Diamond anniversary

March 1, 2007
GROENDYKE Transport Inc may be turning 75 this year, but there is no sign that the tank truck carrier is slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite is

GROENDYKE Transport Inc may be turning 75 this year, but there is no sign that the tank truck carrier is slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Enid, Oklahoma-based company has begun rolling out upgraded fleet management software to its 33-terminal network, and it is building new cutting-edge terminal facilities at some of its busiest locations. Enhanced terminal capabilities include bigger wash racks with some of the latest cleaning technologies. The fleet now stands at 1,000 tractors and 1,600 tank trailers (450 of which are for chemicals).

“We're clearly looking toward the future,” says John Groendyke, chairman and chief executive officer of Groendyke Transport. “We expect a useful life of at least 50 years from our newest terminals. We're going to build more terminals, and we're going to keep them busy as this company continues to grow.

“Groendyke Transport has come a long way in 75 years. Harold Groendyke (John's father) and the company he started were among the pioneers of the US tank truck industry. Much has changed since he founded the company with one truck and a home-built tank trailer. What hasn't changed, though, is Harold's entrepreneurial spirit that still drives this company.”

Industry pioneer

John points out that his father's pioneering contributions went well beyond the company that bears his name. He was as involved in building an industry as he was charting the course for a successful tank truck fleet. The Oklahoma Trucking Association started up the same year (1932) as Groendyke Transport, and Harold was one of the founding members. He also played a role in the establishment of National Tank Truck Carriers.

“My father understood the value of industry associations from the very start,” John says. “We're in a fragmented industry, and associations bring us together on common issues. Associations are especially important in helping us work toward rational, reasonable regulations.”

Gregory Hodgen, Groendyke Transport president, adds that among Harold's greatest legacies were the management team he built and the work ethic he instilled in them. A number of those managers are still active in the company, and they have been instrumental in passing along the corporate heritage to current employees.

“That corporate heritage has been a critical factor in the success of Groendyke Transport,” Hodgen says. “We believe it helps us attract and retain good people. We talk a lot with our employees about what it took to make this company the success that it is today. We talk about the history of the company at terminal safety meetings and our annual managers' conference in Enid. New hires come to Enid for their initial training.

“This company started as a family operation, and it still has a family feel. There is still a place in the tank truck industry for family-owned carriers that provide personalized service to customers.”

Future focus

While stressing the importance of the corporate heritage, Hodgen makes it clear that Groendyke Transport isn't living in the past. “This company has very clearly moved into the 21st Century,” he says. “We are doing what it takes to continue providing our customers with top-quality, competitive service. As Harold pointed out, you either take care of your customer or he will find other options.”

John adds that the company is working aggressively to meet the challenges of today's tank truck market. “We saw more change in the past 10 years, than this company had experienced in the early years,” he says. “We're in the midst of a major technology transition, and we have to embrace that reality. We can't remain competitive without those new technologies. At the same time, there are so many technology choices out there that you have to make sure you select the right systems for your operation.”

Technology isn't all that must be kept up to date. The same goes for terminal facilities, and Groendyke is devoting significant resources on that front. The carrier opened the brand new state-of-the-art Houston terminal last year, and it will start construction this year on a new facility in Wichita, Kansas. It should be noted that the Wichita terminal generated the highest revenue in 2006 for all 33 facilities in the Groendyke Transport system.

The new Houston terminal will be the model for the proposed Wichita facility, as well as those under consideration for other locations. “Modern facilities are a must in this industry today,” says Carl Recher, Groendyke Transport vice-president for Chemical Operations & Business Development.

Houston terminal

The new Houston terminal occupies about 10 acres in the Channelview area. Nine of the 10 acres are paved. Offices, a drivers' room, maintenance shop, fuel island, and chemical tank wash rack are all housed in a 44,000-sq-ft building. The facility is fenced and lighted and has security cameras throughout.

A key feature of the new Houston terminal is that it was designed for a mixed operation with both chemical and fuel hauling. “The Wichita terminal has the same sort of operation, and we see this as a trend for the future in many of the areas where we operate,” Hodgen says. “Mixed operations are more challenging because chemical and petroleum hauling each have a different business model.”

The Houston terminal is the largest in the Groendyke Transport system. In fact, it's the largest infrastructure project the carrier has ever initiated. In light of that, it's not surprising that the company brought in a large contractor and spent more than a year just planning the project.

“We wanted a premier facility in Houston, because the Gulf Coast is the flagship area for chemical shipments,” Recher says. “We've gotten a very positive response from our customers who have visited the terminal. Our employees also have reacted enthusiastically. We believe the new terminal will significantly benefit our efforts to hire and retain drivers in the Houston area.

“We actually started talking about a new terminal for Houston about 10 years ago, but chemical shipments were slow at the time. When we decided to move ahead, we wanted to make sure that we didn't overlook any important factors. We selected Cadence-McShane, a large commercial contractor, to manage the project. This is the first truck terminal they've ever built, but they have had plenty of experience with projects even bigger and more complex than ours. They knew how to find materials in a tight market, and they had access to outstanding subcontractors.”

Careful planning

Planning the new terminal took about a year and included the permitting process. “We had no real difficulty with the permits,” Recher says. “We were very fortunate. We had good support from the Harris Country officials, who saw the potential for new jobs that would come with the terminal.”

The contractor broke ground on the new facility in April 2005, and construction took a full year. Despite a few delays along the way, the building was ready for occupancy in April 2006.

Cadence-McShane laid out the terminal building for a linear workflow from front to rear. In addition, the building was positioned on the site to take advantage of prevailing winds, so that any breeze will flow through the fueling, maintenance, and cleaning bays.

The fueling bays, including aboveground diesel storage, are at the front of the building and are fully visible to dispatchers. “We wanted the fueling area to be located where dispatchers could see the tractor-trailer rigs as they arrive at the terminal,” Recher says. “We also wanted a covered area that would keep drivers out of the weather.”

The section with the dispatch center includes offices for the terminal management team, a conference room, a break room for mechanics and wash rack workers, and a driver lounge with kitchen, vending machines, and wall-mounted flat-screen television. Men's and women's restrooms have showers.

Repair shop

Next is a well-equipped four-bay maintenance shop that primarily handles routine service and preventive maintenance, including federally mandated cargo tank inspections. Seven mechanics keep the shop open 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. The carrier uses TMT software to help manage the maintenance process.

“We send out all major work, including engine overhauls and code tank repairs,” says John Payne, manager of the Houston terminal. “We still have plenty to do with preventive maintenance and minor repairs. Our goal with this shop is to reduce the amount of service work that is contracted out. That includes capturing more of the service work on Groendyke tractor-trailer rigs passing through our terminal.”

The chemical tank cleaning operation is the largest of the seven in the Groendyke Transport terminal system and takes up more than a third of the building. The wash rack can handle virtually any chemical transported by the fleet. Seven workers keep the wash rack running about 15 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.

With the new Houston wash rack, Groendyke Transport has shifted away from the high-pressure, low-volume single-pass systems selected for its other tank cleaning facilities. The new rack was outfitted with a vat-style system patterned after the TAC Commercial Cleaning facility in Channahon, Illinois. Eight 1,000-gallon vats hold detergent, caustic, and water. Steam for the cleaning operation comes from a 125-horsepower Cleaver-Brooks boiler.

“This TAC wash unit serves all four bays, and gives us the ability to clean up to 100 trailers a day,” Recher says. “That's a lot of capacity, and it's a significant upgrade in what we had previously. We wanted a system that could grow, and we're not even near full capacity yet. We plan to start offering commercial cleaning service to other tank truck fleets, probably in the second half of this year.”

At the rear of the building are a flare and four 15,000-gallon storage tanks. Two of the tanks are used for effluent from the cleaning operations, which is hauled away for disposal. The fourth contains well water needed for tank cleaning.

Storm water control also was a concern when the terminal was designed. Storm water is captured in a retention area that comprises part of the parking lot at the terminal. The water is sent to a lift station for release into a ditch that runs alongside the terminal property.

All of this gives Groendyke Transport a modern facility that the carrier can use as a model when it upgrades or adds the new terminals that will be needed to carry the company into the future. After all, the first 75 years was just the beginning.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.