serves customers throughout Colorado, southern Wyoming, and western Nebraska and Kansas. The Casper shop concentrates on tank owners in Wyoming, and the Wichita shop serves a market consisting of eastern Kansas, northern Oklahoma, and western Missouri.

"We are the maintenance department for many small tank operators," says Leona Kersten. "We keep detailed computer records of all tests, inspections, and repairs. We send out a first notice one month ahead of the due date for tests and inspections. A second notice goes out on the due date if we get no response. Seventy-five percent of our customers respond to the first notice."

Thorough Testing The testing and inspection process can take anywhere from about four hours to several days. It all depends on the types of tests and inspections that are due and whether repairs are needed.

"Tanks are generally in much better shape today, and the federal requirements deserve much of the credit," Gene Kersten says. "We see very few vessel cracks today. Typical problems are brakes that need replacement, malfunctioning valves, cracked frames, worn out kingpins, and worn suspensions.

"We don't see a lot of problems with overfill protection systems, except in the winter. Condensation will sometimes freeze on the prisms."

When a tank arrives at any of the Kersten Trailer Sales shops, the supervisor verifies the last cargo and determines whether cleaning or degassing is required before the tank can be brought into the shop.

"At our Henderson shop, we do steam cleaning ourselves because there is no cleaning rack nearby," Gene Kersten says. "We recycle the water from the steam cleaning process, using a Great Lakes Environmental charcoal filter system to remove oil and other contaminants."

Air quality inside the tank is tested prior to any confined-space entry. All of the mechanics employed by Kersten Trailer Sales are thoroughly trained in permit-required tank entry. Among the safety equipment used are gas monitors that can be worn while a mechanic is inside a tank. Forced-air ventilation enhances safety throughout each tank entry.

Fabricating Shop Once the initial steps are taken, mechanics go to work on the tank. They have an extensive array of equipment to draw on for repair projects. This includes a fabricating shop with a roll and a press brake.

The same machines are used in the tank fabrication operation. "We've been very successful in developing our custom tank building operation," says Kyle Kersten. "We're serving customers as far east as Wisconsin. Our product line includes DOT406 tanks and propane bobtails. However, we just assemble the bobtails. We don't actually build the vessels."

Typical DOT406 trailers built by Kersten Trailer Sales have five compartments and a 9,500-gallon capacity. Double bulkheads are almost standard. Truck mounted tanks range in capacity from 2,800 to 4,500 gallons. Most have four compartments.

Shells and heads are fabricated from .205" aluminum plate. Standard components include Knappco domelids and vents, EBW bottom-loading adapters, Betts internal emergency valves, and Civacon overfill protection. Storage cabinets are ordered with many of the tanks, and Kersten Trailer Sales fabricates those. The number of hose tubes ranges from two to four. Hendrickson Intraax air suspensions have been ordered with all of the semi-trailers built recently.

Parts Inventory Once a tank order is placed, construction can proceed with few delays. One reason is that the company maintains an extensive inventory. "We have 5,000 square feet devoted to parts," Kyle Kersten says. "We have around $300,000 in inventory on hand."

That inventory has turned into another opportunity for the company. With Dave May and John Geist running the program, Kersten Trailer Sales is selling tank and trailer parts throughout the region. Next-day delivery through United Parcel Service is available on request.

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