Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 3, 2000
Ralph's Oil sells bulk fuel delivery business
By Jane Otto
After 28 years of delivering fuel to a variety of customers in a myriad of weather and hours, Ralph and Donna Machemehl will bid farewell to their bulk fuel delivery business, Ralph's Oil Inc.
Mid-County Coop, a Cenex cooperative headquartered in Cologne, purchased Ralph's Oil effective today.
As of now, the Machemehls will retain the service station, but the fact that they are nearing that retirement plateau combined with stringent government regulations regarding fuel tanks prompted the decision to sell the bulk fuel business.
"It's quite an investment to meet the regulations," said Donna Machemehl. "But, it's hard to see it go. The business is like a second marriage."
Ralph, purchased the Mobil bulk business from Henry Fruetel, a bulk agent for Mobil Oil, Oct. 1, 1971. Just a short seven months later, he bought Jenneke Oil, a Deep Rock service station and bulk business in Lester Prairie. Ralph converted the business to Mobil oil and changed the name to Ralph's Mobil Service.
The Machemehls incorporated the business in October 1991 when it became what we know it as today, Ralph's Oil Inc.
Ralph acquired Laxen Oil Co., a bulk service owned by Robert Laxen of Winsted, in September 1993. Laxen Oil was the Conoco distributor, so Ralph then offered offered both Mobil and Conoco brand products and a Conoco lubricant line.
Robert continued working as an employee delivering fuel and has been an asset to their business, said Donna.
Between Ralph and Robert they have a combined total years of 83 years in the petroleum delivery fuel business, as both had worked as employees before owning their business.
Driving the Lester Prairie route now will be Tony Ecklund, petroleum manager for Mid-County Coop and a Howard Lake resident. Ecklund hopes to maintain that friendly, small business atmosphere with customers.
"We do care," he said. "We are locally owned and operated and we want to maintain that."
Mid-County Coop was established as a petroleum cooperative in 1935 in Cologne. As the complexion of the rural community changes, Ecklund said Mid-County Coop wants to continue to serve the needs of the rural community. It will also continue to be the supplier of Mobil and Conoco lubricants and greases.
Reiterating that same theme, Bill Reimers, general manager of Mid-County Coop, said the long-term objective is to spread costs over a larger area.
"Government regulations are forcing companies to either rebuild or close," said Reimers.
Since November, Mid-County purchased Mayer Oil in Mayer and Padden Oil in Waverly. In their expansion west, Ralph's Oil will compliment the Waverly and Mayer routes, Reimers added.
Waverly's bulk plant was closed, as will the bulk plant of Ralph's Oil. Reimers said that throughout the summer they will dismantle the tanks in Lester Prairie. Some tanks will be scrapped and some reused, he said.
It will mean another change to the Lester Prairie skyline and a change for the Machemehls of which they have seen many during the past 28 years. They especially remember the gas and oil shortage during the '70s when the farmers were allocated only an allotment of fuel according to their acreage.
The Machemehls said that they have enjoyed operating the business and, especially, doing business with many wonderful people.
They will sincerely miss the opportunity to serve their many customers, but hope they will continue to do business with the new owner, Donna said.
"I'm sure they can count on the same level of service that we have tried to give our customers over the years," added Donna.
The Machemehls will operate the service station business as usual which remain Ralph's Oil.
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