Shane Sweet

Bobtails. They are the life blood of the retail propane business.  In February I had a chance to sit down with Roger Smith, V.P. & General Manager of Kurtz Truck Equipment, based in Marathon, New York, and we talked bobtails for a few minutes.

“Back in the Day, the company I was with at the time, who had been a “bottle handler” in the 1950s and 60s, got out, and in the early 1980s got back in the propane business,” he said. “We started with a used 1977 Ford 800.  It ran on propane and had an 1,800 gallon tank.”

Nowadays, Roger says the 3,499 gallon, aka “35oo” gallon, version is the most popular out there.  The trucks have changed significantly since the Dark Ages of the late 70s, and today are arguably more refined.   In 2016, this is what you get, varying by brand, of course:

  • Lower operational costs and reduced emissions. Mileage has improved, emission have also followed suit, and both without sacrificing payload capacity or performance
  • Purpose-built 8.0L propane Autogas engine (typical) rated with 350+/- horsepower and 500+/- foot-pounds of torque.
  • Factory-installed engines without need for aftermarket fuel systems.
  • Standard interlock wiring and body builder interface connections (less or no chassis wiring once you get it back from the dealer)
  • Taper-leaf front end suspensions, multi-leaf rear end suspensions, and front and rear shock absorbers from Lobo Zean  contribute to an overall smooth ride
  • High degree wheel cuts providing far-improved maneuverability compared to traditional automotive-style configurations.
  • Tanks mounted, with up to 6,000 gallon units available being typical.
  • Rear decks constructed of aluminum, steel or stainless steel
  • “Jeep style” fenders constructed of aluminum or stainless steel (no more painted steel)
  • Rear deck mounted meter boxes constructed of aluminum or stainless steel
  • Hose reels contracted of aluminum or stainless steel
  • Rear mounted gauges and fills
  • Rear “DOT approved” aluminum, steel or stainless steel bumpers
  • LED lighting in water-proof and vapor-proof enclosures
  • Sophisticated metering systems: Typical systems upload routes and download delivery data, and are popular with smaller independent marketers
  • Backup cameras
  • High-mount strobe light bars on rear
  • Brake interlock system on loading valves
  • Power “West Coast” mirrors
  • Automatic tire chains
  • Multi-function emergency shut down systems
    • PTO
    • Throttle
    • Reel out
    • Reel in
    • Emergency shutdown
    • Remote control spot lights on rear of truck
  • Bluetooth capable truck chassis
  • Transmission Interlocks on delivery nozzles
  • Mid truck side marker turn lights
  • STAC hydraulic drive product pumping systems
  • Factory-installed propane autogas engines (medium-duty truck market)

Running your new bobtail on propane brings some advantages as well, including

  • State propane association rebates or so-called ‘incentives’ to run propane engines
  • 36 cent per mile tax credit
  • Tax credit for refueling stations
  • Low cost of propane
  • Large savings vs. diesel
  • Consumption of a product (propane) that you actually sell
  • Users reporting they are happy with the power and torque these provide
  • Some states offer grants and low interest loans for alternative fuel truck deployment

(special thanks to Roger Smith of for taking the time to chat for this column)


Shane Sweet is an energy and management consultant with clients in the heating oil, propane and motor fuel sectors, a partner with the firm of Lake Rudd & Company. Sweet is the executive director and technical director for the New York Propane Gas Association. He served the industry as president and CEO of the New England Fuel Institute from 2007 to 2011, and as executive vice president/director and lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association from 1993 to 2007.

Sweet lives in Shaftsbury, Vt., and may be reached at or 802-558-6101 cell/text. Suggestions by readers for future column content, as well as general comments are welcome. http://www.linkedin. com/pub/ shane-sweet/7/a52/701

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