Thomas Brothers Oil and Propane 100 Year Celebration is set for Saturday, June 19, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at it’s location at the intersection of Main Street, Yanceyville and Rt. 158. The Open House will feature free BBQ and a raffle. All are invited.
History of Thomas Brothers Oil and Gas, Inc.
Walter Lea Thomas, Jr. started the business in 1921 in the Town of Milton. A small general store was provided by his father and his brother was given several farms in Caswell County.
His business was incorporated as Caswell Oil and Gas Company with his father, Walter, Sr., as a stockholder.
His first petroleum supplier was Esso and he got his fuel by train delivered to two 8,000 gallon tanks on a rail siding near the Milton train depot close to the Dan River.
The Esso deal was short lived and he moved to Texaco as a supplier. The two fuels he sold were kerosene and gasoline.
Kerosene was the largest supplier as sawmills were his largest customers, and kerosene was used to run their tractors and stationary engines. Gasoline was used to start these engines and as they warmed up, the kerosene tank was turned on for normal operation. Gasoline sales increased as more automobiles and trucks came with improved roads.
Gasoline pumps and tanks were installed at many country stores and even on sidewalks in front of businesses in town.
The two bulk tanks at the railroad were moved to the store. Walter Lea drove his fuel truck to Hopewell Virginia where there was a fuel terminal on the James River that was supplied by ships coming from the refineries in Texas and Louisiana.
He also drove to Philadelphia to get motor oil and lubricants in bulk from a refinery there.
He bought his first real tractor-trailer, a 1931 Chevrolet, and a 4250 gallon tanker. The 1931 Chevrolet was replaced with a 1936 model because of the increased power and hydrolic brakes.
A two bay garage for tire sales and auto repair was attached to the store.
The company changed fuel suppliers before World War II to Republic and they had two of their ocean tankers delivering to the Hopewell terminal.
The business grew quite a bit in the 1930’s, increasing supplying service stations with gasoline and tires and batteries for the growing number of automobiles.
World War II brought fuel and tire rationing and early in 1942, both of Republic’s tankers were sunk by German U Boats. With not enough fuel and tires to sell to make a living, Walter Lea moved to a nearby farm with his wife and three boys and started buying tracts of timber that he could cut and saw with his own sawmill. The three young men were introduced to some hard work by their father.
In 1947, the company opened a branch office in Yanceyville and then built an office/retail general merchandise store with an automobile service bay in 1948. A bulk fuel plant was built behind the office.
The main fuel supplier became Crown Oil Company out of the terminals built in Greensboro during the war.
Walter Lea, Jr.’s three sons, Walter Lea Thomas, III, John Yancey Thomas, and Erwin Bernard (Bernie) Thomas soon were working in the oil business full time.
Walter Lea and his son, John Yancey Thomas, started another company, T & T Oil Company, in 1952 and soon had four independent branded gas stations in the Danville Virginia area. Another brother, Bernie Thomas, was with T & T until shortly after his marriage when he began working as a tobacco buyer and supervisor for a local tobacco company.
Sales of Number 2 fuel oil and diesel began to increase as more homes installed central heating and diesel trucks became more common. Kerosene sales were for home heating and tobacco barns as they switched from burning wood.
The company switched branded fuel suppliers to Phillips Petroleum Company around 1957.
Thomas Oil Company supplied about a dozen service stations and stores as well as T & T. The company used their own 8,500 gallon tractor-trailer to transport fuel from terminals in Greensboro.
Home delivery of fuel oil and kerosene increased and most all of the company had moved to the larger office in Yanceyville.
Walter Lea, Jr. retired to travel with his Airstream and spend time at home with his grandchildren. Walter Lea III and John Yancey ran the oil company.
In 1964, Thomas Oil began selling propane and a bulk tank and warehouse were built in a new location in Yanceyville.
Tobacco barns were converted from oil to propane and residential propane use was mostly for cooking and space heaters replacing kerosene and wood fired heaters.
Two-way radios were used to dispatch and communicate with the delivery trucks from the offices.
In 1972 the company was incorporated as Thomas Brother’s Oil and Gas, Inc. a new office was built, and bulk distillates and gasoline plant were added to the location of the propane plant.
Walter Lea III’s son Marc C. Thomas and John Yancey’s son John Y. Thomas Jr. became more involved in the business after school and during the summer when school was closed.
Marc started work at the company after college in 1978 and John did the same in 1979.
A second 18,000 gallon propane storage tank was added and propane sales increased over distillates and gasoline. Installation and service of propane appliances increased.
Factory built bulk-curing barns were sold, delivered and serviced as they quickly replaced the log curing barns.
Thomas Brothers purchased an 11,000 gallon propane tanker and began transporting their propane to Yanceyville from Apex NC.
Thomas Brothers began to remove its underground fuel tanks at older locations and began environmental remediation at sites where needed.
Marc and John began buying the business from their fathers.
Residential use of propane exceeded agricultural uses, and the company purchased many propane tanks and additional installation and service equipment to keep up with demand.
The company began to use common carriers for its fuel purchases from the terminals. The road tractor and both fuel tankers were sold.
A 30,000 gallon bulk propane tank was added to the two 18,000 gallon tanks at the propane plant. Additional licenses were obtained and training in the handling of propane by the employees was increased.
Thomas Brothers was delivering fuel and servicing propane equipment in five counties in NC and Virginia.
Sales of gasoline and kerosene decreased as sales of propane increased. Heating fuel oil declined, but remained profitable to deliver to farms and homes.
Three new propane delivery trucks and purchases of additional tank setting and service trucks were made during this time.
Phillips Petroleum Company ceased operations and support in the Southeast and Thomas Brothers created their own logos and signage for the deliver trucks. Propane and other fuels were purchased from several other suppliers on an unbranded basis.
Nearly all of Thomas Brothers required environmental remediation was completed.
Marc and John Thomas sold Thomas Brothers Oil and Gas, Inc. on June 5, 2019 to Stone Road Energy. They remained at work for a time to assist in the business transfer.
John Y. Thomas, Jr.