Canadian Rental Service

Cooperative competition: A story of industry solidarity

By Robert Sproule   

Features Business Intelligence business

I’d just had a great Saturday afternoon with my family and was beginning to think about supper plans. Then I heard it. We all know the sound and what it means. Yep, the phone was ringing. Somehow (you don’t know how) you know it’s a rental callout before you even unholster your phone and look.

Robert Sproule I’d just had a great Saturday afternoon with my family

Yes, I got that call at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the winter in Alberta. Between the time I confirmed the caller number and the time they said hello, the whole issue had flashed before my eyes like a near-death experience. I have known both now and neither is very pleasant.

I quickly got mentally prepared. The facts went through my mind rapid-fire. The project was a water line replacement at a federal agricultural research facility. It’s a cattle feedlot water system where hundreds of cattle need daily water. The contractor had an open hole, 12 to 15 feet deep with all the water well pipes and distribution lines exposed. There was a thermal blanket over the hole.  Our 350,000-BTU heater had been going for three weeks.  I had been threatened by the contractor and the Ag Canada supervisor that there had to be flowing water throughout the project or else!  It was 25 degrees below zero and dropping overnight. It was Saturday. I was on call and had no help. I gave a mental groan, because it wasn’t going to be a good night.

The contractor on the phone confirmed everything that had gone through my head and added more. His man was working earlier and had tried to get my heater going, but with no luck. He put a smaller 60,000-BTU direct-fired heater down in the hole and it was going, but it had a small tank that wouldn’t burn through the weekend.

By the time I drove back from being out of town, got the work truck, the second heater, tools, winter work clothes and diesel it was coming to 7 p.m. It was dark and cold.


First off, I was not going down in that hole where it was warm. There is a high probability of dying down there if you breathe those combustion gases. So, it was all outside cold work. I had no luck with my heater or any of the three remaining in my yard and I was not impressed. These last heaters were the standby for the standby heaters and far from first choice. It took two more trips back to the shop for tools, winches and the third heater. I guess I was lucky it’s only a  seven-mile round trip. By this time it was 10:30 and I had no more options. I needed help.

Extremely reluctantly, I made a call to the manager of the nearest rental store. They are good guys but still my competition. Nathan answered and I explained my predicament. To my relief, he was very pleasant and agreed to meet me at his shop within the hour to rent me one of his heaters. The 30-minute drive was made and there he was already getting a unit ready. Unfortunately, we went through some of his heaters and didn’t find any that wanted to fire up right away. Neither of us were completely happy with it and we needed more professional help. Nathan said he’d call the heater representative for advice. I was surprised Nathan was willing to help late on a Saturday night and now we were going to call someone else in on the problem. It was already Sunday by this point. “No problem,” Nathan says. “He’s a great guy.” Nathan made the call to Justin. Justin needed to be tracked down out in Revelstoke, B.C., on a mountain sledding weekend. He was not expecting the call but he was great about it and walked us through options. The heater fired up with a little massaging. I was good to go.

I’ve described that whole incident to say what a great industry we work in. Great people. Competitors that will leave their comfortable homes when it’s almost midnight on a Saturday at 30 below to help you. Sales reps that could have hit the ignore button but take a call and walk you through a problem. I have worked in other industries, but rental people and our association are problem-solving, people people. My thanks and appreciation go out to each one of you.

Robert Sproule owns Rental Pro Tools and Equipment in Lacombe, Alta.

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