SUISUN CITY — Mike Martin’s father started buying propane from Sheldon Gas Company 50 years ago to heat his home and fuel the walnut driers that his walnut farm uses.
“I have had a lot of gas companies contact me and it is pretty hard for me to change, given that they provide such good service and the prices are pretty low,” said Martin, who grows walnuts on 92 acres near Lake Solano.
Martin said one of the secrets for Suisun City-based Sheldon Gas Company’s success is that it is very responsive to his needs whenever he needs them. He particularly notes that Sheldon employees are able to quickly fix his older walnut drying machines.
“That is a big plus for me and especially for farmers who can’t afford newer equipment,” Martin said.
In a business where farmers have to constantly battle to make ends meet amid rising prices, Sheldon managed to keep Martin’s propane costs level and maybe even drop a little, Martin said.
“They come right in and fill the tanks. They have me on a regular schedule during harvest time. They check the driers to make sure they operate properly and that is pretty nice for someone to take the time to do that for me,” Martin said.
Sheldon Gas Company was born in Suisun Valley in the 1920s, when local farmer W. Boyd Sheldon started selling smudge oil out of the back of his pickup truck to farmers and orchardists who needed the oil for smudge pots, which are used to heat orchards during freezes.
At that time, automobiles were coming to Solano County in increasing numbers and Sheldon used his connections to Chevron Oil Company to expand into providing road builders with the oil they needed to build the growing network of asphalt roads in the county.
Sheldon established an oil tank farm on the site where One Harbor Center stands on the Suisun City waterfront, “which allowed him to barge the product up here and pipe it off,” said Sheldon’s granddaughter Jill Hopkins, secretary-treasurer and CFO for Sheldon Gas Company.
Because the demand for oil drops during the winter, Sheldon expanded into providing propane oil to local homes and farms. Eventually, Sheldon shifted out of the oil business and into the propane business, according to Hopkins.
“His brilliance was that he was able to see a very good idea,” said Sheldon Gas Vice President Joan Towner, also a granddaughter of Boyd Sheldon.
The company has many customers whose business goes back four generations to Boyd Sheldon’s time, and many of them collected recipes, which Hopkins’ mother would make available at the Sheldon Gas offices on Main Street every month.
A good number of employees have stayed with the company for a long time, too, such as company President Gene Cravea, who started with Sheldon Gas in 1959.
“People who come here tend to become a part of the family,” Hopkins said.
In the 1980s, Sheldon Gas sold its waterfront facilities to the Suisun City Redevelopment Agency, which turned it into the three-story One Harbor Center building and the waterfront promenade.
For five years, the company merged with Telford Tank Lines, but is now back on its own with its offices in downtown Suisun City and its tank farm on Cordelia Road.
The company has 22 energy specialists with a fleet of trucks to deliver propane gas to more than 3,000 customers in Solano, Napa, Yolo, Sacramento and Contra Costa counties from the company’s storage facility. It has offices in both Suisun City and Walnut Grove, “where the entire town is on propane,” according to Hopkins.
Sheldon Gas’ facility also services trucks from other companies, which service customers throughout Northern California and Oregon.
The company has not forgotten that it built its success by keeping in close contact with its customers, who range from duck clubs and orchards to mobile home parks. It also makes every effort to serve their needs, from reliably providing propane gas when it’s needed to sales and service of propane equipment.
“We still have a service department, which is one thing that major companies don’t do. We help our customers with any problem and have a force of well-trained service technicians,” Hopkins said. “A lot of our business is built on personal relationships.”
Hopkins pointed out that Sheldon Gas drivers are very attentive to their customers’ needs because they are delivering something that their customers depend on.
“When you call us, you will be speaking to one of the owners,” Towner said.
Sheldon Gas owners see a bright future for their company and the industry.
That includes involvement in natural gas-powered autos, which is a clean, green and growing industry, as well as other emerging technology that uses natural gas.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.
Sheldon Gas Company
Address: One Harbor Center, Suisun City