Learning From the Best: The Jim and Jerry Show

Countless conferences with educators Jim Converse and Jerry Tyler instilled a passion for the industry in so many onsite professionals

WOWRA (Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association) just had its 50th anniversary conference. During that conference, founding member Wayne Pett gave a heartfelt speech, giving us a history of the beginnings of our organization.

One of the things he reminded us about was how lucky we were to have the
Jim and Jerry Show. 

For many years at our annual conferences, WOWRA was lucky enough to have Jim Converse and E. Jerry Tyler speak at a lot of our conferences — so often that Jim Converse called it the Jim and Jerry Show. 

Converse and Tyler were professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They really lived and breathed onsite, and their research helped get us to where we are today. Tyler focused primarily on soil science and Converse focused on the design and treatment capabilities of onsite systems and how best to make systems more efficient for the treatment of the wastewater. Tyler traveled the world studying soil. 

James Converse
James Converse

Tyler helped to develop and refine the method of morphological analysis of the soil, and he and Converse used that information to develop the method of sizing onsite systems we use today in Wisconsin, using the loading rates of the soil. Converse used Tyler’s soil findings and applied them to the design of onsite systems. Converse was one of the initial developers of what would become known in some areas as the Wisconsin mound system. He helped to develop the mound system, then worked very hard helping experimental systems get approvals in Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to work directly with Converse on several experimental systems. Many of their foundational texts are available online (more on that in just a bit). 

Jim and Jerry really researched the subject thoroughly in the lab and in the field with amazing focus. Each year at the WOWRA conference we would look forward to their latest findings and ideas. They were amazing at sharing their research results. They explained to us what those results meant for design, installation and (hopefully) the success of the system’s treatment capabilities. 

They didn’t just talk about their research; many times their talks would be conceptual. They discussed changes that could and should be made to onsite systems. They would hypothesize about the future of onsite systems and what could make them better, more efficient, and treat contaminants to a higher degree of reduction. It was amazing hearing their dreams, ideas and hypotheses of the future of the onsite industry.  

Jerry Tyler
Jerry Tyler

I was lucky enough to see them speak throughout the United States, not just in Wisconsin. They spoke at many conferences and they always seemed to be the main speakers and drew large crowds no matter where they spoke. To say they were always in demand would be an understatement. I was a total groupie and attended their classes, presentations and training sessions throughout the nation (Florida, New Orleans, Sacramento, Atlanta, etc,). I followed them around as I knew I would learn from the very best.

Before Wisconsin’s 2000 onsite code change, Jim and Jerry called me and a few other people who were on the code committee to a meeting. At this small meeting they stressed their concerns for the forthcoming code — to make sure to take high-strength waste and high organic loading into the design parameters, not just hydraulic, and several other concerns. Jerry brought changes he recommended we make to the sizing soil loading rates and rock fragment percentages. They were always thinking ahead. These were two people who lived the onsite treatment of wastewater and were deeply concerned about it. 

I was at a technical advisory committee meeting just a few weeks ago in Madison discussing some new products looking for state approval. Although long retired, Converse and Tyler were quoted and paraphrased several times (by more than one committee member). This proves their thoughts and research still guide our industry today. Jim and Jerry moved our entire industry forward.

Dozens of their (and other) foundational technical writings are available free online. 

You can find them at soilsfacstaff.cals.wisc.edu/sswmp/online_publications.htm

The SSWMP was the Small Scale Waste Management Project of which Converse and Tyler were a vital part. The SSWMP reports are still in wide use across the United States and world today. 

I do realize this brief article does not do these two justice, but is merely a respectful scratch at the surface. 

There’s a saying: I might be old, but I saw a lot of good bands. I did see a lot of good bands. But I also got to learn a lot firsthand from the Jim and Jerry Show. One thing we can hope for is to see others continue Jim and Jerry’s passion and concern for our industry and the protection of groundwater and public health. 

Thank you to Professor Daniel Keymer of UW-Stevens Point for reminding me of the treasure trove of Converse and Tyler documents at SSWMP.

About the author
Todd Stair is vice president of Herr Construction, Inc., with 34 years’ experience designing, installing, repairing, replacing and evaluating septic and mound systems in southeast Wisconsin. He is the author of The Book on Septics and Mounds and a former president of the Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.