Natural-gas trucks bankrupt Minnesota trash company

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. - An Inver Grove Heights trash-hauling company has been dumped into bankruptcy by an unlikely villain - defective truck engines, says its former owner.

Denny Troje of Troje's Trash & Recycling said his 47-year-old business was killed by service delays caused by the natural-gas engines in his trucks.

"I lost my whole damn retirement," Troje said. He also lost his Woodbury home, trying to keep the business afloat. At age 70, he has been forced into a new line of work - pouring concrete driveways.

"I gotta eat," said Troje, who has moved to Walker, Minn.

Last month national trash hauler Republic Services announced it bought the remnants of Troje's business and plans to continue service to customers.


Troje said that in 2013 he fell in love with the idea of clean-burning natural-gas engines for his trucks. "I wanted to have the greenest company in Minnesota," he said.

He bought seven trucks, which can cost up to $300,000 each when equipped for recycling and trash hauling.

The trucks proved an instant hit. Troje said they were the reason he landed a lucrative contract with White Bear Lake, Minn. "The city council wanted a clean, environmentally responsible company," he said.

Then the engines began to fail.

The website for engine maker Cummins Inc. reported that a Pennsylvania company filed suit in 2015 because a new natural-gas engine caused a fire after being driven 3,000 miles.

According to media reports, Cummins recalled 25,000 of the natural-gas engines in 2014, citing a cold-weather problem that resulted in flames shooting out of the exhaust. Cummins did not respond to phone messages and emails.

Troje said he eventually had to replace 13 engines in seven trucks. He said the manufacturer honored its warranties and replaced the engines, but the process often took months. At one point, six of his seven trucks were idled.

"Those engines were pushing rods and pistons right through the side," said Troje. "You would put in an engine, and two weeks later you would do it again."


Other haulers, however, like the natural-gas trucks. "We are going to continue buying them," said Dave Wiggins, division vice-president of Ace Solid Waste in Ramsey, Minn., which serves many metro suburbs.

He bought several trucks a year, starting in 2012, until he had 21 natural-gas trucks out of a fleet of 80. The trucks are roughly as reliable as his diesels, he said, and they are quieter and cleaner. Troje, he speculated, may have bought new trucks before the glitches were worked out.

Troje's Trash declared bankruptcy in January. But the company continued to serve customers with a shrinking number of trucks.

"We started missing pick-up days," said Troje. "The drivers got so mad, not even knowing if their trucks were going to make it through the day."

Complaints rolled in.

Troje's was cited in May by the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota for not responding to 17 complaints. The bureau had received 68 complaints in about three years; Troje said he never contacted them to explain why the complaints were made.

Finally, last month, Troje gave up.

"It's totally my fault. I ordered those trucks. I thought they'd be great," he said.


A spokeswoman for the new owner, Republic, said former Troje's customers will weather the change in ownership. The company said there would be no change in the service schedule or the trash containers and no increase in bills.

But Troje himself isn't doing quite as well.

He reminisced about how he started the company in 1969 with a single truck.

He would not divulge the sale price but said it does not cover his losses. "I don't have enough money to break even," he said.

Troje said he will be visiting a lawyer to settle his own personal bankruptcy.

"I ran out of money," he said. "I shouldn't have done that."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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