In Your Words: Industry Insight From Onsite Installers

In Your Words: Industry Insight From Onsite Installers

In every issue of Onsite Installer this year, we featured a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. 

We ask them about their association involvement and how membership benefits their business, the most difficult site they’ve work on, craziest questions from customers and more. These conversations offer great insight into the challenges facing the industry today — along with what they enjoy so much about their work.

Here is a roundup of some of our favorite answers. Click the linked names to read the full Q&A with each installer. 

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: Jason Jones, project manager, All Clear Pumping & Sewer — The thing is, it never ends. I think I meet the most challenging site, and then I meet another one. Every site has its challenges that you have to overcome. We deal with everything from 4b (stiff) clay to bedrock here. Soils are our big issue. You might go down only 6 inches to 2 feet and hit bedrock. In our area, advanced systems are more predominant.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Andrew Andriola, president/sales/service tech, Andriola’s Cesspool Service — Since its inception in 1974, the Long Island Liquid Waste Association has been the advocate for the septic waste industry in Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York. Most of our member companies can be considered small businesses, with many having less than five employees. Companies of this size are often at a distinct disadvantage when being represented to national, state and local governments. There is, however, strength in numbers, and Long Island Liquid Waste Association has established an excellent working relationship with the government. The septic industry nationally and locally is now dealing with nitrogen intrusion and the environmental problems it causes. By working closely with the government, environmental groups, and the public, we are addressing these issues.

The job I’ll never forget: Jay Carroll, owner, Stool Bus — “Unacceptable and deadly” comes to mind immediately. We were called to do an inspection on an old ranch property, which was under contract to be sold. Naturally, no one could tell us the location of the septic tank, as is so often the case. (A former employee) and I arrived and began to probe in the areas where we suspected the system might be located. We found a spot that seemed worthy of further investigation. While I went to unload the excavator, he continued with a little shovel work. When I returned five minutes later, he had opened up a small hole that was completely open beneath. I plunged the bucket of the excavator through the opening and a 5-foot-diameter area suddenly gave way, exposing an 8-foot-high culvert filled with “goo.” As it turned out, the homemade “system” had been covered with a layer of rough-sawn lumber and a few inches of New Mexico dirt, decades ago. The sweet spot we had discovered, to begin our excavation, was dead in the center of the 5-foot diameter area where 15 minutes earlier our combined 450 pounds was supported by a mere 4-inch layer of New Mexico soil, laced with grass roots. To this day, I still get a cold chill that runs up my spine when I recall that inspection. No call is routine!

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Jerry Pearce, president, Pearce Environmental Technologies — There’s a lack of reputable and knowledgeable incoming youth to replace aging members in the trade. With a room of over 900 at our annual convention three or four years ago, less than one percent was younger than 35, and a lot of the others were 60‑plus. We try to assist with things like business succession through various programs, helping young people get exposure. When I was growing up, a lot of people thought of the trades as being the last thing on their list, but I think people are starting to see a little bit more the importance of it. It’s becoming more recognized and respected. Not everybody is made out to be a computer information technology guy or to sit in an office all day. So, I think we’re gaining ground. Certainly the emphasis from the industry is that in five or eight years, it’ll be a supply and demand issue, and if you’re in the right spot at the right time, you’ll have access to a good living if you do the right thing.

The job I’ll never forget: Dave W. Snyder, vice president, West Michigan Septic Sewer & Drain Service and Heckman’s Contracting — In 1998, a storm in our area carried straight winds up to 120 mph. We were called to the city of Grand Haven to help pump lift stations that were down due to power loss. The city was a twisted mess of broken trees, power poles, siding, roofing, etc. We worked around the clock to keep things from backing up in the hospital that was taking in elderly and hurt folks. When I was ready to be relieved by one of the guys, my wife picked me up and we drove through the area and couldn’t believe the destruction.

On a funnier note, I was on call one Easter weekend and got a call from an elderly woman who was out for Easter dinner and got sick. She had thrown up her false teeth and flushed the toilet in a panic. I retrieved the stuck false teeth from the toilet. She snatched them from me, washed them quickly and put them back in her mouth. I had a hard time eating my ham dinner after I got home.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: Charles W. Ward IV, environmental health program manager, Oldham County Health Department — Living in Oldham County, the Ohio River borders us to the north. I was once asked, “Why can’t I just run my sewer into the river?”

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: Steven Shankster, owner, Shankster Bros. — “Too much iron will break you.” The guy who told me this went bankrupt a few years later due in part to having excess machinery and equipment he couldn’t resist buying. I also love to buy and sell equipment so it’s been meaningful to me and I’ve never forgotten it.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Steven Melton (right), owner, Melton’s Pumping Service — The biggest benefit is that we’ve got a voice. If one person goes to the Board of Health or the Legislature with a problem, they’re less likely to get anything done. But when one person is speaking for a group, there’s a much better chance. We go to four to six Wastewater Board meetings a year; we work with state legislators on laws; and we work with the Board of Health on regulations.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: Trent Clinkscales, owner, Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service — It was an existing system evaluation where the drainfield was on the other side of a deep ravine. In order to get the camera and locating equipment to the site, we strapped everything on my all-terrain vehicle (2006 Yamaha Grizzly 700) and drove down and back up the steep slope. Although the homeowners rode their motorcycles back there, there wasn’t a trail big enough for the four-wheeler so they had to clear a path for us. It was steep going down and steep going back up the other side to where the drainfield was. But it worked out really well. It saved a lot of trips back and forth, up and down the draw.

The job I’ll never forget: John Bowen, president, Ken-Way Services of Rice Lake Inc. — Believe it or not, I have a very weak stomach and have been known to lose my “cookies” on certain jobs. I have to keep reminding myself of my motto: It smells like money! But one job I will never forget is when I was at the home of an elderly woman unplugging the line from the lift pump to the main sewer line. I had unhooked the pipe from the lift pump and was clearing the line. The homeowner was very interested in seeing what I was doing, so she was bent over behind me. She accidentally hit the float for the lift pump and got sewage all over her. Her final comment was, “I should know better than to watch what you are doing.” We both laughed.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Brian Wakefield, owner, B & J Wakefield Services — Having more knowledge about the industry, getting involved with legislation, getting to know other people in the field and knowing who to call throughout the state if something comes up. We get involved with the politics side of it when we need to or when we need assistance when something arises.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: Chic Shaw, president, Chic’s Contracting —  “What makes a better septic tank, a car or a pickup?”


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