The Dash Between the Dates

By Thomas F. Glenn– 10/19/2020

Raymond Battersby 1926 – 2020

On Thursday, July 2, 2020, the Battersby family and many other families lost their Patriarch and Hero in a tragic accident; Raymond “Ray” Daniel Battersby. 

This story is a tribute to Raymond’s life and the many others like him; both living and deceased, who have dealt with adversity. The story of someone who worked long and hard hours, took great risks, and set and reached goals to succeed in the lubricants business.

Raymond Battersby was born on April 9, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois. Orphaned at 6 years old, he spent his entire formative years at St. Mary’s Catholic Training School in Des Plaines, Illinois. At that time Maryville was a completely self-sustained orphanage where all children took part in the daily work to run the farm and facility that housed, schooled, clothed, and fed nearly 1,000 kids. Maryville Academy would become the place where Raymond would be blessed to meet his best friends and enormous future extended family. 

As a young boy Ray got a hands-on education in business by working in the orphanage shoe shop for years until his early entrance into the Navy at 17 years old. Ray’s proud service to his country during WWII was mostly spent on the U.S.S Adair–APA 91, as a Coxswain, piloting Landing Crafts for troops and equipment. The training Ray received at Maryville served him well in the Navy, which required leadership skills, problem solving, decision-making, planning, and organizing. After his service, he was ready to put all of those skills to use.

At the end of the war, Ray returned to his family at the orphanage. There, his loving and official legal guardian, Monsignor Mulcahey, gave Ray a $3,000 loan to buy his own shoe repair shop in Chicago. Although the business was doing well, Ray had a bigger vision and made a career path change. He took a job with Sinclair Oil delivering home heating oil. This is where he started his lifelong work in Petroleum Distribution.

Determined to once again own a business, after finishing work delivering oil, Raymond would spend his nights crawling through the basement windows of houses under construction to put stickers on the oil tanks. The stickers displayed the name and number of his vision; his fledgling company. And when the phone started to ring, Ray “Batts” bought his first truck and in 1954 his new venture, Mid-Town Fuel Oil, was off and running. 

While his business was doing well and he became a good customer of Sinclair Oil, Ray grew concerned about the long-term prospects for its growth. The housing boom of the 1950s was on and nearly all the new houses on the fringes of the city and in the suburbs of Chicago were being built with gas heating. Seeing this, Ray shifted focus to gasoline and diesel fuel and opened a gas station “Gas for Less.” In addition to retail, the company sold fuel wholesale. It was during this time that a Chevron sales representative approached Ray and asked if he was interested in selling lubricants. It didn’t take long for him to make a decision after hearing one of his employees say, “I can sell lubes, it fits well with our existing customer base for fuels and Delo is very popular brand at truck stops.”

As the story goes, according to Ray’s son Bill, who had been working with his dad since he was old enough to sweep floors and change tires at the gas station, “Lubricant sales and profitability grew so quickly that I remember my dad announcing to his employees, ‘The next guy who sells a load of fuel will be fired.’” And with that, Ray changed the company name to Mid-Town Petroleum in 1963 and was all in with lubricants.

Ray and his team worked tirelessly to grow sales and by 1981, when he handed the baton to his son Bill to take the business to the next level, the company was selling over 1 million gallons a year. This was big volume back then and it made Mid-Town Petroleum one of the largest lubricant distributors in the region.

 

For those that know Bill, as I do, he is living proof that the apple doesn’t often fall far from the tree. Bill took the opportunity and ran with it. In addition to driving rapid growth in sales, he was one of the first in the business to implement computer technology to streamline back office transactions and logistics. He later brought in Jeff Hart (his bother-in-law) to run and help grow the business.

It was a family affair, and with all hands-on deck, Ray helped guide his son and son-in-law to over 5 million gallons in sales and ultimately, working through the decision to sell Mid-Town Petroleum to RelaDyne in 2010. In Bill’s words “My dad, me, and Jeff agreed that it would be a monumental challenge to finance the rate of growth required to stay on top in the rapidly consolidating lubricants business, and with that the timing was right to sell. RelaDyne offered a good deal that included a salary and a place for Dad to go until he decided he was done.” Ray finally retired about 5 years after the sale.

That closed a chapter in the book of business successes in Ray’s life and on July 2, 2020, Ray lost his life in a car accident. A car accident driving back from Illinois to Utah after visiting his life-long brothers, sisters, and friends from the orphanage where his legacy began. 

Whereas JobbersWorld hopes Ray will rest in peace, Ray’s son Bill says, “Not likely, you have to believe that Monsignor Mulcahey knows a good worker, and put dad back to work the second he showed up. “

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Photos courtesy of the Battersby family