With most of Riverhead tucked in tight, Brian Adler gets to work.
At 1:30 a.m., long before the farmer tends to her crops or the deli clerk brews his first pot of coffee, the Paraco Gas yard manager is climbing a set of portable stairs onto a railcar filled with propane.
It’s a routine he repeats just about every workday this time of year — rain, snow or sleet — and something he’s become so expert at he’s expected to reach a major milestone this week. The Ridge resident is on the precipice of unloading train car No. 5,000, a benchmark company executives believe no one has ever reached before — anywhere in the country.
“That’s what I’ve been told,” said Jimmy Leach, Paraco’s Riverhead branch manager. “As far as we can tell, this is an industrywide record. No one has ever done this that long. And the key thing is he’s never had an accident, injury or incident.”
On Monday, Mr. Adler unloaded his 4,993rd train car since joining Paraco in July 2000. Averaging three per day, and assuming the company gets a delivery each day this week from New York & Atlantic Railway, he’ll reach 5,000 today.
The affable 46-year-old is modest about his achievement, but admits it’s something he’s had his eye on for some time. He said it took him 10 years to hit 2,500 train cars — an accomplishment in its own right — and just seven more to double that number.
“The pace is picking up,” he said from a platform in the Riverhead yard he manages. “That tells me not only am I getting better at it, but we’re servicing a lot more customers.”
Paraco was in just its fifth year in Riverhead when Mr. Adler joined the team, but he’s worked in the industry his entire adult life, doing a variety of jobs for other companies. Despite the unusual hours he’s forced to work, he says he still loves grinding in the yard.
Mr. Adler starts his day at 1:30 a.m., running hoses from the train car to the storage tanks on the Kroemer Avenue property. Much of what he and his crew of two other workers do is about precision. The pressure and temperature need to be just right, and that’s no easy task considering the impacts of outside weather and the path the railcars traveled. Every car is different, he said. The process typically takes about eight hours and the crew rounds out its day transferring the propane from the storage tanks to the various other ways it gets distributed into the community.
Mr. Adler said he usually gets home around noon and is in bed by 6 p.m. to get enough sleep for another day in the yard. Because his wife, Dina, works a more traditional schedule for a local engineering firm, it means he only gets to see her on weekends. Though that kind of arrangement isn’t for everyone, it’s something the couple has grown accustomed to.
“You know what they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Mr. Adler said, a smile peeking through his beard.
Mr. Leach describes Mr. Adler as a model employee, someone who can be counted on to complete the task at hand with no complaints and without having to be micromanaged.
Mr. Adler said that’s probably because he loves his job and the company he works for.
“I can’t think of a single Sunday where I got that first day of school feeling, like I just didn’t want to come to work,” he said.
Even in winter?
“It’s obviously toughest in the snow, when it’s icy and dangerous,” he said. “But there’s an adrenaline rush there, too. I like that.”
A major reason no one has ever unloaded 5,000 train cars before is that it’s not the type of work you can do for a long time, as it’s both physically demanding and requires laser focus no matter the conditions. Approaching 17 years in the yard, Mr. Adler is a veteran in his chosen profession and is currently training his replacement, though there isn’t any timetable at this point for him to move into another role with the company or retire.
Like a baseball player recording his 3,000th hit, the milestone will be met with some fanfare from Paraco and the greater propane industry, though much of what’s ahead has been kept secret from Mr. Adler. For now, his coworkers are mostly just teasing him, asking if his head still fits through the door.
So how does he plan to celebrate his accomplishment?
“Ironically, I have a vacation scheduled for next week,” he said.
Photo: Paraco Gas employee Brian Adler stands atop a train car Monday — one of almost 5,000 cars he’s unloaded in the 17 years he’s worked at the Kroemer Avenue facility. (Credit: Grant Parpan)