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PERC “ENERGY FOR EVERYONE HERO” AWARD GOES TO RUBY’S INN AT UTAH’S BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK – PART ONE

Written on: September 18, 2023

On Thursday, September 14, Jim Bunsey, Director of Commercial Business Development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), presented an “Energy for Everyone Hero” Award to Lance Syrett, General Manager at Ruby’s Inn, Inc. Industry leaders and Editors from several publications including ‘Trending in Propane’ toured the facilities with Syrett and several representatives of Ruby’s Inn to fully understand improvements that were made at Ruby’s Inn to be considered an Energy Hero.

“We are here this week to celebrate Ruby’s Inn and its commitment to using products that are better for the environment,” Bunsey said. “Propane is a clean energy option and is a vital component to the Inn’s sustainability efforts and operations. Propane is used in a variety of large and small applications here.”

THE CHALLENGES RUBY’S INN FACED

A big problem at Ruby’s Inn for several years was keeping hot water flowing to the showers and sinks in hotels rooms throughout the 19-building resort. In a small town with just 195 permanent residents, as many as 4,000 visitors may be on the property on any given night between April and October.

The visitors, including many of whom arrive all at once in tour groups, tested the limits of Ruby’s Inn’s previous water heater infrastructure. That infrastructure couldn’t handle so many guests showering at the same time. Plus, there was no redundancy system in place, so when one of the boilers would go down, it would take close to an hour before it could recover. This led to complaints from hotel guests about hot water issues. “We can have six tour buses check in at one time, so there can be a lot of demand for hot water for showers all at once,” said Ron Harris, health and safety manager at Ruby’s Inn. “I have been here over 25 years and we had always had hot water trouble.”

“We’ve had all kinds of boilers over the years,” Harris said. “When a boiler went down, we would go two hours without hot water. You can imagine how unhappy that made the guests. We were giving away $60,000 a year in discounts and refunds.”

In several parts, ‘Trending in Propane’ will detail the process Ruby’s Inn went through to make hot water consistently available, cut energy costs, and eliminate the demand for refunds. The project became the largest project for tankless water heater manufacturer Rinnai and the project is fueled by propane. The success of the project led Ruby’s Inn to use Rinnai appliances in other applications. It has also led other, similar businesses to add propane-fueled Rinnai appliances as well.

“I would recommend a similar project as ours to other hotels and resorts, apartment buildings, hospitals and
penitentiaries who are struggling with hot water issues,” Harris said at the award ceremony.

THE HISTORY OF BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK AND RUBY’S INN

Bryce Canyon and propane have a similar timeline for discovery and growth in public interest although it would be many years before the value of propane as a primary energy source for Bryce Canyon would come into focus. Around the time French chemist Marcellin Berthelot discovered propane in 1857, Mormon pioneers had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and were scouting the Utah territory to discover suitable lands to settle and farm. A book by A. Jean Seiler, Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon, describes Ebenezer Bryce, a convert from Scotland, and his wife, Mary, who were sent to St. George to help build the Mormon temple. In 1875, Ebenezer, Mary, and their 10 children moved from St. George to the upper Paria Valley and built a home at the canyon that would later bear his name. Times were hard and the need to provide food, shelter and safety were a major focus and little attention was given to the immense beauty of the canyon. Ebenezer himself had simply described it as “a hell of a place to lose a cow.”

In 1911, propane became available commercially as one of a group of liquified petroleum gases (LP gases) and people started using propane to heat their homes. In 1916, Reuben “Ruby” and Minnie Syrett left their home in Panguitch, Utah, and ventured to the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau to homestead a quarter section of land and build their ranch.

After six weeks, a cousin and rancher from Tropic, stopped for a neighborly chat. He asked if they had seen Bryce Canyon and Ruby said, “No, what is it?” The cousin replied that it was just a hole in the ground, but you should see it. Once they finally saw it, they were amazed at the coloring and the rock formations. From that day on they thought everyone should see it. Little did they know when they settled near Bryce Canyon that providing hospitality to visitors from all over the world to their quiet secluded area would be a family business for many generations for many years to come.

Next week, in Part Two we’ll discuss further how Ruby’s Inn evolved into a thriving resort in Southern Utah as the demand for hospitality grew. We’ll also discuss further how that new fuel, propane, would be put to work to provide the hot water that was so critically needed for customer satisfaction as well as many more benefits!