Rocket Fuel, a community owned gas station in Churdan, opened in January after the Sparky’s One Stop closed. Fifteen or so locals went in to revive the convenience store and fueling station.  BRANDON HURLEY | JEFFERSON HERALD

Community-owned Rocket Fuel in Churdan providing a needed service

“The convenience store is more for the people in the community. If you run out of something, where do you go? If the kids want a snack after school, where do they go? It’s kind of a sign of a dying town when you can’t support a gas station. We hope this model helps. If everybody is invested, then everybody will come here and shop here and make a little dividend off of it, hopefully.” - Lance Glendenning, part-owner of Rocket Fuel

By TOM FOLEY and BRANDON HURLEY
The Jefferson Herald

The small, rural town of Churdan, population a little more than 400, was in danger of losing a life-line.

That is until a group of civic-minded community members rose to the occasion. Rocket Fuel has the same mission as its namesake — serving the community.
The filling station and convenience store opened up in late January and is already a big hit in the region.

The fully community-owned gas station, which takes its name from the local Paton-Churdan High School Rockets, recently took over from the Sparky’s One Stop that had plans to close its local branch. With some upgrades to the facility, including a camera system and deep clean, the Rocket Fuel gas station is flying smoothly. The Churdan Sinclair outfit closed in mid-December, after deciding not to update their gas pumps, which would’ve cost north of $100,000 for the six pumps. Sparky’s, owned and operated by the Tiefenthaler family, boasts a string of gas stations and convenience stores based in Breda.

Sixteen farmers and business owners banded together to purchase the Churdan gas station.

“It’s not a typical business venture — where we are all in it to make some money and support our families, It’s more here to support the community, rather than the people who own it,” said Greg Carey, one of 17 owners of the local station.

Carey credits the idea for Rocket Fuel to Lance Glendenning, an implement manufacturer also in the Churdan Area. Glendenning was inspired by the many community-run businesses he encounters on the roads in North Dakota and South Dakota, sparsely populated regions of the nation.
These businesses thrived because they would receive the full support of the communities in which they operate. In turn, the communities would retain the full benefit of the business that they maintained.
That’s the model in Churdan, too.

“I think intrinsic value in Churdan is huge,” Glendenning said. “Because, it’s the only thing left in town. You’ve got an elevator and this, otherwise we have nothing to serve or promote the community.”

Sparky’s will continue to supply gas for Rocket Fuel as part of an arrangement between the two entities. Bob Drees, president of Drees Oil Company located in Carroll offered to haul the gasoline to the Churdan location as well. It’s truly a team effort.

“The Tiefenthalers have been really helpful in the transition because they wanted (Sparky’s in Churdan) to stay open,” Glendenning said. “It wasn’t making any money and they couldn’t justify keeping it open.”

Glendenning said they haven’t capped the number of local investors, either. They’d like for that total to grow, selling shares of the station at $1,000 a piece.

“Our theory is, if the community is invested, then the community will come in and use the store and it will be successful,” Glendenning said. “If the community is not invested, then maybe they’ll drive to Fort Dodge, Paton or Jefferson to get their fuel. We hope to have as many investors as possible to get good community involvement.”

Rocket Fuel offers both gas and diesel fuel options, as well as groceries, snacks, medicine, alcohol and tobacco products. It also offers hot food, roller dogs, coffee and donuts.
Glendenning said they’ll stock the store as best they can, giving Churdan residents a place to turn to in a crunch.

“The convenience store is more for the people in the community. If you run out of something, where do you go? If the kids want a snack after school, where do they go?” Glendenning said. “It’s kind of a sign of a dying town when you can’t support a gas station. We hope this model helps. If everybody is invested, then everybody will come here and shop here and make a little dividend off of it, hopefully.”

The location will employ three full-time employees with one part-time staff person. Hours will be from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Sharon Whitaker, former manager of the Churdan Sparky’s, agreed to join on as one of the Rocket Fuel staff. She’s been instrumental in the transition process, which Glendenning said, would have been a bit more challenging without her.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Whitaker said. “We’ve had a lot of new people move into town, and when they found out the Sparky’s was closing, they came in and said ‘We came here because (Churdan) had this store.’”

In keeping with its mission, Rocket Fuel plans to take on interns from the surrounding communities in the near future, giving work exposure with retail and stocking jobs to young people. Rocket Fuel management also plans to “open an ear” to the needs and desires of the community so as to evolve with changing demands.

“So far business has been good,” says Carey “The Sparky’s were fantastic ... They understood our motto and what we were trying to do, and they gave us a great deal.”

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