Fourth generation moving KAW Services forward

March 30, 2020
Family-owned Missouri company revitalizing operations with aggressive improvement, expansions efforts, including updating tank wash

When Angela Castle assumed leadership of family-owned KAW Services Inc in Pleasant Valley, Missouri, she realized some critical changes were needed. She wasted no time in launching a strong campaign to revitalize the nearly 90-year-old company.

Topping the list of changes to make was a decades-old tank wash system that was at the end of its useful life. Wash rack replacement began about 1 1/2 years ago and will be completed later this year. The company also pursued opportunities to expand truck maintenance operations. And that was just the beginning of the changes.

“From the moment I stepped into the job as president, I knew we had to make major upgrades in our tank cleaning operations,” says Angela Castle, president of KAW Services Inc. “We knew we had to upgrade or sell this operation. However, we didn’t want to sell because the business has been in the family for four generations now.

“Our family-owned company has been serving the tank transport industry for nearly a century. In that time, we’ve built a reputation for our expertise and responsible business practices. We proudly hold ourselves to the highest standards of quality and integrity so that customers get the best service possible, whether that be in our tractor and cargo tank repair shop, tank cleaning facility, parts warehouse, or our ISO tank container depot.”

Company beginning

The company that evolved into KAW Services began in 1930. Fred and Hazel Suddarth founded KAW Transport Company, which specialized in hauling gasoline for the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. Over the next decade, KAW Transport grew with Standard Oil until it became a dominant fuel hauler in Kansas and Missouri.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the partners invested in a line of gas stations, the Old Dutch Mills, that proved to be a natural extension of the tank truck fleet. By 1960, KAW Transport had grown to a fleet of more than 100 gasoline, diesel, and asphalt trucks hauling Standard Oil product.

As competition in the fuel-hauling industry grew, KAW Transport diversified. In the 1970s KAW developed into a nationwide bulk chemical carrier doing business with all the major chemical companies. Along the way, KAW built expertise in the cleaning and maintenance of tractors and tanks, leading to the construction of its own shop and tank cleaning rack.

In 1998, the third generation of KAW ownership, the grandsons and granddaughters of Fred and Hazel Suddarth, decided it was time for the company to capitalize on their cleaning and maintenance expertise. They sold their fleet of 200 tractors and 350 trailers and launched a new operation focused solely on tractor and trailer repair, tank cleaning, and tank container depot services.

Richard Holwick (Castle’s father) served as president of the new company that was called KTTR Services Inc, with KTTR standing for Kaw Tractor & Trailer Repairs. The facility offered a full range of chemical and food grade tank cleaning services. There are very few products the company does not clean—poisons for instance.

The company found a solid niche, serving customers across the greater Kansas City area and throughout the surrounding region extending across Missouri and Kansas and beyond. Unfortunately, in 2011 Angela’s father passed away from cancer. 

Fourth generation

At the time, Castle was working as a cardiology nurse. While acknowledging that she didn’t know a lot about the business at the time, she decided relatively quickly that she wanted the company to remain in the family and she wanted to be part of the leadership.

“I was very fortunate that the company had some excellent executives in place to help through the transition,” she says. “Ken White, vice-president of KAW Services kept operations running on an even keel. Ken and Michael Lacey—who had taken over as president of the company—taught me the business and mentored me. At Mike’s suggestion, I enrolled in an MBA program.”

The management team was strengthened in 2019 with the addition of tank cleaning industry veteran Danny Banister, who serves as vice-president, and Joe Hegi, corporate finance consultant. Banister and Hegi had teamed up on previous wash rack projects.

Cleaning overhaul

Planning for a major overhaul of the tank wash rack began not long after Castle joined the company, but the actual renovation and modernization effort did not commence until 2019. Right up to his retirement in 2019, White worked closely with Castle on the project.

“Ken was instrumental in selecting B&K Contractors for the wash rack project,” Castle says. “We focused first on the chemical cleaning side of the operation. Fabrication of the new vat-style wash system started in February 2019.”

The wash rack project called for a major makeover of the two-bay facility housing the chemical cleaning system. It took about two months to fabricate the skid-mounted vat system at the B&K shop in Franklin, Georgia. Once assembly was complete, the wash units were trucked to the KAW Services facility.

An additional wash bay was added to the original two-bay chemical wash rack and is dedicated to dry bulk cleaning. Over a seven-day period, the B&K Contractors team tore out the old chemical cleaning system and stripped the wash bays down to bare walls. After cleaning, the walls were repainted with a white epoxy.

“We cleaned the floors, but that was all that was needed, because they were still in good shape,” says Bryan Milam, owner of B&K Contractors. “Another plus was that KAW Services had already installed LED lighting throughout the wash rack.”

System install

It took just two days to install the new skid-mounted wash system in a dedicated equipment room that also contains the pumps that feed the pressure washers used for exterior cleaning and a Sullaire 1800e compressor that serves the entire wash operation. A 100-horsepower Hurst boiler provides plenty of steam and hot water for the operation.

The new stainless steel chemical cleaning vats have a 300-gallon capacity and are insulated. Two of the vats are dedicated to dry bulk trailer cleaning. A Roots-style blower is used to dry the bulkers after cleaning.

Gould pumps deliver cleaning solutions to GamaJet/Alfa Laval spinners at 300 psi to ensure a higher impingement force. B&K Contractors custom modifies the pumps to meet specific customer needs.

The new chemical wash system was deigned to operate more efficiently and with less maintenance. “Through-put times were reduced by 20 to 30 minutes per tank,” Banister says. “These new vats hold solution temperature much better, and the higher impingement rate generated by the pumps ensures a better clean.”

Quality cleaning

Cleaning solutions include detergent, caustic, presolve, and diesel flushes. KAW Services also offers specialized services, including stainless steel tank passivation and stain removal. In addition to being Kosher certified, the wash rack also meets shipper-specific requirements, including those set by Cargill, P&G, Ingredion, and Coca-Cola.

“Our dedicated team of tank cleaners have a reputation for the highest-quality tank washes in the area,” Castle says. “Training and experience go a long way toward ensuring tanks are cleaned in a safe and timely manner. Many of our tank cleaners have been on the job for 10 years or more, and they bring a superior knowledge of tank cleaning to work with them every day.

“Safety is our number one core value. Nothing comes before the safety of our employees, customers, and neighbors.

“All our tank cleaners participate in a comprehensive safety training program, which we developed after taking into consideration the latest workplace safety rules and guidelines. We use Sentry Road for all of our online training programs, and we contract with Summit Safety Consultants for safety audits.

“It all begins with a safety mindset, which we instill throughout our company. Weekly safety training meetings, safety compliance audits and training, and extensive personal protective equipment all help make KAW Services a safe place to do business.”

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.