Kempner: Snow and ice? Meet the salt guy

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

With snow and maybe ice heading toward metro Atlanta, a road salt salesman should be melting under the pressure.

“You would think it would drive us crazy,” said Les Brown, the owner of Georgia-Carolina Salt.

Yet he had plenty of time to chat about the intricacies of salt for deicing. He fielded a couple last-minute order pickups from government road departments. But there was no tidal wave of orders.

Even in Georgia, many governments and businesses keep at least a small supply of deicing stuff at the ready well ahead of time.

Because, when the snow hits the fan, it’s often already too late to get salt resupplies. Salt suppliers try to avoid driving on icy, snowy roads just like the rest of us.

“We are not going to run our tractor trailers when the roads are not passable,” he said.

Huh? Don’t you have trucks dolled up to look like overturned salt shakers, with spreaders tossing out deicing material on the road ahead?

Uh. No, Brown said.

A salt salesman in Georgia could go broke focusing on supplying road salt, said Brown, who for 38 years has been a distributor based near Augusta. “We would be broke 38 years ago if all we did was deicing salt. We are too far south.”

The bulk of his business is supplying salt for agriculture and chemical companies. Cattle need salt. So do laundry detergent makers, apparently.

“Deicing for most any company in salt distribution would be the bottom of the bucket. It’s the cheapest thing you can do.”

At least in the South.

Ordering in advance

Mark Klein is a Minnesota-based spokesman for Cargill Deicing Technology, one of the biggest road salt suppliers in the nation. The company supplies salt and automated brine-making equipment in Georgia. But its own closest stockpile is in Knoxville.

Most big customers order up salt months in advance – over the summer and, more recently, in the spring, he said. They can get resupplies during the winter. But it takes time.

“We’re not talking about,” Klein said. (His wife ordered boots one day and they arrived the next.)

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Brown, the Georgia salt distributor, said despite the Friday hoopla about Snowmaggedon preparations, potential customers may have been lulled by talk that at least initially focused on snow rather than ice.

Things could change.

“If it is a bad enough storm, we will get calls from everywhere,” Brown said.

Still, for a guy who makes at least some money from the system for battling winter, he sounds like he has a soft (warm?) spot for the fluffy stuff.

“I like to see the kids play in it,” he confided. “I wish it would snow four feet. I just like to look at it.”

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