Singing the diesel blues in the Vail Valley
EAGLE COUNTY When Joe Bajza started selling wallboard, he went from job site to job site in a diesel-powered pickup truck.As his business expanded, Bajza, owner of Joes Wallboard in Gypsum, bought more vehicles, all diesel-powered. Until just a few years ago, it was a smart move: Diesel pickups generally go farther on a gallon of fuel, and diesel was generally a few cents cheaper per gallon than gasoline.Times have changed.While local motorists are cringing as the price of gasoline marches toward $4 per gallon, people who run diesel-powered trucks have been there, done that. The price of diesel was just under $4.50 per gallon last week in Vail. The Shell station in Edwards has stopped posting diesel prices on its display sign, which now notes merely that the fuel is available.These days, Joes Wallboard has a dozen vehicles, ranging in size from pickups to heavy trucks. And the price to keep them on the road just keeps going up.Its terrible, Bajza said. I have a 2,000 gallon tank here, and I get about a 10 cent (per gallon) discount, but its just awful.Factor in how much fuel heavy trucks use, and its easy to see why people in the heavy hauling business are feeling more than a pinch from prices these days. Bajza said its worth the money to trade a truck thats dropped down to four miles per gallon for a new one that gets six. That doesnt seem like much, but the newer trucks use one-third less fuel than the old ones. Thats significant, especially considering how much use those trucks get. My guys will use between 75 and 100 gallons of fuel a day, said Eddie Havener, who owns a small, Gypsum-based trucking company. Filling up one of our trucks can cost $1,000.Passing on costsGiven that diesel is the fuel of industry, it should come as no surprise that businesses hauling everything from dirt to wallboard to canned goods are passing along their higher costs.We have customers who are increasing their prices on excavating jobs because of the cost of fuel, Havener said.Havener is passing his costs along, too.Were increasing the cost of what we do, he said. But it depends on the customer. Some are locked in on price.Scott Young runs R&H Mechanical, a local plumbing company. He has just four diesel-powered vans in his 30-truck work fleet, so the price of diesel isnt hitting him hard yet. Were not passing it on yet, Young said. But well have to pass those costs on if the prices keep going up.At this point, Young adds a $25 charge to every home visit to cover the cost of his vehicles. Thats more fair than just adding to his companys hourly rate, Young said.But those rates might have to change, too.The price of copper, the price of everything, just keeps going up, he said.Bajza also adds a vehicle charge of between $25 and $50 per trip for wallboard deliveries.Were seeing it from our suppliers, too, he said. While Bajza adds a vehicle charge that doesnt apply to what customers pay sales tax on he does provide a break to customers with their own haulers.We can give you a break on five or 10 sheets if you come get em, he said.Town troubles, tooWhile industry runs on diesel fuel, so does government. At the Vail town shops, Todd Scholl is trying to keep the towns vehicles on the road and not break the budget too badly.The towns 2008 budget anticipated the purchase of about 170,000 gallons of diesel fuel, along with about 53,000 gallons of gasoline. A heavier-than-expected winter and rapidly rising prices have sent Scholls budget into the red already this year. The diesel budget is already more than $190,000 over estimates.Worse yet, there are no real alternatives.Bajza said hed be willing to learn more about bio-diesel, a combination of petroleum and vegetable oils, but isnt sure how hed get it or how it would perform in his trucks. For at least the foreseeable future, diesel is what people run, at least until they cant run any more.When it gets to the point you cant make a profit, you have to get out, Havener said. Were seeing record repossessions in the country on heavy trucks this year.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.