“Oh great, just what I need,” I said to myself as I approached the rental car in the Hertz Gold Club lot. I knew I’d be zipping across the New Jersey Turnpike to cover stories about contractors for our “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.

I’ll be the first to admit that speed is part of my driving vocabulary (although I have a clean driving record at this point). When I have to cover a lot of ground on my contractor visits, I tend to push the accelerator a little harder.

Naturally, the sight of a red Mustang caused a minor palpitation. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to grin and bear it. Maybe on this day I’d slow down a bit. I had to make two stops at the winners of our “Best Contractor to Work For” contest. The first was Meyer & Depew Co. Inc. in Kenilworth and the second was 75 miles to the east at Runnemede Heating Co. Inc. in Runnemede.

Meyer & Depew is no stranger to The News, having been part of a feature I did on New Jersey contractors last year. So I don’t think Bobby Ring will be too offended if I talk about Runnemede and not about his company, which lies in the shadows of the Newark/New York metropolis.

Runnemede is a small town, population of 10,000 or so, and is close to the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. I couldn’t find it on my Hertz map but luckily it found me as I judiciously studied my Internet driving instructions. The locale is small and quaint. It seemed to be a place where more people passed through on their way to somewhere else, than stopping in to visit.

What impressed me the most were the people of Runnemede Heating Co. When I met owner George Stanch and his sons, Jim and Jeff, I knew I was in for a good story. After talking with their staff and touring their facilities, I had a good story.

The company epitomizes what I call the “family spirit” of our independent hvac contractors. They are easy to talk with, knowledgeable about their trade, good to their employees, and a solid part of their community.

They span two small buildings on the town’s main street. One houses their retail walk-up business and the other, about 100 feet to the east, houses the service side-general offices.

When I say “houses” I’m not kidding. The retail store is a former residence and a full kitchen is still in use. In fact, data-entry clerk Caroline Wildermuth sits at the edge of the kitchen, only a few feet from the refrigerator.

The Stanchs are worthy winners and they enjoyed the “slight intrusion” that I and freelance photographer Debra Byers made when we spent a couple of hours with them. In fact, Byers, a veteran of hundreds of photo shoots, said the Stanches ranked right at the top of her list of “good sports.”

I hope the Stanchs last many years in Runnemede and I would like to pay them a return visit someday. I also hope The News has put one more feather in their cap. They deserve it.

By the way, my driving record is still clean.