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Superstorm creates big business for large generators

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's snowing outside, and branches snapping under the weight of the heavy, wet snowfall onto power lines cause the power to fail at a nursing home.

The nursing home staff calls Rodney Canterbury and his 22-person crew to help.

Canterbury's team provides the nursing home with a generator. The patients don't have to be evacuated and everyone remains safe, warm and comfortable.

It's a situation Canterbury and his crew encounter often.  

"There's a personal satisfaction involved in that," Canterbury said. "That's what keeps our staff moving and motivated."

Canterbury is general manager of Walker Machinery's Power Systems Division, which, among other things, handles sales, rentals and service of large generators.

"We offer generator rentals to convenience stores and gas stations all the way through to powering small communities," Canterbury said. "We're powering the exhaust fans for underground mines and the elevators in the mines. We also provide generator rentals to hospitals, nursing homes, wastewater treatment plants, water booster stations and cell phone towers.

"We work very closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Emergency Services in Charleston. We support and provide them with generators. When they get phone calls from around the state they will call us and we will coordinate the delivery, installation and fuel service for generators."

Widespread power outages caused by superstorm Sandy resulted in a spike in demand for generators. That translated into long hours for Canterbury's staff.

"We started receiving phone calls before the storm from customers wanting to be proactive and prepared," he said. "We sent out several generators between Thursday and Sunday prior to the storm. Then, as Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, we started receiving numerous calls from as far away as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

"As West Virginia was affected by the snow, we started receiving calls from local customers. We've been providing generators to our local customers and local businesses since last Monday."

The company brought in generators from Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Kansas to meet the needs of local customers. Canterbury said Walker provided all of the services from freight and delivery to installation, if necessary.

"In an average month we rent 25 to 30 generators," Canterbury said. "During this storm we've sent out in excess of 60 generators in less than seven days.

"We've utilized four freight carriers and two local electrical contractors to provide delivery and installation. We provide 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week sales, rental and service to these customers."

Canterbury said there was a major difference between the June 29 derecho and superstorm Sandy.

"The derecho was here and now - the storm came, it hit, and people were without power immediately. People had no time to be proactive.

"With Sandy, there was an opportunity for people to be proactive, call in and reserve generators for their business."

Canterbury was asked what he tells his wife when he goes home with the headline news from his day at work. He thought carefully and replied, "The 'Oh, wow!' story is the dedication of my employees when, without power at home themselves, they are willing to stay and work around the clock to help customers get their power back on."

The generators Walker sells, rents and services are bigger than the small portable units some homeowners use. To illustrate the capabilities of its Caterpillar-brand equipment, Walker had a large generator on display Thursday outside of its headquarters in Belle.

"This is a 400-kilowatt generator, trailer mounted," Canterbury said. "It is a multi-voltage machine. It will provide between 120-volt single phase and 480-volt three-phase power. It has a fuel tank capacity to run the machine for 32 hours. It's in a sound-attenuated housing so you can hardly hear it."

The model "is very popular for use in wastewater treatment plants and water pumping stations," Canterbury said.

"It would probably run 40 homes."

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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