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The Price of Propane 
This winter will probably be remembered, at least partially, as The Winter Propane Prices Went Out of Sight.
In September the price was about 75¢ a gallon, and in January it went over $1.25. There were, according to the gas companies, plenty of good reasons: fires at refineries, cold snaps in the East and storms in Europe. Sounded good, but when you got your propane bill something smelled bad and it wasn’t leaking propane.
At our place we used wood for almost 50 years before we put in propane. My family was here only in the summers so it didn’t matter much, and all the wood you could use was lying on the ground. In 1948 we got electricity so we brought an old electric heater to take the chill off the bathroom but it wasn’t until 1967 that we decided to use at least one house year ‘round. We put in a gas stove and hot water heaters. Then came furnaces and a gas clothes dryer and a big, ugly 500 gallon propane tank. Ah, progress!
There are plenty of theories floating around about the best way to heat your house. Wood stoves have been much improved over the years. Inserts get more heat out of many of our fireplaces, including mine. Now you can get a 90% efficient wood pellet stove for about $2000. It burns little compressed sawdust pellets. Some folks have hot water heat, which is great unless it freezes for one reason or another. If you want to avoid propane altogether you can heat with wood and use electricity to cook, heat your water, and provide supplemental heat when it really gets cold.
Most of us, winter and summer, still burn some wood, use some electricity and some propane as well. When your propane bill nearly doubles, it’s memorable.
The companies that deliver propane have changed hands in recent years. The old Estes Park Gas Company and Graves Gas, run by Barney Graves and his father in competition, are gone. Ferrellgas replaced both of them. And Rowe has become Suburban Propane.
For almost 20 years we used Estes Park Gas, largely because I worked for Barney when I was a kid. So when he retired we stayed with the company. It wasn’t the same. The company isn’t locally owned and I don’t know a soul who works there. When Barney owned it he used to stop by and see how things were going and we’d have a cup of coffee and a chat. One winter not too many years ago we had another steep price rise and Barney made extra trips to give people just enough gas to keep them going until the price dropped in the spring. Now you have to take a minimum of 150 gallons if you’re on their regular route, which means you don’t have to call them -- they just keep it filled.
So now I’m no longer on the regular route. I’ll fill it in the summer and squeeze by in the winter, when they jack up the prices. I’m lucky. With a big, ugly tank I can make that strategy work. People who use bottles are in a real bind.
I’m on record as being in favor of progress, but when it comes to propane, I sure wish I could see Barney again.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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