ADA — Tom Crabtree's family has been peddling the same product since about the time Oklahoma became a state, but that doesn't mean he isn't willing to try something different to keep the family business going.
Ada Coca-Cola started experimenting with alternative fuels about 20 years ago, said Crabtree, the company's president. He is the grandson of founders T.B. and Agnes Blake, who bought the company in 1908.
Crabtree said the company tried propane, a fuel the family was familiar with from its ranch business, but natural gas is the alternative that intrigued him most.
“I knew that was the next step, but there wasn't any way to fuel the trucks,” he said.
An Oklahoma tax credit helped the company build its own compressed natural gas fueling station on site, then it was able to start converting its vehicles to run on CNG.
“It just opened the whole floodgate for us,” he said.
Crabtree said about three-quarters of the vehicles in the company's fleet now run on CNG.
“We've got a hodgepodge of sizes,” he said.
Making the switch
The soft drink distributor, which serves customers in seven southern Oklahoma counties, has large trucks that bring product back from the bottler in Oklahoma City, midsize trucks for deliveries and servicing vending machines, Chevrolet HHRs for its sales people and assorted pickups for family members who work there. Four generations of the family have worked at the company.
Crabtree acknowledged converting a vehicle to run on CNG is expensive, but it has paid off for Ada Coca-Cola.
He estimated the company pays about $1.25 a gallon of gasoline equivalent for CNG, taking into account all of the conversion and maintenance costs.
“Our fuel bill is probably 50 percent less that it was when we were using diesel and gasoline,” Crabtree said.
He said CNG also has extended the life of the company's fleet vehicles since it burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel.
CNG works for Ada Coca-Cola because its trucks travel on set routes before returning each day to the company's home base, which is equipped with eight fast-fill dispensers and two slow-fill units.
Maintenance manager Loyd Golden said he initially was concerned about the expense of switching to natural gas as a vehicle fuel, but now he is convinced it was the right move because of how much money it has saved the company.
Golden said he hopes such savings will keep Ada Coca-Cola competitive at a time when there are a growing number of soft drink options available to consumers.
The Latta resident said he hopes to convert his personal vehicles to CNG as well.
“I believe in it,” Golden said. “I really do. One-hundred percent.”