What Happens When a New Jersey Installer Puts a Heavy Excavator on a Small Barge and Hits the Open Water?

Joe Mayers has made a career of crossing lakes and climbing rough terrain with his equipment to build remote, island septic systems

What Happens When a New Jersey Installer Puts a Heavy Excavator on a Small Barge and Hits the Open Water?

Bill Post at the helm of the 30-by-12-by-3-foot commercial transport barge while George Rosselli enjoys the cruise.

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Accepting a home inspector’s challenge in 2000 to replace a failed septic system on an island in Highland Lakes unleashed unlimited business potential for Joe Mayers, owner of Septic Experts in Wantage, New Jersey.

When Onsite Installer wrote about Mayers in 2004, his custom quad-sectional barge was in demand to install onsite systems on lakefront and island homes between New York and Mayers’ home state. As properties changed hands or became year-round residences, septic inspectors failed numerous systems.

In the early 2010s, Mayers and a crew of three were on Beaver Lake installing 25 replacement systems over five years. “This isn’t a case of floating up to the property, offloading equipment and materials, and popping in the components,” he says. “It’s a mountainous region with steep elevations and other obstacles. Just moving sand and gravel requires multiple steps.”

Island installs can take two to three times longer than mainland jobs due to distances across water and handling materials multiple times. Mainland jobs often aren’t much better, impeded by topography, site constraints, boulders and ledge rock, trees and retaining walls or seawalls. While overcoming them, Mayers found the company’s niche as extreme site specialists. “We do the jobs other contractors won’t because we go where no one else will,” he says.


Coping with severe conditions requires special, if not unique, equipment and Mayers recently upgraded all of it. After selling his sectional barge, he ordered a 12-by-30-by-3-foot commercial transport barge with 15-ton cargo capacity and a 115 hp Yamaha outboard motor from a Louisiana manufacturer. “It’s faster and easier to put in the water and to offload machines, and it fits better between some docks,” he says. A truck-mounted crane lifts the barge in and out of the water.

Originally, an 8-by-12-by-2-foot barge transported the 1,800-pound Kubota KH007 compact excavator to dig test pits, but in 2017 Mayers bought a 4,000-pound Kubota U17. To increase the barge’s stability while transporting the machine, Mayers had Gus Schetting Welding in Sussex fabricate 2-foot-wide slide-on aluminum pontoons, which increased the craft’s surface area to 12 by 12 feet. Also on call are a Kubota KX040-4, a KX057-4, two KX080-4s and a Komatsu PC200 excavator.

Other equipment includes two Yanmar rubber-tracked crawler carriers: a 1.15-cubic-yard C30R (5,512-pound payload) and a 3-cubic-yard C50R (8,380-pound payload). Both have articulated undercarriages to cross extremely uneven surfaces, traverse soft or swampy land with minimal damage to the terrain and reach places that otherwise would be inaccessible.

As luck would have it, barge work dried up around this time, but Mayers had ample projects to finance his new equipment. “We were always busy with mainland installs or system repairs,” he says. “We’re certified with Ecoflo, Puraflo, Fuji Clean USA, Norweco, Infiltrator Water Technologies, Hoot Systems and AquaKlear.”


Mayers also used the opportunity to increase his pumping business. Crews operate two identical custom Peterbilt 348 trucks with 3,600-gallon steel tanks and National Vacuum Equipment 4307 blowers from Pik Rite and a Peterbilt 379 with 5,000-gallon steel tank and NVE 4310 blower from Morocco Welding.

A contract to service numerous holding tanks on a major campground twice a week throughout the tourist season led Mayers to buy a Ford F-550 truck with portable 1,000-gallon aluminum tank, NVE 304 pump and Stellar hooklift hoist. Pik Rite built the 1,000-gallon tank to ride on the truck and barge. “The hoist enables us to swap out the tank with a (trash container),” says Mayers. “The truck is our Swiss Army knife on wheels because we also use it to cross lightweight bridges or pass through narrow tunnels and driveways to reach some homes.”

Then a shadow from the past returned. When the 2008 housing bubble burst, the ripple from the crash left the area rife with foreclosed homes, many vacant for years. “New Jersey had some of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation,” says Mayers.

As the pandemic hit, this client’s story became typical as people from major New York and eastern New Jersey cities flooded the area to buy homes sight unseen in bidding wars. Usually sellers pay for the replacement system, but a father was willing to pay more for the home than the asking price and replace the system to ensure his wife and child were living in the mountains.


Mayers’ phone went crazy with service calls, and that’s when he ordered the latest barge. After it was delivered in September 2021, Gus Schetting welded fittings to the spudwells to house the auxiliary ramp mounts. (Spudwells, vertical sleeves in the deck, hold the spuds, steel shafts that anchor the barge when lowered.) Schetting also fabricated a mount on the deck to secure the vacuum tank or container.

To power the pump on the vacuum tank, Pik Rite built a Power Pack, a Honda Model IGX800 24 hp fuel-injected engine with 20-gallon hydraulic oil tank. “The hydraulics run on food-grade oil and we put a label on the unit to advertise it,” says Mayers.

The barge offers a big improvement: a helm with steering wheel and throttle. “The sectional barge had two 25 hp outboard motors controlled by a tiller extension, and we knelt on a catwalk aft of the stern to use it,” says Mayers. “Once underway, soil and sand in the containment pan would occasionally blow in our eyes, but not with the new setup.”


While there is work, obtaining supplies remains a bugaboo as prices continue to escalate. Occasionally, chambers and PVC pipe are available only from out of state. To compensate for the fluctuating market and prices, Mayers’ proposals are good for just 14 days. He also offers to buy materials immediately if given a deposit, then stores the goods until work commences.

Storage is no problem. In May 2020, Mayers bought the 3,000-square-foot building on 9.50 acres that he was renting. It has two service bays with an office above and a large yard.

Like many contractors in the area, Septic Experts advertises in newspapers, online and through bulk mailings, but referrals and lettering on trucks and shirts produce the best results. “Wherever we go, we’ve all gotten work just by wearing our company shirts,” says Mayers.

His barges and trucks are painted dark red with white, reflective block letters that are easy to read and increase visibility at night. They work so well that a driver heading east on a highway read the name and phone number on a distant pump truck as it approached from the west. He called for service.


Mayers opened his septic and excavating business two years after graduating from high school in 1981. For most of the company’s history, he has had three employees. Today, joining Mayers are Kim VanHouten, dispatcher/supervisor; Marissa Mayers, job coordinator/supervisor; Connie Bassani, bookkeeper; Bill Post, George Rosselli and Kenny Wojciechowski, machine operators; Austen Yanish, driver/laborer/operator; Don Card, driver; Reed Ulmer and Rob Nye, vacuum truck drivers; and Tyler Matthews, laborer/driver.

Mayers turns 61 this year. Younger employees now do the groundwork as they learn how to install onsite systems. Mayers is training the pump truck drivers to work on the barge and also help with installations. His 29-year-old-daughter, Marissa, who was raised in the business, will take over when he is ready to step back a little.

“She will concentrate on growing small repairs, such as replacing tanks, lids and risers, and increasing pumping overall,” says Mayers. “Marissa has a business degree and great people skills. She has taken this business to heart and made it her own.”

According to Mayers, the company is in a good place. Every foreclosed house is occupied and almost all of them have onsite problems. “It’s a unique situation,” he says, “but I believe it’s our proximity for inhabitants fleeing urban blight that has made more work for everybody.”


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