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Niagara County town’s ‘new’ truck once hauled tanks in Germany

HARTLAND – The Town of Hartland has a hefty new 10-wheeler in its highway department fleet these days.

Well, it’s new to Hartland, but it’s actually a used, U.S. government surplus vehicle – once employed to haul tanks in Germany – and it was acquired for a fraction of what it would have cost brand new, according to Hartland Supervisor W. Ross Annable.

“If we had bought it new, it would have cost about $150,000,” Annable noted. “We got it for $20,000. We had some expense in retrofitting it (to become a snowplow), but we still saved $100,000.”

The savings was such that the town intends to continue to pursue these deals, whenever necessary and whenever available, particularly for service trucks like pickups, Annable said. He added that they’ve had some recent luck with these, as well.

“We also bought a couple of pickup trucks last year, one from the Fort Drum area and one from Pennsylvania – all in a day’s drive,” he said.

“One pickup, a 2008, had 100,000 miles on it and we got it for $5,000,” he noted. “It was in very good condition. It had been used by the U.S. Soil and Water Department. We got it for Mike Hartman, our zoning officer and town assessor, who does inspections and assessments. We marked it and put a light on it, so people know it’s a town vehicle.”

Mining the used government surplus field represents a shift in the municipality’s mindset, which might have had to pay $30,000 for a new pickup in the past, and then try to get 20 years of use from it, Annable noted.

When purchasing government surplus vehicles, Annable said the town tries to buy “basic, stripped down bodies” and then sends them out for major work, like installing a “dump body or plows.”

But he added that the town realizes further savings by having its own mechanics remove any military equipment that won’t be needed and installing new brakes, etc.

“This (snowplow) truck was a little beefier than what we would have ordered, but it only had a couple of thousand miles on it,” Annable said. “By the time we got it retrofitted for plowing by the end of February, we didn’t really have any winter left to use it as a plow, so we ended up saving another year of (plowing) use on it.”

The truck has proven a sturdy hauler this spring and summer, waiting for the first flakes to fly.

Annable credits Keith Hurtgam, the town’s superintendent of highways, with locking down these deals.

“It’s not easy,” Annable said. “You have to get online and track it all. There’s no book on how to do it – you just have to find your way along with the federal government sites – what it is, how to purchase it, where to pick it up. They’re out there, but you have to find them. There isn’t just one place to get regular Army, Reserves or National Guard equipment – there are all different venues.

“This takes some homework, some shopping, and it’s about developing a rapport with people at these sites,” Annable said. “There’s a lot of legwork involved, but we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy all of these trucks brand new.”

The town has been actively bargain-hunting in other areas, too, for a while.

“We’ve purchased other items, but this (plow) truck is one of the larger items,” Annable said. “We’ve bought equipment like generators, compressors, and a power lift.

“And, we’ve bought a couple of smaller surplus trucks in the past,” Annable said. “One is a tank for mixing chemicals (for pretreating winter roads) and the other is a paving box (which keeps blacktop hot). We got them for $5,000 apiece and, even if we had bought them used at a regular auction, they would have been about $40,000 apiece, so it was still a very good value.”

While Hurtgam is away on vacation, Chris Jenks, deputy highway superintendent, is in charge.

“We have our superintendent, Keith, and five full-time workers and two part-time mechanics in the department,” Jenks said. “The mechanics put the hydraulics on these (used surplus) trucks, the brakes and check the fluids. The fuel tanks were on the right side on the Army trucks and they switched them to the left.”

Jenks sees the value in buying used equipment for the town.

“This has saved quite a bit of money,” he said.

Of course, Annable admitted, “It’s a gamble. You buy a used truck for $5,000 and it might turn out needing $5,000 worth of work instead of just $500. But we’ve been lucky so far.”

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