Joe Rubenzer Found His Own Way to Work in the Great Outdoors

A Wisconsin engineer wanted to avoid desk duty, so he retooled his skill set and enjoys his new career as an onsite installer

Joe Rubenzer Found His Own Way to Work in the Great Outdoors

  The crew of Stolt Excavating and Trucking includes, from left, Forest Clements, Mark Yohnk, Dan Stolt, Joe Rubenzer and Tony Stoik. 

For several years, while he was working for engineering and construction companies in northern Wisconsin, Joe Rubenzer held the idea of self-employment in the back of his mind. He knew he couldn’t afford to buy a company like the ones he worked for, some worth millions of dollars. 

Instead he kept an eye out for smaller companies. He found one, made the switch to onsite wastewater, and now has a business in a thriving area. 

The rural counties to the east of Rubenzer’s base are not showing much population growth, but his county and those to the west are growing strongly. Chippewa County, where Rubenzer’s shop and home are located, grew by about 3.4% from 2010 to 2019. Neighboring Eau Claire County had a population increase of 5.8%, and St. Croix County, farther west and on the edge of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, grew by 7.5%. 

It’s all happening for a guy who didn’t have to move around the country or travel a lot to find a rewarding career.


Rubenzer grew up in Bloomer, Wisconsin, population about 3,500, where his shop is still located. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville just three hours south, and went on to earn a P.E. license. 

After college he worked for an area excavating company as a project manager and estimator. He thought he would prefer using his design skills and changed jobs, but in the course of a year he learned that he preferred being out in the field to working at a desk all day. So he refocused his career and worked for construction firms.

“In ’08 my company downsized, and I lost my job,” he says. He found a job with a blacktop company, and that’s where he was when a small business opportunity came along.

For several years he had a friendship with Dan Stolt, who owned Stolt Excavating & Trucking. “We were kind of family friends, and I said to him at one point, ‘Hey, if you are ever interested in selling, let me know.’ It was a year or two later he brought it up, so we started to talk.” 

Rubenzer bought the company in 2015. Stolt agreed to stay on and help Rubenzer learn the business and earn the licenses he needed, then cut back on his hours. Stolt still works part time, Rubenzer says. “He said, ‘I want to keep working a couple days a week until I can’t.’ And he is very helpful. I mean, he knows exactly what to do.” 

During his engineering career, Rubenzer never did private onsite work. The engineering firms he worked for did municipal water and sewer projects. Switching to onsite wasn’t a big change in some ways, he says. 

“Pipes run downhill, and I understood pumps from my engineering background,” he says. “Learning how the private systems work was new. That was really interesting and fun. The design and paperwork part of it was pretty easy for me to pick up on. 

“I had run equipment for fun, but never for a profession,” Rubenzer says. “That was my biggest learning curve.” Stolt did most of the operating at first, and Rubenzer did more as he became more comfortable with the machines.


New onsite installations comprise 60% to 70% of the work, with residential systems about 25% of that. Onsite system maintenance and repairs are about 10%. Smaller jobs, such as replacing hydrants and culverts, fill out the work schedule.

Most of the installations, and especially during his first three years, were basic septic systems. But Rubenzer wants to stretch his abilities. About two years ago, he and his technicians installed a system for a commercial campground. For a humane society, they installed a system that used Eljen GSF components for the drainfield and a White Knight aeration unit as part of the treatment chain. In 2018 he used GeoMat from Geomatrix Systems at another job. 

“There are a lot of lakes around Bloomer, and a lot of these lakes have very small lots. I enjoy going to those projects where you have to think outside the box,” he says.

Currently he’s looking at a potential job that would involve building a mound system inside a box. “They don’t have the room for a typical mound,” he says. 

A soil test suggested a conventional system would work. “And when I got up there, I just said, no way,” he says. It was a lot near the water with a gently sloping bank. Rubenzer could see the soil sample had not been taken in the right location and suspected he would see signs of groundwater if he dug the hole for a conventional drainfield.

“I said to the homeowner, I will not put it in without doing a soil verification. And when I did, we found mottling,” he says. 

Rubenzer’s proposal was to install the mound system inside an insulated box with Eljen GSF components to reduce the overall system footprint. 


The people who help Rubenzer serve customers are full-timers Forest Clements and Mark Younk, and part-timers Dan Stolt, Tony Stoik and Brady Rubenzer, Rubenzer’s oldest son. 

When winter closes in on northern Wisconsin, Rubenzer and his crew work on keeping their knowledge current. 

“Every winter they offer different septic training classes around here that all of my guys go to — me and the full-time guys, and Dan still goes,” he says. 

He’s attended the local soil-testing class every year because there is so much to learn, and to maintain his professional engineer’s license he must take continuing education classes. 

“I’ve been trying to merge the two, so I go down to Madison.” That’s the state capital, about 190 miles away. “I’ve been down there the last couple of years for a septic class that also counts toward my P.E. credits. I guess every year I personally will take four or five different training classes, and I would say my guys go to two to three. And I enjoy learning; plain and simple, I love it.” 

At first it seemed he was picking up only part of the knowledge in onsite classes, he says, but now he can see how pieces of knowledge fit together so he understands the fine points that weren’t clear initially when he was trying to grasp the large concepts.


To do his work, Rubenzer depends on: 

  • Cat 312 excavator
  • John Deere 35C mini-excavator
  • John Deere 130 excavator
  • Bobcat T595 skid-steer
  • John Deere 544E loader

“When I first bought the company, all we had was a tractor backhoe and the mini-excavator,” he says. After his first year, he sold the backhoe and bought the excavator and skid-steer. “Our production went up a lot.”

The problem with the backhoe, Rubenzer says, was the limited swing of its arm compared to the 360-degree spin of an excavator. As a result, the mini-excavator was used to dig in tanks and spread topsoil, jobs it wasn’t really built for. The excavator and skid-steer changed that. “Now the mini is truly used for what a mini is built for: small, tight areas,” he says. 

Last winter, Rubenzer was shopping for a large excavator, about 30,000 pounds, or about the size of the Cat he already has. He decided on the John Deere 130.


Rubenzer is 40, which gives him many years to build his business. By 2023 he hopes to have a second full crew in the field. The questions he asks himself are what services should he offer, and how fast should he expand? 

He hired his first full-time employee, Younk, in 2018. And he says Younk is eager and willing to learn and was ready to test for his journeyman plumber restricted license this year. The second full-timer Clements, Rubenzer’s brother-in-law, came on in late 2020. Rubenzer’s plan is to train Younk so he is comfortable leading a separate crew.

“I don’t want to micromanage, but I also want experienced people I can trust out there doing the right thing,” he says. “I say to both these guys, I don’t care if it takes us an extra hour or two. When you leave there, I want that job looking like you’d want to come home to that job.”

Both of his full-timers support expanding the company. At the same time, Rubenzer doesn’t want to hire people he doesn’t know and can’t spend time with so they learn what he expects. 

“I’ve only been doing this for five years, but in those five years, I’ve seen where people can cut corners and have cut corners,” he says. He’s seen repairs that don’t make sense and wouldn’t have become problems if someone had used the proper pipe or spent a little more time doing the work. “I don’t want someone else going to one of our jobs and saying, Oh, boy, look at that. 

“In general, I’m looking to expand, not explode,” he says. 

Understanding brand value
Stolt Excavating & Trucking doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s based in small town Bloomer, Wisconsin, in a county of about 65,000. Next door is Eau Claire County with 104,000 people, and the company’s radius of operations takes it to the edge of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. 

So yes, there is work available, and there is competition for Joe Rubenzer, the owner of the company. Yet marketing is not something he’s had to worry about. 

“We do some advertising in phone books, newspapers and we have a website,” he says. There’s a water-ski team in a nearby tourist area, and Rubenzer buys an ad in the group’s program. And the company vehicles are like rolling billboards. 

The company has been steadily busy since he purchased it in 2015, and in late 2020 he hired his second full-time employee. Looking back, he can see what made the difference. 

“It was good to keep Stolt Excavating & Trucking instead of changing the name,” he says. “I thought about changing it to Rubenzer Excavating when I first bought. I said, ‘No, I’m going to keep it. I don’t care if my name’s on it. I’m here to make money, not to boost my ego.’” 

His decision gave him the advantage of customer goodwill built up over the years by previous owner Dan Stolt. The company was already known for good work, and in the beginning that was especially helpful because Rubenzer didn’t have to hunt for business; people called because they knew the name. Now, after five years, probably 90% of the people who call know the company has changed hands, he says. But they’re still calling, which says something about how Rubenzer has carried on the reputation that Dan Stolt built. 


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.