Pumper Operator Takes on Extra at Every Turn

October 2021It would be common to find Watco’s Perry Thomas checking liquid level sensors on tank cars. It also would be natural to see him catching and stalling horses.

Or, once in a while, wearing a bunny suit.

Most days, Thomas is outfitted in safety apparel and working as a Pumper Operator at a petroleum transload terminal in Fryburg, North Dakota. His coworkers describe him as someone who is conscientious, always doing extra, and always looking out for others.

“When it comes to work, he’ll walk our loading rack as soon as he gets here,” says Susan Karpyak, the Terminal Manager at Fryburg. “If he identifies an issue, he doesn’t just throw a piece of paper at someone. He tries to be part of the solution.” Shawn Lindquist, Supervisor, agrees. “We have a checklist, and he comes in right in the morning and takes it out with him first thing. He doesn’t have to have it assigned. He takes that on himself.”

It seems to be a good approach; Thomas ends up getting ahead of problems for Watco and for customers. Karpyak and Lindquist say Thomas continually sees issues and then reports them so that Watco, and customers, can avoid safety issues or stay on top of needed repairs. He’ll notice an equipment problem and put in a work order for repair. He regularly makes safety observations that are reported in the company’s online tracking system and used to prevent incidents.

“He’s pretty proactive,” notes Karpyak. “He’s caught (issues with) our high-level probes before. He’s found a couple that didn’t work.” The probes, located at the top of tank cars, have sensors to detect liquid levels. “If he didn’t realize the probes weren’t working, we might overfill a car.” An accidentally overfilled tank car can mean exceeding a car’s legal capacity or weight, which could lead to a safety issue or a monetary fine.

Karpyak says that Thomas took the extra step of helping the terminal formalize the process of checking the probes. “He helped me develop an appendix to our standard operating procedures so we can check those weekly and not deal with potentially failing equipment. That’s way more than we ask of our team, but that’s Perry.”

Thomas is someone who’ll modify his plans and work extra to alleviate others’ workloads. Lindquist says there have been instances when Thomas has vacation days scheduled, but after learning of a particular upcoming challenge at work, he’s offered to change his vacation. Lindquist also recalls numerous times, especially in the winter, when Thomas has offered to take on additional work so that teammates, with distant drives home taking four or five hours, could leave work early. “He’s worried about them getting on dark, icy roads,” said Lindquist. “He offers to take on extra workload to make sure the guys get home safe.

“I don’t know anybody better. He’s always volunteering on his time off. He’s always going out of his way to help somebody else out.”

That leads us to the horses and bunny suit. Thomas is a frequent volunteer for the TR4 Heart and Soul therapeutic riding center in Bismarck, North Dakota, operated by his daughter. Thomas, or Papa Perry as he’s known by the young riders receiving therapy at the center, often walks beside horse and rider as a sidewalker. And “every single fund-raiser, my dad has been there,” said daughter Katie Oakland, “cleaning up the property, building whatever we need built, running errands …”

And dressing as the Easter Bunny, which he does during the center’s annual Easter Egg Hunt.

Oakland says her dad is “irreplaceable” and “one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet.” Lindquist calls Thomas “inspiring.” So a final thought from Karpyak is no surprise. “He’s the example we hold everyone to,” she says.


Read about others like Perry who are making a difference at Watco and beyond. Learn More