|Photos courtesy of Alpine Equipment and Party Rentals|
Kelli Thomas, owner, Alpine Equipment and Party Rentals, Alpine, Calif., has learned to adapt to whatever comes her way.
It all began when she married Scott Thomas, who started the rental operation in 1991. Scott came from a family of rental operators. His father, Harold, owned B & H Rentals in the Los Angeles area. His brother, Brad, owned BJ’s Rentals in San Diego, which grew to 12 locations before he sold the operation.
Kelli, who did not have any rental experience before marrying her husband, quickly learned the business.
“I didn’t know anything when I started working for him. It was quite the learning curve, but I did it. That learning never stops. In this business you learn something all the time,” she says.
When she started in the business, her husband had three locations — all catering to the homeowner, contractor and special occasion markets.
All was going well and then, in 2015, a most unusual event occurred. An estimated 123-ton boulder smashed into the back side of their building.
“I remember that we received a call from a friend on a Sunday, the day we are not at the rental operation. He said that he drove by our shop and said it looked really weird — that the building looked crooked,” Kelli remembers.
She and Scott immediately drove to the business. “You couldn’t see the boulder at first as it was in the back. We came in and it smelled like gas. We called the authorities and discovered this boulder that weighed nearly 300,000 lbs. of hard blue granite. At 11 ft. wide and taller than a single-story home, it crashed into the back of our building and broke a gas line in the process. It took out my office, which was on the second floor,” Kelli says.
“It happened in February, which is usually a rainy month, but that February wasn’t rainy. We later discovered that the boulder let loose from Sumac tree roots, squirrels and gravity,” she says.
Even though their building was unusable, the Thomases never thought about shutting down the business.
“We never closed. We got an RV, parked it in our lot and started doing business Monday morning. We then got a mobile office trailer. We ended up working in that trailer for two years,” Kelli says, noting that the boulder was very difficult to remove. A crane operator told the Thomases he would not be able to get the rock out until it was pared down to 8.5 ft. wide and 8.5 ft. high.
A large boulder doesn’t crash into a business every day, so news crews came from all over to cover the incredible incident. The family tried to make the most of a very challenging situation.
“My younger daughter named the boulder Ally. I painted a face on the boulder — complete with eyes and eyelashes. Scott designed shirts with rocks falling around the logo and the saying ‘STILL ROCKIN after all these years!’ People would drive by and take photos of it. From this incident, I learned a lot about these boulders,” she says.
Shortly after that incident, Scott decided to take a sabbatical from work. After growing up in the business, he needed a break. Kelli took over the leadership role.
“That is when I really …….