Just Ask Us … We Thrive on Big Challenges

As a backlog of demanding and varied onsite work will attest, the folks at Maguire Backhoe never back down from a tough job

Just Ask Us … We Thrive on Big Challenges
Installer Doug Bennett operates a Caterpillar excavator as he digs a trench at a residential job.

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Catching up with work and deciding what’s next for his company are the biggest challenges Rick Maguire faces today. It’s a far cry from when a customer reneging on a $200 payment meant the difference between Maguire’s family eating bologna sandwiches or macaroni and cheese.

Maguire opened Maguire Backhoe in Virden, Illinois, in January 1996 at age 32. That year, he accepted any project suitable for a rubber-tired backhoe and installed a total of 20 conventional and sand filter onsite systems. “I borrowed $80,000 to buy the machine and a dump truck and mortgaged everything to the hilt,” he says.

Driven by fear of failure, Maguire stayed aggressive and always prepared for unexpected opportunities. In 1998, he saw the advantage of soil classifications over percolation tests and has worked with soil scientist Charles “Chuck” Frazee, Ph.D., from Frazee Soil Consulting ever since. Then, Maguire built a vacuum truck on a GMC chassis to facilitate septic repairs and was soon running it nights and weekends to meet demand.

By 2016, the company’s service branch had a foreman, four technicians and three vacuum trucks. Three of the six employees in Maguire’s construction branch installed only onsite systems. (The other three also install house laterals and waterlines.) Last year, 78 of 120 onsite installations were new-home constructions. When possible, crews worked through winter setting tanks to shorten the backlog of 40 unfinished projects.

In August 2016, Maguire’s 18-year-old-son, Luke, joined the installation crews during summer vacation as part of his high school senior work-study program. “Watching him grow is huge for me, and I’m very proud of his success,” Maguire says.


Maguire gained experience in his father-in-law’s bulldozing and excavating company, installing or repairing onsite systems or house laterals. Moving on, he worked two years for a local plumber and four years as a state drug investigator and part-time Virden police officer before becoming an excavation partner of a petroleum contractor in Springfield. Extensive travel and days away from home motivated Maguire to fly solo.

As his company’s pumping and installation accounts grew, Maguire added three laborers. In 2006, he hired Steve Matli as his service manager and work took off. By 2008, they were pumping about 200,000 gallons of septage. That year, Matli landed the contract to haul water and remove slurry as coal mines drilled test pits to determine the depth of the coal layer and map the underground veins.

Needing a second vacuum truck, Maguire bought an International 4700 with a 2,500-gallon steel tank (LMT) and PN33 Jurop/Chandler pump. He added a 4,000 psi/4 gpm homemade jetter for pressure washing the tank before and after visiting the mines, where Matli drew water from an on-site pond and filled storage pits. A drilling rig mixed the water with polymer to stabilize the test pit walls, then discharged the slurry into other pits. Matli vacuumed it and off-loaded into an on-site impoundment in which solids settled out and water returned to the pond.

By 2011, the volume of pumping required another vacuum truck and technician. Maguire bought a Freightliner chassis, then stripped the 2,000-gallon steel tank, PN33 Jurop/Chandler pump, and his first homemade 4,000 psi/4 gpm jetter from the old GMC truck. A third truck and technician followed in 2014. Maguire purchased an International with a 2,500-gallon stainless steel tank (Progress Tank) and Challenger 607 pump (National Vacuum Equipment) built by Advance Pump & Equipment.

In 2015, Maguire hired Jarrett Summers to service the mines. “Today, we pump 500,000 gallons of septage and haul 1.5 million gallons of mine water,” Maguire says. Mines account for a quarter of the company’s annual vacuum revenue.


Another pivotal factor in the company’s growth was implementation of the 2014 revised Illinois septic code. It switched from surface to subsurface discharge, mandated continuous maintenance contracts for private onsite systems, and required continuing education courses for septic and pumping licensure. “Many older guys went out of business rather than keep up with the changes,” Maguire says. “Their departure created a vacuum, and we were ready for it.”

As the 2008-10 president of the Onsite Wastewater Professionals of Illinois and a member of the Department of Public Health Advisory Commission, Maguire had worked with regulators on changes to the code. Instead of waiting for the hammer to drop, he researched new technologies to treat effluent for very deep, poorly drained soils, mostly heavy clay and glacial till.

In 2012 and 2013, his crews installed 60 systems annually, and Maguire received distributorships for Multi-Flo, Nayadic and EnviroGUARD aerobic treatment units (Consolidated Treatment Systems) and Sybr-Aer sequential batch reactors (SBR Wastewater Technologies). By 2014, his technicians were familiar with the technologies, and installations jumped to more than 100 per year.
Maguire’s pumping, pipe jetting and installation crews added educating homeowners to their service calls. Matli and service employee John Orris excelled in selling contracts by explaining the technology, biology, and the customer’s role in keeping systems healthy. “Our contracts also included pumpouts for no additional charge,” Maguire says. “That was a major turning point for the service branch.” Today, the company holds 500 contracts and enjoys a 90 percent renewal rate.

Each fall, Maguire notes which contracts are due for pumping. Instead of sending a service truck to inspect those systems in spring, he routes a vacuum truck already in the area via a Google routing application. “Because all my pumpers are licensed installers and vice versa, they clean the tank and complete the inspection in one visit.”


Simultaneously, the construction branch expanded by working with developers. As of 2014, one county required septic permits before issuing building permits. Developers outside the county were often caught unaware of the change and were ready to dig basements upon filing their building permits.

“We aggressively stayed on top of who needed septic permits,” Maguire says. “To expedite the process, we would pick up Chuck and do the soil borings for him. That gave us the option to find better areas if the first choice had terrible soils. Developers noticed how fast we moved, and the word spread quickly.”

The revised code also allowed installers to design any system, provided discharge was subsurface. One of the toughest recent repairs Maguire designed was for a custom slaughtering and meat processing plant in Arthur. “We had a seasonal high water table at 18 inches, high-strength waste, only 90 square feet for the 2,500 gpd system, and we couldn’t interrupt production,” he says.

His design included:

  • Existing 1,000-gallon septic tank
  • 1,000-gallon, single-compartment concrete tank (Rex Vault Service)
  • 1,500 gpd and 1,000 gpd Nayadic ATU in series (Consolidated Treatment Systems)
  • 2,000-gallon concrete pump tank with duplex alternating 1/2 hp pumps (Zoeller Pump)
  • Two-zone drainfield totaling 14 lines of EZflow aggregate pipe (Infiltrator Water Technologies) on 5-foot centers in 8-inch-deep trenches
  • Installer Friendly Series programmable duplex control panel (SJE-Rhombus)

“Because we were pumping the existing tank to keep the plant running, I planned to send two crews and install the system in two days,” Maguire says. “Then, my main installer, Doug Bennett, lost his dad and was off a week. We completed the install in four days with one crew, but then the other shoe dropped.”

That Sunday, Bennett competed in a demolition derby, broke his wrist, and couldn’t do physical labor for four months. He and Maguire switched jobs. “Going back into the field after several years gave me a new perspective of what I needed to do to make Doug’s work easier through scheduling and calling for inspections,” Maguire says. “Doug learned how to use a computer to generate permits and system designs. Scott Connolly, a main operator, and Austin Harvey, a young laborer, also stepped up to the plate. It ended extremely well.”


Another event with a positive result began in 2014 when Maguire found the right workers’ compensation and general liability insurance company through the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association. Companies in the United Fire Group insurance consortium must establish safety policies and business procedures to ensure low rates. If everyone has a safe year, they receive a partial premium refund.

“A safety insurance agent does a walk-around three times a year,” Maguire says. “He gives a brief safety refresher course on simple things everybody knows but doesn’t think about. It’s my way of telling the guys to work safer without harping on them.”

In 2015, Maguire met the right banker to complement his trusted accountant. The banker explained cash flow, how paying accounts early and taking discounts led to a more affordable working line of credit, and how to make money work by focusing payments around tough months versus good months.

“Our excavation branch is slow in February, so the banker moved the service contracts to that month to improve cash flow,” Maguire says. “He gave us options and strategies on how to achieve where we want to be in four years. The tax returns he prepares emphasize assets and put us in a solid position to ask the bank what it can do for us.”

One goal came true in 2016 when Maguire purchased a 7,500-square-foot cement plant on 12 city lots and converted it into his shop. The three vacuum trucks stay inside and a lean-to protects the other equipment. Office manager Colean Smith and Matli have their own offices, as do Maguire and his wife, Jane, who handles their personal and business finances. Maguire’s equipment includes:

  • Caterpillar 304E mini-excavator with laser receiver
  • Caterpillar 305D mini-excavator
  • Caterpillar 420E IT loader backhoe
  • Caterpillar 259B3 skid-steer with laser receiver
  • Vermeer RT450 trencher/backhoe
  • Two Spectra Precision/Trimble GL412 grade lasers
  • Spectra Precision/Trimble LL300N laser level and LR30 laser receiver
  • Apache Technologies Bullseye laser receiver
  • Aquatech 2500 psi/65 gpm jetter (Hi-Vac) mounted on a 2005 Ford F-550 chassis with Warthog sewer nozzle (StoneAge), culvert cleaning head, various other tips
  • Bullfrog Industries sink jetter
  • Spartan Tool Model 2001 and 300 drain cleaning machines
  • UEMSI - HTV U-Vue color push camera
  • RYCOM Instruments 8878 Pathfinder locating system
  • With 2017 came the possibility of major company changes. Rather than turn away excavation work, Maguire envisions hiring more employees and expanding.

“Finding good workers is difficult for the usual reasons and because they must be compatible with my great staff,” he says. “Personally, I want to return to what put me in business — doing little excavation jobs here and there when I wasn’t installing systems. I’d move Doug into my position, advance Scott to oversee the excavation branch, and maybe even add another install crew. As long as we satisfy customers and the demand is there, the sky is the limit.”

Balancing work and family

Rick Maguire often spent six or seven days a week running Maguire Backhoe in Virden, Illinois. He fretted about making money while raising five children with his wife, Jane. Then their world changed.

Daughter Brett Ann, a Virden High School sophomore, died in an auto accident in April 2004. The previous year, school officials had consulted Maguire about the cost of building a new softball field. “Brett loved the game, so we built the field and donated it,” Maguire says. Maguire’s father died a few days before Brett Ann Maguire Memorial Field was dedicated in April 2005.

The volunteer effort led the Maguire family and employees to caring for municipal athletic fields in Virden and Girard. Several years ago, they rebuilt the Dave Bruna Athletic Field for the North Mac School District. “My guys help financially and physically,” Maguire says. “We enjoy seeing kids playing sports instead of sitting in front of computers or on their phones.”

The tragedy also changed Maguire’s attitude toward money. “After we lost Brett, we took Luke and his sisters, Skyler and Lexy, wherever they wanted to compete with their horses in high school rodeo,” Maguire says. “Getting away to Wyoming, Texas or Oklahoma gave me time to reflect on my life. I decided the money I made Monday through Friday would suffice; the weekends were for family. It’s been a true blessing and has made a considerable difference in our kids.”

Luke, a freshman at Ranger (Texas) College, received a full-ride scholarship as a team roper. Skyler, a junior at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, is studying physical therapy and competes in breakaway calf roping on the school’s rodeo team. Lexy is a registered nurse.


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