Left to right: Elizabeth Manning, Natalie Peal
Celebrating Butane-Propane News’ 85 years of commitment to telling the stories of the propane industry

It’s been 85 years since Butane-Propane News (BPN) was first published as a standalone magazine. BPN has actually been around since 1931 as a section in Western Gas magazine, but BPN struck out on its own with its first full published issue in June 1939.

BPN has covered propane throughout its different phases, from post-war growth in the late 40s and 50s to Nixon’s price controls of the 70s, all the way to the modern-day fight against “electrify everything.”


To commemorate all that has come before and look ahead to what’s next, we’ve compiled an oral history of the magazine with Natalie Peal, former owner and publisher from 2005-2021, and Elizabeth Manning, former editor from 2021-2023, alongside current BPN Editor Jessica Phillips and Associate Editor Christina Miller. Read along with us as we reflect on 85 years of BPN.

Jessica: Natalie, could you give us a bit of background on your father, Bill Clark’s, tenure at BPN?

Natalie: He had worked at Gas Magazine in the late 1940s, into the 50s, so he was very familiar with BPN at the time. In the late 50s … he was given the editor position of Gas Magazine. … He did that for quite a while, and he knew a lot about [running] a magazine between the finances, the editorial — you name it, he knew it. In 1969, [the company that owned Gas Magazine] decided to drop the magazine for tax purposes, and so my dad was able to take it over. The September 1969 issue was the first one he put out as the owner. At that time, it was just a very small operation. He took a couple of the people who had worked for BPN at the time in Los Angeles and they became part of the staff. I helped out, and my mom was there working, and so we finally got everything set up. That’s how he ended up becoming owner of BPN, but he had to jump through a few hoops along the way and go to friends and get assistance in all sorts of ways from them. But it’s a tight industry, as you’ve probably learned. And once you have a friend there, they are going to be your friend for life. It’s a special place.

Jessica: Agreed. And building on top of that, can you also give some insight into your transition to the leadership of BPN?

Natalie: I learned the industry from the bottom up. And some of the people that had been around for a long time that were friends of my mom and dad’s became friends of mine as well. I started out as a production manager for the magazine. And then over the years, I learned more about the industry itself, and we lost somebody who could do proofreading fairly well. And so that got added on to what I was doing. I was always really picky about making sure things were correct. I did the bookkeeping, check paying and all of that, so I was familiar with that as well. I expanded my knowledge, and as years went by, I gave up some of the advertising chores that I had and got more into editorial and actually running the magazine. I’m not sure if Elizabeth found this to be true or not, and [Jessica] might, too, but it’s really hard having been peers with people, and then being put into a management position and having to criticize their work. And especially at the time, there were a lot of men who were [editors], and they did not always like having a female telling them that what they had done was not quite up to snuff. Then as my dad got older, he gave me more responsibility along the way. But I will say until the day he died, he really would look over BPN and be critical of it every single month. Sometimes I would get magazines that were scribbled all over in red ink, saying, “Why did you do this?” or “Why didn’t you do that?” He was a teacher along the way, so I learned to be as picky as he was about a lot of things.

Elizabeth: Was that hard for you, Natalie?

Natalie: Yeah, it was hard. I think the first board of directors meeting I went to was when I was maybe 23 or 24, and it was in San Diego. I went down there with my parents and my dad didn’t bother to tell me I was going to be the only woman in the board of directors meeting. ... Without having a whole lot of confidence at that time, my voice cracked when I had to introduce myself. But over the years, I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you better. And it’s been wonderful to see more and more women show up in the actual board meetings and especially becoming some of the chairpeople of the association.

Elizabeth: I’ve thought a lot about you and Nancy Coop [founding chair of the Women in Propane Council] over the past couple of months, because I think one thing Jessica and I have talked about is how the propane industry really just now is becoming much more diverse. And we’re actually seeing women, but then also, more people of color and ... minority groups, and how it’s difficult even now, right? Kind of feeling like you need to earn respect with some of the old guard of the industry and the people who know a lot more than we do about the day-to-day operations of propane. So I can’t imagine how that felt, not only taking over in your father’s shadow, but then also navigating that in an industry that was completely run by men.

Natalie: Exactly. Well, I did not make a big deal out of the fact that he was my dad, and I really did not want people to realize he was, unless they were good friends of his and knew the family. But when my dad was [inducted into] the LP Gas Hall of Fame, I still remember [PERC President & CEO] Tucker Perkins coming up to me afterward and saying, “I never realized he was your dad. I’ve known him forever.” And I thought, “Good. That’s how I wanted it.” I was able to do what I did because of what I did, rather than on his coattails.

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Jessica: Elizabeth, can you talk about your transition into leadership on BPN? Elizabeth: With BPN post-2021, we were in a different space than what Natalie was moving into because we were taking a really strong brand with an amazing history and a loyal readership and just building off of that. ... But the challenge that we were up against and what I had a really hard time with in terms of moving into that leadership role was, we did not have the propane background that I think so many in the industry find extremely important. And understandably so. We were the newcomers. ... That was daunting.

But, Natalie mentioned the tight-knit family atmosphere of the industry. … For the most part, this industry is so welcoming and so happy to help and eager to teach. That made moving into this leadership role a lot easier. And then, when you work with a team like Jessica and like [Account Executive] Landen Franklin, who never meets a stranger and also dives in headfirst in any situation he’s in, it’s difficult not to build strong relationships there. That really simplified things, to work with that kind of team. Additionally, when [Cahaba Media Group] acquired BPN, we worked with Natalie and we also worked with the previous team for months afterward. And that was absolutely crucial in understanding the industry and making sure we weren’t making any huge mistakes. And also that we were honoring the legacy that Natalie and her dad had built in creating the BPN that we would move forward with. We’ve built a team of those people we rely on when we have questions about the more technical parts of the industry.

Jessica: Could you share some of the most pivotal moments that happened in the magazine’s history?

Natalie: The formation of PERC [the Propane Education & Research Council], and my dad was very much one of the leaders in that. Milford Therrell and Glenn Miller were two of the people who were really pushing to get that through. There were times that Milford would call my dad in the middle of the night, and he’d call me in the morning to say, “OK, we’ve got this going on, and we need to get this to Congress, and we need to do this or that.” It was really an exciting time because they had the vision to know what PERC could possibly do for the propane industry. And so it was with their vision that was finally passed, and it’s just grown and blossomed from there and what they’ve been able to do. There were always the fights of propane versus electricity. That was one of the big things. The electric people always had far more money than the propane people did, and a lot more representation in Washington. I’m sure you see it all the time now, but there were different things that my dad would fight for because he could see a lot of the inequalities and how propane was misrepresented in what its capabilities could be.

Elizabeth: I think during my time on the brand, PERC has been at the forefront of a charge to rebrand propane to the broader consumer. And I think that’s been really important and will continue to be so for the next several years in terms of propane having a future and the broader economic and energy landscape. It was interesting to come into the brand right when PERC was leading that shift, but also a lot of propane marketers were determining whether they wanted to get on board with that or not. The last couple of years, we’ve seen this continuing push for electricity as the only energy source, especially in the United States. So that rebranding and the marketing around propane and it being a fuel for the future and not so much a fossil fuel of days gone by has been really important. But it’s also been the catalyst for a lot of interesting conversation, I think, in our industry. And also the back and forth with the people who have had successful businesses for years and don’t see the need as much. And then, the groups that are really seeing this as something that we need to push for on a much faster level and be more focused on it than we currently are. That’s been one of the themes since I’ve been working on the brand. But it’s interesting, Natalie, you saying that PERC was one of the biggest milestones because I think from my perspective, where would the industry be without PERC? There’s so many things that PERC does, so many programs that it leads that it’s such a voice for the industry and an advocate.

Christina: Could you describe the editorial philosophy that guided your process for content and how you ensured it remained relevant to readers?

Natalie: We talk to our readers a lot and we talk to people at conventions to get ideas and to ask them what was important to them. ... And that was one of the places to also get story ideas a lot of the time, and to be able to maybe focus in a different way than you would have if you hadn’t talked with the people. Depending on what their position was in the industry, you could get a lot of different ideas. ... [Bobtail drivers] could come up with absolutely wonderful ideas as far as what could help them out. And I think one thing I always liked was the … smaller companies that do not have the attorneys working for them. They might not have a lot of financial capabilities, but they need and want the information. … It’s necessary for them to make sure that they know about the new regulations that are coming up and that they need to satisfy those regulations to continue in business.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, but it’s especially true, I think, for propane because of the way a lot of the businesses are run. And it’s changing now, right? There’s a lot of M&A happening and has been over the past several years. But a lot of those companies are family-run, or if they’re not family-run, they have small teams. So managing a mix of providing them the news we think is important and they need to hear, but then also providing business content that is relevant to propane and specific to propane whenever possible. It helps them run things better while they’re focused on supply and demand and getting their delivery drivers out the door and making sure their trucks are running right.

For those small teams, a lot of them are focused on making sure deliveries happen on a day-to-day basis. And so because of that, … often worker retention might go by the wayside to some extent for a couple months at a time, or their accounting may not be in the most organized shape possible because they’re a small team. They’re doing their best. And so figuring out how to talk to those groups while also publishing the trends that the leaders in the industry are also thinking about, and speaking to all of those groups ... is hard.

So, I agree with Natalie. … It is so helpful to be at the shows and attend the board meetings because in those meetings, people are bringing their big problems to the association heads and they’re coming to talk to leadership about how they can help with something that’s happening on their teams. One thing that I didn’t know until I attended a board meeting was all of the problems with rail regulations and safety in the transport for propane. I learned about that at a board meeting, and then I took a deep dive when I got home. And then also just calling up readers and the people that you’re working with, industry leadership, and picking their ear about things that are going on — that’s also really important. That was something that helped me a lot in the early days … on the brand.

Jessica: Is there a story, interview or feature that was particularly rewarding to publish during your leadership?

Elizabeth: I think anytime we publish articles where we’re covering both domestic and global market trends, supply and demand, what we can expect for the next six months — that’s always really helpful to readers. And then [also] anything to do with regulations, codes, standards, etc. We published an article early on about a cylinder standard that had come out, but we got more feedback on that article than five or 10 of the articles that we publish, combined. It was an early reminder and also just a good lesson for me that we are a valuable resource in explaining those. A lot of the associations and institutions publish those codes, and they might give the very specific and accurate version of what that code is and how it should be enforced. But often for the readership, what was useful was to have someone who has ears in the industry to provide context around that code.

But then in terms of broader impact, we covered the ice storm and power outages in Texas that happened several years ago, and the impact it had on the U.S. and then also the awakening, I think, of the U.S. public in realizing how fragile the electrical grid was and how propane was able to serve a really important role … during that time period. It was the only fuel option for a lot of people that saved lives, literally — kept people warm, kept people with an option for cooking during that period. It was a terrible tragedy and an awful thing to happen, but for the propane industry, it was a good way for BPN and also the industry as a whole to illustrate the importance of the fuel and of our role in the energy mix.

Natalie: I think one of the things that I really enjoyed that we did was the women in propane articles, and especially coming from a time when women were not in propane. From the beginning there were a few men who were so supportive. And then to justify a woman’s place within the industry and today to see how things have changed and how women are playing a huge role in the industry itself. I’m proud of what we were able to do. … I think [more men] realized that women were a lot more than just someone to go get coffee. And to see these women who are great bobtail drivers now, who are running Ferrellgas now — just to let women have a chance to show what they could offer the industry and really be a prime source of leadership. … I’m so happy to see that these women are being given a chance. And if BPN had anything to do with it, then even better.

Jessica: Elizabeth and I came [to BPN] around the same time in 2021, and we could almost take it for granted that the Women in Propane Council exists, and that, as far as I can tell, it’s pretty well accepted in the industry. But I wasn’t there to witness its inception and any pushback that might’ve been there. And so to know how much it’s grown and to know that BPN played a role in continuing to tell the stories of women is a legacy to be proud of.

Christina: What trends or innovations do you foresee in the propane industry and how might BPN continue to evolve and serve as a valuable resource for its readers?

Elizabeth: I think training and retention and recruiting in this workforce is going to continue to be a challenge, as it is in a lot of other industries. And so if we can, as BPN, provide more efficient processes, better training resources, so that we’re offering our readership better resources in that regard, that’ll be helpful.

And then in terms of trends or innovations, propane will continue to establish itself as a key player in the route to clean and reliable energy. But we’re at the beginning road of renewable propane in my mind. We’ve got some key companies in the industry and the early adopters who are producing renewables and really doing the research there. But I think that’s only something that’s going to grow. It’ll be interesting to watch how this industry evolves and also partners with other fuel sources — and already is to some extent, with hydrogen and feedstock and other sources like that — as the renewable sector grows.

And then the necessity for top-of-the-line technology also grows with that shift into renewables, as well. But we’re already seeing as an industry a need to adapt with technology to keep up with other industries. That goes back to that workforce retention, too. We have a workforce that wants tools that allow them to work efficiently and to have all the data at their fingertips and provide the best customer experience. I think a lot of companies in the industry are already on board with that, and they’re trying to adopt that in the best way possible. … If companies are not looking into how they can improve in that regard, they’re going to be left behind.

Jessica: What would you describe as one of your proudest moments?

Natalie: The book that we put together called “Propane in America: The First 100 Years, 1912-2012.” That was the biggest labor of love ever. And we got to meet so many great people along the way. And Charles Snelling, who was the son of Walter O. Snelling — I got to talk with him a lot and got pictures from him. It was just all the wonderful people that we got to meet along the way who have supported this industry and have been part of the advances that have been made. That is something that I would never want to give up.

Jessica: Our copy of that book has been passed around among our team. Anybody new who comes onto the team reads it because it has been such a huge asset for getting a baseline knowledge of the industry that we’re coming into. Even just from a personal standpoint, I’m thankful that book exists because it was the perfect intro into the propane industry, and you can tell the amount of effort and care that went into that book.

Natalie: Thank you.

Jessica: Is there anything else you want to talk about before we wrap up?

Natalie: I’ll tell you something kind of funny. We always would look at photos to make sure everything was covered the way it was supposed to be, [like ensuring] the guys had gloves on. I mean, you’ve probably gotten letters from people saying, “Why did you do this? Because this is wrong or this is wrong.” Well, one of our editors went to a meeting, and it was for [a company’s] customer service people for drivers in the field.

At the end of the meeting, someone took a picture of this group standing together. Everything looked good, and so we published it. [After we published], we found … that a guy had his hands in his pockets, but he had the two middle fingers out on both sides. John Needham was our editor at the time, and so after that he always called him Finger Boy. And so he said, “Make sure that you watch out for Finger Boys along the way.” We got calls on that photo and we actually did not notice it until people started calling us about it.

Elizabeth: [We did an article on] cylinder standards … and then we got an email from a cylinder delivery driver who reads our magazine noting that we had phrased something incorrectly in the copy. And I remember thinking we can check everything we think possible that could be wrong and we’re still going to miss something from time to time. So, you know, you were looking for the safety stuff, not middle fingers!

Elizabeth: I know we talked a little bit about this, but the fact that it’s four women sitting on this call talking about the propane industry is a really cool thing and it is also a testament to the women in propane work that you did with Nancy Coop and the others, Natalie. But I also just love to see it. And then I also love to see that the current BPN team, although new to the industry in all intents and purposes, is a team of young people who are coming into the propane industry and ... have an interest in [learning] that side of things.

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