ACHRNEWS

Gray Ghost Still Gallops in Gaithersburg

December 14, 2009
Mike Murphy of The NEWS interviews Vern Hruska, a 50-year employee of the Boland Trane distributor in Gaithersburg, Md., and the first service technician ever hired by the company. Hruska still starts his work day at 3 a.m.

GAITHERSBURG, Md. - The Boland Trane Co. will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010. As the company celebrates, so too will Vern Hruska, the company’s first service technician who was hired in 1960 by Louis J. Boland, the company founder. Aside from the fact that the 88-year-old Hruska plans to be at the party, what makes him so special? If recent history is any indication, the party planners will have to pull Hruska off of a jobsite when the party begins.

Hruska is still starting up and troubleshooting large tonnage Trane chiller systems, still begins his day at 3 a.m., and still beats everyone else to the jobsite when the fancy strikes him.

“When I first came to the company, I would get the on-call shift a lot, and it took a long time before I got off of that. Once in a while I still get calls at night,” said Hruska.

With nearly 50 years starting up Trane chillers at the independently-owned Boland Trane Co., one might think Hruska would prefer to sleep in some mornings - maybe even retire. Not so. Even if he did, it’s not likely that the octogenarian could actually avoid the technicians and customers that still call him - that is what happens when you place your home phone number on the inside of every chiller control panel that you have ever started up.

How many might that be? The Dean of Large Air Conditioning Systems, as he has been referred to, isn’t quite sure now, but years ago, at age 76, he vowed not to quit until he had hit the 1 million-ton mark. By the time he was 77, that mark was eclipsed.

Chances are actually pretty good that the 2 million mark is well within sight, but Hruska isn’t one to take chances. “Since I had back surgery in 2002, my nephew Kenny Locklin picks me up each day at 4:30 a.m.,” said Hruska.

“The other day we started two chillers. I get a lot more help from the people at Boland now a days than I used to when I would start up the CenTraVacs and absorption units by myself. These days, my favorite work assignments are jobs that are easy to get to,” he said with a wry smile.

Son-in-law Gary DiNunno said, “Vern has always been the go-to guy. He once couldn’t get to a jobsite, so he told a tech to hold the phone up to a chiller so he could listen to it. Then, he told him what was wrong and what to do to repair the problem.”

ADVICE FROM A REAL PRO

Hruska not only installed and serviced nearly all the Trane chillers on federal buildings and schools in the region for decades, he taught classes at Boland Trane up until about 15 years ago. The Gray Ghost as he is also known around the company because of his uncanny ability to show up on every job precisely when he is most needed, offered some advice for newcomers to the HVAC trade.

“Get a laptop and make sure you know everything about how to use it; you have to have that on all of these new machines in order to either find the problem or correct the problem. Also, ask a lot of questions while you’re learning,” said Hruska.

Hruska actually started his career with the Cafritz Co., one of the leading commercial builders in the Washington, D.C. area, after leaving the U.S. Navy in 1946. Lou Boland, also an ex-Navy man and a sales engineer with the Trane Co., lost a sale to the Cafritz Co. because Cafritz had a service organization. Boland knew he had to have a service company and called the top service technician at the Cafritz Co. - Verne Hruska. And, the rest is a 50-year history that has resulted in a lot of chiller systems installed in the region - about 1 million tons or so.

Publication date: 12/14/2009