R. M. Packer sees holiday resumption of marine fuel sales

Upgrades of his Vineyard Haven plant, consolidation of some services, and modern computer technology are all part of the R. M. Packer Company's master plan. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

R. M. Packer Company of Vineyard Haven, the Island’s largest importer, wholesaler, and retailer of petroleum products, will resume diesel and gasoline sales to marine customers by July 4.

The company’s chief, Ralph M. Packer Jr., said this week that safety features and supply lines to his Tisbury Wharf Company fuel sales dock will be replaced with state-of-the-art equipment by the holiday. The upgrades include new emergency fuel shutoffs — till now closing the fuel lines required opening a hatch in the wharf and manually closing ancient valves — and new, many-layered, armored but flexible lines that won’t rust and won’t be at risk for cracking at their joints in a marine collision with the dock.

Marine fuel sales in Vineyard Haven Harbor accommodate fishermen, yachtsmen, and small-boat operators, as well as large commercial vessels and big luxury yachts, which moor at the Wharf Company.

The upgrade of Vineyard Haven and Edgartown Harbor fuel services are part of a range of changes worth tens of thousands of dollars, Mr. Packer said — including some consolidation, some technology efficiencies, and some expansion of services for retail customers — at the familiar fuel depot, which has been in Mr. Packer’s family’s hands since early in the last century.

The company has ended the oil burner repair and maintenance services it has offered customers for 30 years. For that business, the Packer Company employed three technicians. One continues at the company. The other two have been given the truck, equipment, and parts the company owned, in a $1 sale.

“There is now an ample supply of technicians on the Island,” Mr. Packer said, explaining the decision to end the service, “including contractors who also act as caretakers and plumbers who do the same. And there are oil burner technicians.” He added that the oil burner services were a very small part of his company’s business, and the company’s list of heating oil customers has not grown much over the last decade, which he attributes to inexpensive propane and other heating options.

Gasoline sales, on the other hand, have grown at a four to five percent pace over the decade.

“We have to concentrate on our terminal, our double-hull barge, and become more efficient, with less paperwork,” he added.

R. M. Packer Company has begun construction of a new office building, across Beach Road from the oil terminal. It will house back office and retail services, for customers to pay bills or start or suspend oil deliveries.