His son, Bob Nicholson, current chairman of Eastern Propane, tells the story about his father noticing his propane cylinder was empty when he started the range to cook dinners in his restaurant.
That was on a Friday, but his
propane supplier told him that the earliest a new tank of gas could be delivered would be the following Wednesday.
could provide better service than that, the senior Nicholson decided then to go into the retail propane cylinder business.
"When we went into business, [my father] said he
would never go to sleep at the end of a day unless everyone had a supply of gas," Bob Nicholson
That would be but one of several business ventures for Robert Nicholson Sr., who became a land developer, home builder, and kitchen installer, and owned Bob's Service Station with a Studebaker automobile dealership.
"A competitor objected to us discounting the gas, but we only did it because of volume," stated Bob Nicholson
This prompted Nicholson
to call his
propane company competitors and pretend to be a customer asking for an underground propane tank.
They all tried to talk him out of it.
The Future Is Set
"I then knew that Eastern Propane
had its destiny set," Bob Nicholson
daughter, Debbie, an attorney, worked on a customer agreement for Eastern Propane
to retain ownership of the propane tank.
He became trained through the National Association of Corrosion Engineers in cathodic protection to eliminate mill scale that causes rust and corrosion, and he eventually started a tank painting company, ABR Technology (Abrasive Blasting Restoration).
believes Eastern Propane
was among the first to offer underground propane tanks to residential builders.
"I believe we put in more underground tanks in the '70s, '80s, and '90s than our competition," he
continued the company's commitment to safety and is pleased to note that the NFPA 58 Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code now requires the use of cathodic protection.
adds that tanks must undergo periodic inspection and propane companies must keep proper records to prove to the authority having jurisdiction that the tank was properly installed.
As part of his
commitment to safety, he
developed an emergency response kit, which he
describes as a toolbox that helps a bobtail driver or service technician stop a propane leak and take other steps to avoid accidents.
tank painting business he
discovered that he
could not paint underneath the steel data plate on the tank.
As part of the National Propane Gas Association's Technology Standards & Safety (TS&S) committee, he worked with others to enact an NFPA 58 requirement that every ASME tank's data plate must be stainless steel and seal-welded to prevent rust underneath it.
has been active in training first responders, and because of his
safety knowledge, responders have sometimes called him to help at an incident site.
became aware that if a propane marketer attempted to help another propane company involved in a propane safety incident, that helpful marketer could also be charged with being involved in the accident.
Because of that, he
worked to develop the first state Good Samaritan Act in the 1970s.
As a result of his
efforts, various states across the country later passed their own Good Samaritan laws.
has also continued the entrepreneurial spirit of his
father, founding Lakeland Bank
in 1969, which now operates 53 branches.
In the mid-1980s, the Nicholsons acquired Diversco
, an equipment distributor for Fisher and Blackmer.
Soon after, ProChem
, a distributor for RegO and Corken products that also performs bulk plant installations and fabricates bulk trucks, was purchased.
Bob Nicholson attributes much of his success to industry involvement such as serving on the TS&S committee, as a National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) director, and president of what was then the New Jersey Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (now the New Jersey Propane Gas Association), and as a member of the Propane Education & Research Council's (PERC) research and development committee.
presented him with a Chairman's Citation Award in 2008 for his
safety, association, and industry contributions.
In addition, he spearheaded the propane industry's centennial celebration in 2012 and has also worked to preserve and promote the industry's history through his involvement with the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa.
"Our industry members can become more successful if they involve themselves in PERC and NPGA
"They learn more about what goes on in the industry before it actually happens."
A Third Generation
Although Rob Nicholson, current president of Eastern Propane, was just 10 years old when his grandfather, Robert Nicholson Sr., died in 1974, he has fond memories of his grandfather, founder of the family propane business in Oak Ridge, N.J.
"Any time anything broke in the house, we would set it aside, and we would visit on Sundays," Rob Nicholson
"I'd gather broken things from my friends, and we would fix them together.
could fix anything."
"I worked in the cylinder plant around 1975 when I was 11.
The cylinder plant was a fun place."
After Rob Nicholson
graduated from college in 1986, his
father asked him to help out with the family business for six months.
He went on to serve as company treasurer, and in 1988 became company president at age 24.
The following year the company sold its Diversco
and ProChem businesses to gas equipment distributor Ray Murray Inc.
(Lee, Mass.), allowing the young Nicholson to focus on the retail propane business exclusively.
In December 2005, a new segment of the company was spawned as Rob Nicholson
expanded further into the rail terminal business.