By Heather Lusk
When Taylor Oil Company began servicing Zionsville, the interurban train still ran down Main Street, and Zionsville’s population was slightly more than 1,500, a fraction of what it is today. Members of the Taylor family credit the success of their business, now on its third generation of family employees, to hard work, loyal staff and a strong moral compass.
Doug Taylor, president of Taylor Oil, repeats one phrase so often it is virtually his mantra.
“You have to treat people the way you want to be treated, whether they’re employees, customers or neighbors,” he said.
Founded by his father Lloyd Taylor, the business began on Main Street in 1948, then moved south to what was then the outskirts of Zionsville.
When Lloyd died in 2014, he left his son Doug, daughter Nancy Thayer and granddaughter Natalie Kruger at the helm of Taylor Oil. In the 70 years since Lloyd Taylor founded the company, it has evolved from supplying home heating oil to a distributor of petroleum and lubricant products.
An aerial picture of the property in the early 1950s shows 40 acres with the original farmhouse and barn that still houses equipment. The property wasn’t part of the Town of Zionsville until the area was annexed in 1999. A gravel road passed the front of the property alongside the railroad that once ran north along present day First Street.
Today, the Taylor property is 55 acres with six homes and the family business, now located in a building that was originally a chicken coop. The building has been expanded several times during the past 70 years to include a restroom, private offices and a conference room. The family donated the southeast quadrant of a 100-foot bridge to the town, now part of the Zionsville Rail Trail.
From WWII pilot to oil
Lloyd Taylor was stationed in California as an Army Air Force pilot during World War II. He was preparing to ship overseas in advance of the June 6 D-Day operation in Normandy. He wanted train other pilots, but a lack of demand led him back home to Indiana with his wife, Jane, and infant son, Steve.
Lloyd first began driving an oil truck for the Shell company. On his days off, he also drove for Zionsville’s Shell distributor. When the distributor’s owner unexpectedly died in 1948, Lloyd offered to purchase the business from his widow.
“That’s how we got started,” Doug said. “He worked 16, 18 hours a day, six days a week my entire life.”
When Taylor Oil began at 145 North Main St., its telephone number was 20. Initially, the business sold and delivered home heating oil, but as furnaces were replaced with the type not requiring specialized oil, Lloyd adapted the business model to include other oils and agricultural lubricants where he saw a need.
During high school, Doug Taylor drove a transport truck, shuttling fuel for the business. During slower summer months, the company transported other materials like pipes.
Today, the company distributes products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, specialty oil and lubricants. Originally, its sole supplier was Shell, but it now receives products from a variety of sources to remain competitive. An on-site gas station serves the police and fire department and some local residents. Patrons access their account with a pin code, paying at the end of each month.
Taylor Oil employs approximately a dozen people.
“The success that we have is directly due to the caliber of people that we have around us,” Doug said. “These guys would take a bullet for me.”
Doug’s niece, Natalie Kruger, has worked at the business since she was 8 and is primed to eventually take the leadership role.
“She’s next in line,” Doug said. “She’s our hope.”
Growing up with the company is an experience Kruger said is not easily replicated in a small community.
“It’s pretty unmatched in today’s world,” she said. “God has given us this little piece of Earth to take care of.”
She is proud of the business’s longevity.
“(My grandparents) had no idea how much it would bless multiple generations,” Kruger said.
Through the fire and flames
Two things that worry Doug Taylor are the possibility of a spill or fire.
The latter almost destroyed the business in 2008.
“It was traumatic,” said Taylor, who was returning from an errand when he saw the black smoke over Zionsville. “When I came past the (Zionsville) cemetery, I couldn’t swallow.”
Firefighters from four neighboring areas assisted the Zionsville Fire Dept. Foam that would have extinguished the burning petroleum products weren’t available to the ZFD at the time, so the best solution was to simply let the flammable material burn out.
“(The firefighters) kept the fire from spreading,” he said.
Taylor Oil had long followed a company policy to keep only one of each kind of transportation vehicle in a building at a time. After the fire, the company resumed operations quickly because it still had equipment.
A faulty furnace was determined to be the cause. With four generations of Taylors still living in homes on the property, Taylor said it’s rare when someone isn’t keeping an eye on the business.
“We’re extremely diligent,” he said.
Tanks on the property are above ground and gravity-fed, so there is no chance of a spill. Multiple dikes catch spills before they pass too far along the property, surpassing industry requirements, Taylor said.