'June 16 marks 75 years that Navasota LP-Gas Co. has provided liquid petroleum services to Grimes and surrounding counties. Owner Chad Ross continues the three generation legacy begun by his grandfather Norman Bounds, and carried forward by his father Bob Ross. The reason for this longevity is best summed up by the company’s ability to meet the needs of 4,000-plus customers, and its work ethic.
Ross said, “Over the years lots of things have changed, regulations have changed, and we’ve been able to stay up with all of that. We’ve had a pretty much spotless safety records in 75 years. There’s a lot more competition now than there was when I first started and we’ve been able to hold our own because of the service we provide.”
He continued, “My grandad was always busy, whether it was here or at his place. My dad was the same way. It was a work ethic I grew up with…that to get to where you want to be, you’ve got to adapt to the changes, which we have down here, and you keep working.”
All three generations have been active on the board of the Texas Propane Gas Association (TPGA), and in the early 2000s, even lobbied for regulation changes within the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) which governs the LP gas industry.
Ross said, “We’re a very overregulated industry but it’s kept this industry in this state pretty safe. Therefore, there are not many accidents that happen.”
Ross said that all of his employees have the required Hazmat, Department of Transportation, and RRC certifications and attend continuing education classes.
He said, “It’s a lot to do what we do. We’ve been able to maintain all the customers we’ve got and there’s only six of us.”
Grimes County has changed significantly since 1946 when the company was formed.
Ross said, “More people are moving out of the city and into the rural area. All of these big farms and ranches that use to be around here, they’re being sold off. New little subdivisions are everywhere. We’re still providing fuel to those lands whether it’s farm or ranch but now it’s from a different perspective because it’s to take care of your home and keep you comfortable.”
A change since 2000 is the increase in home generator use. While Navasota LP-Gas Co. doesn’t sell generators, they provide the propane to run them.
Ross said, “There are more homes being built nowadays either all-electric with a standby generator, or that generator is their backup electricity if they have gas heat, water, cooking, dryer, fireplaces and outdoor kitchens. If their power goes out, they can still function like they do on a daily basis because they have a backup generator. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the generator business.”
In this century alone, Navasota LP-Gas Co. has withstood Hurricane Ike, a pandemic, and the “Texas Freeze.”
Recalling Navasota’s week without electricity in 2008 during Ike, Ross said his mom, dad and longtime employee Gail Finke moved a desk into the shop, plugged in a portable generator, a computer, and thanks to their landline, were able to service customers by filling cylinders and delivering to those with generators.
The industry, however, is still feeling the impact of the 2020 pandemic.
Ross said, “The propane tanks we install at customer homes, since the first of the year, have gone up almost 40-50% and it’s very hard to get them. We can place an order for a load of tanks and it’s almost 17 weeks before we get them. Barbecue cylinders have been on backorder since February. We’ve had people come as far away as Huntsville, Houston, and Hearne looking for those cylinders because there are none around.”
Navasota LP-Gas Co. was in better shape during the February freeze than other industry suppliers. Ross said they were able to provide gas for several days. While they couldn’t get trucks on the road, they filled containers for people as far away as Conroe, the north side of Houston and Hearne.
He said, “We still do so much of our stuff old school. We can still load our trucks the old-fashioned way. We don’t rely on all of the electronic gadgets which a lot of companies have tried to stay up with over the course of the years.”
Enjoy what you do
Ross enjoys the camaraderie and sense of family at Navasota LP-Gas Co.
He said, “As a little kid, I thought it was the neatest thing to get on one of those big trucks to go with my dad or my granddad to go do something.”
Ross worked in the family business while in high school and began fulltime in 1987, obtaining his certifications that same year. Bob took the reins in 1971 with Chad’s mother Annie by his side, and the mantle passed to Chad after his mother died in October 2019 followed by his father in March 2020.
He said, “I miss my dad and grandad every day, and not be able to walk in here and talk to them, it’s tough. Not being able to bounce ideas off them, it’s tough.”
Ross continued, “With both of them passing, it required me to be here in the office more. I used to do all the service work, getting out and meeting the customers. It’s a little different. I miss the interaction of being out in the field.”
Ross credits his knowledge and skills to his grandfather, his father, and the many long-term Navasota LP-Gas employees.
He said, “Their loyalty to the company and to me speaks volumes. We enjoy coming to work. We made it fun. If you can’t enjoy what you do, you might as well get out and do something different.”'
'"At the intersection of the town’s two major thoroughfares, Washington Avenue and La Salle Street, keen-eyed visitors to downtown Navasota may notice a colorful logo included on a sign mounted onto the wall of Dr. Donna Canney’s building.
'Train Town USA,' the sign proclaims, juxtaposing images of classic steam and diesel locomotives on either side of the Union Pacific Railroad logo. In 2012, when the company celebrated its 150th anniversary, it began the 'Train-Town' program, and Navasota was one of the first locales in Texas to be so honored. 'The railroad is the main reason Navasota is here,' town mayor Bert Miller told the Houston Chronicle newspaper in a 2012 article entitled, “Navasota: The Town That Trains Built.” Miller is still mayor of the Grimes County community, and the trains still keep passing through his town, as many as 30 times a day.
Adjacent to the Union Pacific tracks which bisect Navasota’s Historic Downtown District — listed on the National Register of Public Places — is the old cotton gin that is the current Navasota residence of Bryan real estate developer Zane Anderson. In restoring the 10th Street building, Anderson refreshed the sign that was painted along the side of the structure facing the railroad tracks.
Once again, the sign proudly proclaims in all caps: 'NAVASOTA COTTON.'
Just five years after Navasota was founded in 1854, the Houston and Central Texas Railway extended a line of track into the fledgling town. An offer was first made to build the line through nearby Washington, the birthplace of Texas, but leaders there declined the opportunity. Soon, Navasota became a bustling boomtown, loading raw — and eventually processed — cotton and its byproducts onto train after train after train. From that point, Washington, despite its historic importance, never stood a chance of competing with its nearby municipal rival.
As for the 'chicken-and-egg' element of this story, cotton came to the Navasota area long before the train. Cotton was introduced to Texas by Spanish missionaries and then embraced by white settlers who, over time, took up the plantation-style business model of the Deep South. Thus, with a perceived need to preserve the slave labor force which drove cotton production on Texas plantations, the Lone Star State rebelled against “Northern aggression' and fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
After the war, the influx of vanquished Confederate soldiers searching to resurrect their old agrarian ways in Central Texas, coupled with the presence of newly liberated slaves freed from the area’s existing plantations, triggered an outbreak of violence and lawlessness from which Navasota increasingly suffered for the next several decades. Railroad Street became the hub of much of the town’s infamy and vice.
Today, Railroad Street is the site of public and private redevelopment efforts looking to restore a block-long stretch of historic buildings in the downtown area. Zane Anderson is redeveloping the south end of the block, while in the middle, Houston attorney Steve Scheve and his wife Janice are in the midst of an ambitious four-year restoration of the P.A. Smith Hotel, once known as the 'jewel of Navasota.'
Train Town USA is again a city on the rise, and when The Smith reopens its doors — the Scheves are hoping for a late-summer launch — Navasota’s long familiar railway traffic will be there right outside the hotel’s main entrance to both welcome and bedazzle onlookers.
Pattie Pederson has had a front-row seat for her town’s revival along the Union Pacific line. She owns The Gallery Downtown, an art gallery in Navasota, just a stone’s throw from The Smith, and also serves as a Navasota city councilwoman.
'I am so thankful to all of the people that have given their love, time, money, and trust to restore Navasota’s charm,' Pederson says. 'Our once sleepy little downtown is waking up, and the historic Railroad District is making history again!' "
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Storyteller Tim Gregg is a former award-winning radio sportscaster and public relations director on the Virginia Slims World Championship women’s tennis series, and a long-time marketing communications consultant. He is the author of 10 books, including RELLIS Recollections and Embracing The Cross, the life story of retired Bryan judge Travis Bryan III. Tim and his wife, Nancy, live in College Station.