Oil/Gas Exploration Spurs Belmont County Business Expansion

A local business has expanded its operations, constructed a new 8,000 square foot building with a 1,024 square foot attached office and added new employees – all spurred by the oil and gas explorations under way in Belmont County.

But that’s just a start of the business boom for Bill Coulson, owner of Bill’s Towing & Auto Repair. Even before he moves into the huge new truck repair garage in the Fox Commerce Park – just a few hundred feet from where Chesapeake Energy plans to construct an office complex – Coulson is exploring the possibility of expanding his operations in the industrial park.

“I’m looking at the lots right next to my building for possible expansion,” Coulson exclaimed. “I’m talking to a couple of gas companies to see if I can work something out.”

Right now and for the past year, Coulson has been doing truck repair and service work for Chesapeake Energy out of a leased building in Lansing. “We’ve been working on their fracking trucks for a year,” Coulson pointed out. “We service about a half dozen trucks a day.”

But the work load continued to increase and Coulson’s lease on the Lansing building from Carson Petroleum expires the end of this year. Following weeks of finding a suitable site and making financial arrangements, Coulson in August appeared before the Belmont County commissioners with Sue Douglass, executive director of the Belmont County Department of Development/Community Improvement Corp., to finalize the purchase of the five acres of land in Fox Commerce Park. At that time he said he hoped to open in the new location by the end of the year.

Within days after the paperwork was finalized, work got under way at a feverish pace to complete construction of the 9,024 square foot complex. “We’ll be moving in there by the first of the year,” Coulson asserted. “We have to because our lease on the Lansing building expires at the end of this year.”

Besides the garage work on the trucks, Coulson said he has serviced vehicles while they were out on the road. In the new garage, there will be space at one time for nine of the huge trucks that Chesapeake uses for its fracking process.

As soon as work started on the new building in August, Coulson expanded his employee staff by three to a total of 15 with the possibility additional employees will be needed in the near future. And if he is successful in negotiating additional work agreements with some of the other gas companies that have set up shop in Belmont County, even more employees will be needed.

Coulson will continue his other operations, which include an auto repair and towing shop in Bridgeport and towing locations in St. Clairsville and Bellaire. He is also continuing his association with the American Automobile Association to carry out towing services for its members.

Coulson is a shining example of a youthful entrepreneur who started out a business with virtually the only asset was a desire to succeed. Upon graduating from Bridgeport High School in 1980, Coulson bought himself a truck and got into the car towing business. “I started with one truck – a used tow truck – and was going 24/7 for seven years.”

He has enjoyed the total support of his two sons, Chad and Todd, both of whom are employed in his business. Coulson also made a place for his wife, Tracy, who will be managing the office.

As Coulson embarks on his expanded business, he does so with a wide variety of equipment that he has amassed over the years. Included are two heavy-duty tow trucks, one medium-duty truck, one flat bed truck, two light-duty flat bed vehicles, three light-duty tow trucks, three service trucks and one service trailer.

Just last week, however, he arranged the purchase of his biggest piece of equipment – a 50-ton, heavy-duty tow truck. “It’s a real monster,” Coulson chuckled.

His is a success story that started with just one used tow truck.

I took a trip back in time last week – to a time way back in the 1940s when my travels required train rides between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. Couldn’t quite squeeze a car purchase into my budget back then. To get from the nation’s capital, where I worked four years, required at least six hours on a train then almost two hours by Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh to my home in Avella. Those were very enjoyable trips.

Last weekend I took a different kind of train ride, a much shorter and not as luxurious but an enjoyable one, in nearby Byesville, Ohio, where a dedicated group of citizens have formed the “Byesville Scenic Railway, Inc.” in order to preserve Byesville’s and Guernsey County’s coal mining heritage.

The “Spirit of Christmas” train ride takes about a hour for the 10-mile roundtrip that takes the passengers through the Byesville area that once was known as Guernsey County’s “coal mining capital.” A dozen or so mines with names like Imperial, Puritan, Akron, Ideal, were identifiable only by names on makeshift wooden signs.

Over the years since the mine closed and train runs through the area disappeared shortly after World War I, Mother Nature has virtually obliterated the mine sites. However, at a site identified as Central, there were nine crosses containing names. They were the miners who lost their lives in that mine, a Railway member informed me.

Railway members were dressed like miners of that early era and even smudged their faces with coal dust to make their appearance more realistic. “Mining was the most dangerous occupation in the world back then,” Dave Adair told the 72 passengers in the railroad passenger car. Another car with 72 passengers was right behind. Old time miners’ lunch buckets, carbide lamps and other miner’s gear was displayed as the Railway members strove to make the trip an educational one as well as one conveying Christmas spirit. There were decorations lining the car, Christmas music, a Christmas tree and even Santa Claus made an appearance, much to the joy of all the passengers – the majority of them elderly citizens.

The train excursions run on weekends from May through December and their schedule can be found on the internet at www.bsrw.org. Byesville was once a bustling town where coal mining was king. The intent of the Railway organization is to keep that memory alive. In the near future the organization plans to erect a “Coal Miners Memorial” with funds they have saved over the 10 years the members have voluntarily contributed their own time and energy to operate the train ride.

The Belmont County Agricultural Society is joining forces with the James E. Carnes Center in co-sponsoring the first ever masquerade party on New Year’s Eve at the center, located on Roscoe Road three miles west of St. Clairsville.

“We decided to have something different rather than just a New Year’s Eve party,” explained Carnes Center manager Chris Orris. “We’ll award a prize for the best masquerade mask. If those attending do not want to compete in the mask contest, we’ll have masks available for them.”

Orris said it will be a catered party and will include entertainment, dancing, heavy appetizers, champagne toast and traditional midnight buffet. The party will be from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations at $60 a couple and $35 single, can be made by calling Orris at 740-699-2888.

Last Friday, when this area and the entire nation was welcoming home military personnel from the long Iraq war, was the anniversary of the start of one of the most famous battles of World War II – the Battle of the Bulge. It was a bitter winter battle in which 19,000 American troops were killed, 23,000 wounded, and 19,000 missing or captured. It foiled Adolph Hitler’s attempt to divide and conquer the on rushing allied forces. It failed and five months later Germany surrendered.

Winter officially starts on Wednesday and while thus far we have been spared any appreciable snowfall in contrast to what happened a year ago, there are indications Santa’s sleigh may have some snow to glide on next weekend. Hopefully he will bring everything to fulfill the wishes of all children and adults.

The only thing I like about the arrival of the new season is the continual decline in the length of the daylight hours ends and slowly but surely the length of daylight will increase. It won’t be noticeable for several weeks but eventually it will end and we won’t have darkness of night by 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

Wednesday is also the day that was set two years ago for the completion of the demolition of the old Bellaire Bridge. Obviously, that won’t happen and there are some who believe the span may even survive the new year.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420@aol.com.