By Stephen Bennett
“The biggest mistake fuel oil people make when they go into the propane business is they buy too small a truck with too small a crane,” said Roger Smith of Kurtz Truck Equipment, Marathon, N.Y.
A service truck with a crane is needed for installing propane tanks above the hundred-gallon size, Smith said. The cost of a propane service truck with a crane can range from about $85,000 to about $125,000, depending on the specs, Smith said.
The service truck most commonly used in the propane industry is spec’d with a fully hydraulic crane mounted on the rear right corner of the truck bed. Rear-mounted cranes are the most common in the propane industry because it’s the most versatile unit, Smith said. “The primary crane we install is a full hydraulic model with a 6,000-pound capacity,” he said. “That’ll handle a 1,000-gallon tank.”
As for the truck itself, the most common crane truck in the propane industry is a Ford F-550 or a Dodge 5500 chassis with a 12- or 14-foot body behind it and the crane on the tail end, Smith said.
“A lot of times we’ll custom-build the body in house if it’s a flatbed design with side racks,” Smith said. “We sit down with the customer” and ask a lot of questions, Smith said. “What do you want to use this truck for? How do you envision it? How many cabinets do you see? Do you want three on each side or is three on the curb side adequate?”
The company also builds a stainless steel “concrete block box” – that is, a stainless steel box designed to hold the concrete blocks that propane tanks are put on. The stainless steel box is installed on the driver’s side rear corner, opposite the crane, Smith said. “You can’t have them loose on the deck for fear they’d fly off and kill somebody,” Smith said, noting that under U.S. DOT regulations “you can’t have anything loose on the back of the truck. Everything has to be secured.”
The crane, spec’d for the size tanks it will be expected to handle, influences the size of the truck bed.
“Some guys only want to handle up to a 500-gallon tank, other guys want to be able to handle a one-thousand-gallon tank,” Smith noted. “That would determine the length of the body and the size of the crane.”
And the type of crane.
“Do you want a full hydraulic crane or an electric-over-hydraulic crane?” Smith asked. “You pay a little more money for a hydraulic crane, but it’ll outlive three chassis.”
A new and convenient development is a remote wireless crane controller.
Typically a crane control box is on a 25-foot wire, Smith said. With a wireless radio controller, “one guy can walk around 20 feet from the truck” controlling the crane, Smith noted.
If the crane is a proportional model, the user can control the speed with which the crane moves up and down and left and right, Smith said.
“The biggest change, coming this fall, is the new Ford Super Duty,” said John Hawkins, CEO of H&H Sales Co., Inc., a company in Huntertown, Ind., that builds crane and cylinder trucks for the propane gas industry.
The new Ford line features an all-new chassis, with an all-new aluminum cab, Hawkins noted. In addition, the bed will feature rubberized flooring—dubbed “Rumber”–instead of steel. It is made of recycled tire rubber and plastics, according to the website of Rumber Material, Inc., the company in Muenster, Texas that manufactures the material. “It is designed to hold up longer than steel, which can rust,” Hawkins said. “It’s more of a non-skid surface than painted steel,” he added.
Hawkins said his company installs cranes on F-450s and F-550s–“the heavier the crane the bigger the chassis. So for a 7,000-pound capacity crane we utilize an F-550 chassis.”