ODEM – Joe Matocha will turn 83 next month but no one would know it by talking to him. Or better yet, hearing him talk to them. He speaks fast, has a wealth of knowledge on various subjects and can switch between those subjects in a single sentence sometimes.

He’s a lighthearted, cheerful, energetic man and it’s clear to see why his customers have been faithful to his company for 30 years.

It was 42 years ago that Joe started his path down propane lane. He worked for 12 years in Mathis at Tide LPG. When the company was sold in 1978 Joe was laid off, but he isn’t bitter about that.

“They said I did a good job and I was never off more than two cents,” he said. 

Daniel quickly joked, “And that’s why now you always give your two cents.”

Joe and his two sons, Daniel and Joseph, make up JNL Propane. Daniel joined his father a year after the business started in 1991 and Joseph joined in 2004.

In the beginning

When Joe was laid off he took the bonus they gave him for the year and headed to Lytle, Texas and bought his first propane truck and a business was born.

“We were looking for names for the propane business and I don’t remember who came up with it, but there had been a couple of businesses that we heard about called JNL in the Corpus area,” Daniel said. “And then a light bulb just came on and we said that also stands for Joe and Linda. 

“My brother and mom and dad were talking about it and we just liked it. They liked Joe and Linda so it became JNL Propane.”

In the beginning of JNL, it was only Joe and his wife Linda who ran the office up until her death in 2012.

“We were married for 49 years and two months just to be exact,” Joe said. “Almost made it 50 years. Almost.”

When Daniel joined he helped build up the customer base from around 75 customers to the now hundreds they service throughout the Coastal Bend region.

Propane in the (sort of) modern age

Living in the city it’s unusual to see propane tanks in people’s backyards but in the rural parts of South Texas people rely on it for everything from heating their homes and cooking to fueling their backup generators.

“The reason why it’s the best fuel for backup generators is you never have to worry about a gummed up carburetor,” Daniel said. “When you try and start a generator on propane it starts the first time because it’s the cleanest fuel. I mean, if you look at propane in a styrofoam cup, it looks exactly like Sprite. The only reason it smells is because they put an odor in it.”

Their delivery trucks also run on propane which was a thing in the 1970s and 1980s before gas giants appeared and petrol became the standard.

Daniel also said that some of his customers still have old chamber stoves that work some 80 years later.

“Oh, and we didn’t take credit cards up until last year,” Daniel laughed. “Everything was cash or check. As we age we get used to doing business a certain way but people under 40 don’t even carry cash with them. They don’t use checks anymore. So we were missing out on business because we weren’t taking credit cards. 

“Dad finally said last year, after years of me saying we need to take credit cards, he started taking credit cards.”

Healthy living

While speaking with Daniel, Joe came up and started talking about all the vitamins and supplements he takes. He mentioned that he also tells his customers all about them, too.

“People ask me why do I do that and I say if my customers live longer I can stay in business longer,” he laughed.

Daniel added, “But we also just want people to live longer just to be healthy, right Dad?”

One aspect of maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is for the first time Joe got to attend the Crossroads Propane Convention where he finally got to meet people he’s known for years but only talked to over the phone.

“This gal came up to me and said she waited 17 years to meet me and just gave me hug after hug after hug,” Joe grinned. “She was a very nice girl and everything was really nice.”

Natural disasters

“During the pandemic we’ve seen a little uptick, not much, but a little uptick of people who are cooking more at home three times a day,” Daniel said.

Joe added, “And the kids are at home and they got to eat three times a day.

“I’m 83 years old and I have never seen anything like this. To stop the economy and all that. I mean, right now, can you imagine it? There’s so many people not working.”

Harvey was the first major hurricane that they had in the area since JNL began business. They had a surge of orders from people wanting to fill their propane tanks at home so they would be too heavy to blow away and of course fuel for the generators.

“We prepared for it by trying to be there for the customers,” Daniel said. “In fact my brother, as Harvey was coming on shore, he was still delivering.”

He said that the real issue came after the storm and they had no way to let people know that they were ready to check for gas leaks in people’s homes or make deliveries because the internet was down and power was out in portions of the state.

“Our biggest worry was the customers’ safety,” Daniel said. “Eventually we got on the air at a local radio station and mentioned that we offer free gas checks at their house to make sure that their systems were safe.

“And we just worked longer hours to do what needed to be done and help out.” 

The future of JNL

The company is also now focusing on larger clients such as hotels, restaurants and new housing developments.

But it’s the heart of the business, Joe himself, that’s keeping JNL going strong. Oh, and just to mention, he owns a farm in Beeville and works there when he can on  weekends.

So how long will he be presiding over the propane throne?

“Oh, I’ll be here forever,” Joe laughed.

Daniel added, “He doesn’t plan on retiring. He’s going to go as long as he can. I came in and I’ve taken over a little bit more of the day-to-day and managerial duties so there’s not quite as much stress.”

It’s hard to imagine Joe stressed as talks to me about how to cook corn in the microwave and how good it makes the house smell before asking who my parents are and when will the article come out all in one sentence. 

“Anyway, that’s about the end,” Joe said. “I’m here and I still enjoy my job. I still enjoy talking to people but some people say I talk too much.”