Fourth Generation Takes Control of Harper Oil | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo submitted Three generations of Harpers pose in front of the Rugby Service Center. From left to right, Sheila Harper, Gil Harper, Darrin Harper, Justin Harper and his wife, Leah Harper.

Despite owning the Harper Oil and Rugby Service Center, Rugby matches for more than 80 years changed hands on January 1, with the three that took over promise to deliver the same quality service that has backed it up. .

New owners already know what level of service their customers expect – they’ve grown in the business.

Darrin Harper, who, along with his son Justin and daughter-in-law Leah, purchased the Sinclair Oil service center and distributor from his father Gil.

Darrin, Justin and Leah, all born in the Rugby region, know Harper Oil’s reputation as one of the state’s last full-service gas stations. Harper Oil customers stop by the station’s Sinclair pumps, where one of the station’s staff greets them, refills their tank, and provides services such as on-demand oil checks.

Darrin Harper said he had childhood memories when he got on the Harper Oil truck to make deliveries with his father. When he became a teenager he started working in the store.

“I have been here for 36 years” Darrin, a 1985 rugby graduate, said. “I got cut in basketball, then I came to work” he joked.

Darrin, who provides services like oil changes and tire maintenance, said he liked “Customers mainly, getting to know them”. Darrin said he hoped to continue the relationships Harper Oil has established with its customers over the years.

“Darrin is our tire man. He’s doing that part, “ Darrin’s mother, Sheila Gronvold-Harper said.

Sheila said she grew up in Barton. “When we were in high school, I met this guy” Sheila said smiling. “But my father was from Barton and he bought from Barton Oil Company”, she added, laughing.

Gil Harper nodded. “There were seven or eight of us in town at the time”, he said of the number of oil distributors in the region.

“Yes, it’s so amazing how many were here” Sheila added. “Now it’s just us, Envision, Arco and Schaan Oil. Imagine and we make the deliveries. There are only two deliveries left. We deliver in town and to the farm. We also deliver diesel and gasoline to farms.

“Rugby has been very good for us, not just rugby, but the surrounding area – Towner, Barton, Balta, Wolford – the whole surrounding area has been so good for us,” Sheila said.

“And that’s how we were able to stay in business. “

Sheila called Harper Oil’s full service “our secret.”

“We’re not on the highway so we have to do a draw here. Full service work. It’s an idea from the 50s and 60s, but it has always worked for us.

The full service model has not only helped build the reputation of the Harper Oil and Rugby Service Center locally, it has captured the attention of visitors from out of town and state. Online reviews from customers as far as Texas praise the Harper family’s business for helping them with car problems.

Gil Harper said his father, Ambert Harper, started the business when he arrived in Rugby from Fairview, MT. in 1939. “They called him ‘Bert'” Gil said of his father. What would become Harper Oil was a small gas station owned by Mobil Oil.

“Daddy never bought it” Gil said of his father. “Daddy died young.

Gil’s older brother, Bud was already working at the station when Gil started pumping gasoline and washing cars. In 1963, the same year Gil graduated from Rugby High, Bert Harper passed away.

The two brothers continued to work at the station.

“Gil was determined to continue like this” said Sheila Harper. “It was a lot because his father had worked so hard since he came here in ’39.”

Gil said he keeps a regular schedule at the station, working 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. He recalled the Sunday shutdown in 1973 due to oil shortages.

Gil and Bud eventually entered into a consignment agreement to run the station, then bought Rugby Service Station, which they renamed Rugby Service Center, in the 1970s.

In the late 1970s, Mobil Oil told the Harpers that they were withdrawing from the region. Gil, who at the time owned the business, purchased the petroleum distribution portion of the business.

“It was devastating when it happened” Sheila said. “We walked into the business and Bud was gone, and we were there, and Mobil left. They gave us a year to find another oil company and we found Sinclair. We’ve been with Sinclair ever since.

The two companies continued, aided by Darrin Harper, Mark Yoder and Eugene Voeller. Yoder and Voeller have worked for Harper Oil and Rugby Service Center for 44 years.

Voeller has become a familiar face to the farmers who take delivery of oil and fuel from Harper Oil.

Yoder said he enjoys providing full service to Harper Oil. “We change the oil and do minor maintenance work. We don’t replace the transmissions, but we flush the transmissions. We used to clean for McGuires and wash cars. We also carry out automatic details ”, Yoder said.

Yoder recently retired from his job at the Rugby Service Center to rest and spend more time at home.

The Harpers said they would be missed by Yoder. “Marc is part of the family” Sheila said.

“I’ve been here since I was in second or junior in high school in 1977. I really liked it. At first I could figure out anything in vehicles and make anything happen. I enjoyed making the customers happy. Customers trusted me and I took pleasure in making them happy with their vehicles. Yoder said.

“They almost had a baby on our living room floor”, Gil laughed, remembering a time when Yoder and his wife, who was in labor, came to their home before going to the hospital.

Yoder said he plans to relax after 44 years with Harper Oil, “But I’ll still be in rugby. Rugby is my home.

Kevin Michalenko, another Harper employee, has been with the company for seven years.

“I do the oil changes, pump the gas, check and change the tires. They treat me like family ”, said Michalenko.

“That’s what everyone loves (Harper Oil). People don’t have to pump their gasoline. We provide full service. We clean the windows and if they ask, we check the oil.

Justin Harper, one of Harpers’ fourth generation, said he also grew up in the business and can’t wait to take the helm with his father and wife.

“I graduated from Rugby High. I worked in high school at the train station. In 2010, I left to drive a truck ”, Justin said.

“For the past eight years he has worked on my family farm”, Leah Harper said. “This is the Wentz farm south of Rugby. He always knew he wanted to go back to the station and work there.

Leah said she will stay busy with Harper Oil, Rugby Service Center and La Bella Vita Salon, another business she owns. In addition to running her salon, she will do the accounting for Harper Oil and Rugby Service Center.

“The main thing is that we want to continue to offer the full service”, said Lea. “Rugby residents have known Harper Oil for their commitment to their customers for decades. “

“It is the Harper legacy that we want to carry on and we look forward to it” Lea added.

Justin nodded. “We want to continue this”, he said.


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