A Brief History of EMS (Gulf-Inland Unit)
Marquette’s Gulf-Inland unit, formerly known as Eckstein Marine Services (EMS), began as the brainchild of Randy Eckstein, the eldest son of Marquette Founder Ray Eckstein and brother to Marquette President John Eckstein.
Like others in his family, Randy grew up with the river in his blood. Growing up in Cassville, Wisconsin, Randy’s earliest days on the water began as a teenager cleaning barges. He worked his way down the river in the early 70s, starting as a dispatcher with Wisconsin Barge Lines then taking a position in St. Louis in barge operations. He eventually settled in New Orleans where he headed up Badger Fleet, Wisconsin Barge Lines’ major fleeting terminal. The late 70s brought an economic boom to the river industry. Fuel cost an unbelievable 19 cents a gallon and vessel captains made only $85 a day. For Randy, the timing couldn’t have been better to strike out on his own.
In 1978, Randy purchased his first boat and christened it Roslyn Eckstein after his wife. This purchase solidified his official entrance into the marine transportation industry as Eckstein Marine.
Over the next two years, Randy added three additional boats to his fleet and began operating throughout the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Concurrent with growing EMS, Randy also owned and operated Pelican Fleet, the largest independent fleet in New Orleans. By strategically combining the capabilities of his two businesses, Randy could now provide his customers with full service in the Gulf.
The 1980s delivered a devastating blow to the marine transportation industry. The Carter Grain Embargo virtually shut down fleet work. Randy sold Pelican Fleet and struggled to keep his EMS boats online, ushering them as far north as Minneapolis and as far east as Pittsburgh when opportunities arose. Times may have been tough but Randy was never one to let a grain embargo or slumping economy dictate his future. Instead, he diversified his services.
To weather the storm, Randy chartered customer vessels and crewed them with his own employees. He also turned his attention to transporting liquid cargo—a decision that would virtually reshape the company. Landing work from Dow Chemical, Union Carbide and other leaders in the liquid cargo market not only kept Randy’s boats busy, but quickly increased the need for more horsepower.
The 90s began a defining period in the history of Eckstein Marine. Demand for chemical towing was high, enabling Randy to expand his fleet to more than 30 vessels. EMS launched a fleet remodeling program in 1993 to upgrade all of its boats at the rate of one boat per month. A few years later, the company initiated an aggressive refurbishing and construction program. By 2000, EMS began acquiring boats to strengthen its fleet.
Throughout his more than 30 years as a business leader, Randy was steadfast in his belief that motivated crews were the key to his company’s success and, in keeping with that philosophy, he worked hard to make his employees an extension of his family. For Randy, the company’s growth and reputation for excellence were a direct result of the crews who moved his customer cargos around the clock. Randy also looked to improve the environment aboard his vessels by making them comfortable and home-like for his crews, and became one of the first transporters to add satellite TV on his vessels.
When EMS joined forces with Marquette Transportation in March 2007, Randy Eckstein experienced what many would call a life-changing turn of events. As founder of EMS, now known as the Marquette Gulf-Inland unit, Randy was presented with the opportunity to combine the company he’d nurtured with the business his father Ray began, now headed by his brother John. This event was made even more profound by Randy’s diagnosis of cancer a year earlier.
For Randy and his employees, the Gulf-Inland unit has never wavered from its “extended family” culture. As this part of Marquette continues to grow, as its fleet further expands, Randy’s commitment to the people who made EMS a force of nature will become a legacy of pride and respect. But Randy and his brainchild aren’t stopping there. By 2009, the Gulf-Inland unit will have a fleet of 50 marine vessels.