The Founder: Part 2

The first months for NPL in 1967 weren’t easy. Noel didn’t know much about running a business, he didn’t have the technology to work in the winter, he had no credit and there wasn’t much work to do. The earliest jobs were connecting farm houses to natural gas main lines. In those days, when a gas company ran a main line across a farmer’s field, the gas company would leave the farmer a tap and meter, but the farmer had to connect to the main line himself. Noel went door to door offering to provide the pipe, run the pipe and install the regulator and odorizer. His first job was 300 feet of one-inch pipe to a dairy in Cherry Township near Hibbing, Minnesota. He charged the dairy $500. (Above: Noel’s welding rig parked in front of his trailer in 1967.)

Noel, his brother-in-law and an occasional hired hand were the original NPL crew. They did everything. His “fleet” consisted of a welding rig that he owned, a dump truck that he had traded his wife’s car for, a borrowed winch truck, a rented 580 Case backhoe and a little trencher. In that first year, NPL’s revenue was only $26,000. (Below: NPL’s first building in Gonvick, Minnesota.)

Noel’s sense of drive kept the business afloat. They operated according to the Texas idiom for hard work: “Root hog, or die.” Noel put the business first, living with his wife and daughter in a meager house trailer on next to nothing. “I couldn’t even spell business. I wasn’t very sophisticated, but I knew how to work hard. I had a lot of drive and a lot of what I call “want to.” I wanted a home, not a house. I wanted security,” Noel remembers.

 

 

Things didn’t stay slow for long. As soon as 1968, NPL got its first break that would kickoff three years of rapid growth. (Far left: Noel Coon (left) and Vance Norgaard (right) at a Distribution Contractors Association convention in 1969. Vance Norgaard would go on to become a shareholder and vice president. Left: Noel Coon in 1971 as featured in Pipeline & Gas Journal.)