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Archive for Wednesday, May 8, 1991

STORM TROOPERS

May 8, 1991

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They lead a life on the road, plying their trade in high places.

They're called gypsies, stormers, storm troopers.

But no matter the name, out-of-town roofers have followed the weather to Lawrence.

"There's not a roof made that we won't get on," said Rick Payne, a supervisor for one of the dozens of out-of-town roofing crews that arrived here after a March 26 hailstorm.

"Anywhere there's some major damage we go in and assist," Payne said in his heavy Alabama drawl.

The storm troopers have come from many different parts of the country to repair the thousands of Lawrence homes damaged by hail.

"WITHOUT THE out-of-towners like us, people would go into the next winter without having their roof fixed," said roofer Ron Christie. He was hired to supervise the roof repair branch of Lawrence Mobile Wash, 415 N. Second.

Christie, a native of Wilburton, Okla., said a few out-of-town roofers who "don't know what they're doing" make a bad name for other storm troopers who do quality work.

"The guys who know what they're doing will stick around," he said, noting that ``many of them are known all around the country."

Roofers do not have to be licensed to work in Lawrence, but many of the storm troopers are licensed in other areas of the country. Many also are bonded, carry insurance and will provide references.

Christie, a second-generation roofer, said he'll spend six months to a year at a given location repairing and replacing roofs.

LAWRENCE IS the most recent home of an estimated 50 to 100 crews of out-of-town roofers. Many of them were in Denver last summer after a hailstorm, and in Charleston, S.C., after Hurricane Hugo pounded the eastern seaboard.

Because of the widespread hail damage here, many local roofing companies and contractors will temporarily subcontract with the out-of-town roofers. Other local companies may lease or even sell their names and telephone numbers to the storm troopers.

"We've had no less than 100 people call up wanting to use our name," said Mark Gwaltney, owner of Diamond-Everly Roofing, 2200 E. 23rd.

"Maybe 75 percent of those people were good, but you don't really know," said Gwaltney, who added that his company did not hire out-of-town roofers.

Nevertheless, Gwaltney and another local roofer, Gleason Gregory, said the out-of-town workers fill a demand.

"THEY ARE needed because there is a lot of work here," Gwaltney said.

Gregory, who does not hire storm troopers, added, "It's like buying anything else: If you don't question what you're getting, then you're not going to know."

Some storm troopers will tell customers up front that they are an out-of-town unit that specializes in storm repair.

"I have no problem with other companies coming in and saying that they are from out-of-town specializing in storm repair," Gwaltney said. "But I think the people who come in and try to make the customers think they're local are the ones who are deceiving."

Agreements between local roofing contractors and the out-of-town roofers may be set up in ways that are beneficial to both and also protect the customer.

FOR EXAMPLE, Christie said the local company, in return for the use of its name and telephone number, might receive payment of about $3 to $5 for every "square" of roofing materials installed by the storm troopers.

A square is a roofers' term for 100 square feet of roofing material.

Additionally, agreements can be set up where the out-of-towners will deposit $1 to $2 into a bank escrow account for each square they install. That escrow money, in turn, would cover any additional work performed by the local company to cover repairs for a warranty period.

Vickie Randel, vice president of Bank IV in Lawrence, said she's discussed setting up such escrow accounts, but added that no roofing companies actually have done so with her bank.

She said the concept is not unusual.

"Escrow accounts are actually quite common for those types of agreements," she said.

Joel Fritzel, owner of Joel Fritzel Construction of Lawrence, said he made an arrangement that allowed his name and telephone number to be used by Tom Brown, Midland, Tex., and Bob Decker, Overland Park, who specialize in metal work, slate and asbestos roofs.

Decker said he investigates local contractors before he enters into agreements with them.

"Usually, we try to find a real strong contractor and check them out before we go to work," Decker said. "Because we do specialty work, we can't afford not to do it right the first time."

STORM TROOPERS pick their locations by keeping an eye on severe weather. Most roofers simply watch television or read newspapers looking for weather-damaged areas that will need repairs.

Fred Ostby, director of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Mo., said a few roofers even use a National Weather Service computer hookup that tells them where and what type of severe weather hit on a particular day.

Domingo Villarreal Jr., a roofer from Lubbock, Tex., said he started roofing a few years ago when he needed work.

"If they like the way you do the work, they'll hire you," he said.

ANOTHER STORM trooper, Fidencio Martinez, Fort Worth, Tex., said he had worked in 12 states in 15 years. "My favorite (place) is where the money is," he added.

Another roofer, Mike Payne, 22, Gadston, Ala., says there are both benefits and drawbacks working from town to town.

"You can meet a lot of different people, but the trouble is it's usually when you're about to leave," he said.

The roofers point out they have a positive effect on the local economy. They eat here and they stay in local motels, mobile home parks and campgrounds. And, after tearing off old shingles and pounding on new ones up to 10 hours a day, six days a week, many of the roofers visit local taverns to unwind.

Larry Novascone, president of United Roofing Supply Corp. of Wichita, said he has been doing business with some storm troopers for years.

"The troopers that are good get a lot of bad press that is undeserved," he said. "Everywhere these guys go the local press . . . wants to put them all in the same barrel," he said.

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