Whatever It Takes

Rogers & Sons attacks the most difficult cleaning problems with energy, ingenuity and a wide range of tools – many custom-made

As a child, Cloyd Mason “Buck” Rogers was always smashing something to look inside and see how it worked. Today, as owner of Rogers & Sons Inc. in Lithonia, Ga., Rogers has invented or modified more industrial cleaning tools than he can remember. He inherited his gift for mechanical design from his father, the late Cloyd Mason Sr.

Buck Rogers’ ability to envision new tools was born of necessity. Bored with pumping septic tanks with his father and eldest brother, Jimmy, he saw a need for a modest industrial cleaning business to serve small cities that couldn’t afford vacuum trucks, and private companies with big jobs that didn’t interest municipalities or big cleaning firms.

The problem was finding the necessary equipment. Commercial tools often weren’t available, weren’t large enough, or required more power than those on factory-built trucks. Rogers discovered that every job required customized tools or machinery. Some tools he designed or modified include root cutters converted to demolish concrete, a lifter to remove septic tank lids, a self-contained extension boom trailer, jetting nozzles, and custom filters and housings for his Vac-Con 16-cubic-yard industrial vacuum truck.

Ingenuity earned Rogers & Sons the reputation for completing jobs nobody else could do or wanted to do. Statewide customers include schools and colleges, golf courses, phone companies, other cleaning contractors, small municipalities, and once, even the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Long line of firsts

Rogers & Sons, founded in 1968, always did things ahead of the rest. “To the best of our knowledge, we were the first in the state to have water on our pump trucks when dad put two 55-gallon drums on them,” says Rogers. “Then Jimmy had an idea for a high-pressure jetter so we didn’t have to cut through concrete floors to clean 1/2- to 5/16-inch sewer pipes.” The pipes often were blocked with concrete and debris that cable machines couldn’t remove.

In the 1980s, most trailer-mounted washers had just enough power to remove paint from buildings. Jimmy Rogers bought a 1985 Ford E-250 cargo van and equipped it with a 100-hp Deutz diesel engine to power a Hammelmann 14-gpm/15,000-psi pump. For sewer hoses, he used double-braided hydraulic hose.

“The bursting pressure is normally three to four times higher than the psi on the hose,” says Rogers, who was in elementary school at the time. “Jimmy also invented nozzles based on ammunition shell designs until waterjetting manufacturers began making some.”

Jimmy Rogers was killed in an automobile accident in 1986. “He was such an important part of the business,” says his brother. “The company would not be where it is and what it is today without his hard work and Dad’s.”

Rogers & Sons had numerous commercial and municipal pumping accounts, and while serving them, Rogers noticed that they used multiple contractors because none of them had everything on one vehicle. “I decided to change that,” he says. With the understanding that Rogers would find work for it, his father helped him buy a Vac-Con combination truck with a 9-cubic-yard debris body and 1,500-gallon water tank on a 1995 Ford L-8000 chassis.

The truck had no accessories, so Rogers duplicated the equipment he saw on contractors’ vehicles in his shop or by working with professional machine shops. He went to trade shows, evaluated which new designs would work best, then built and modified the equipment to suit specific needs.

“I still do most of the cutting and welding on big equipment, but job out smaller parts to shops with precision lathes,” he says. “The problem is that most of them went out of business recently.” The loss of local machinists has become such an inconvenience that Rogers is considering buying the equipment to do the smaller work himself.

From little acorns

Rogers & Sons’ reputation as the can-do cleaning company wasn’t built on two or three landmark projects, but on notches in its belt. One of the first involved three old hotels. The hydraulic cylinders that ran the elevators were encased in sand to prevent them from rocking.

When demolition crews pulled out the cylinders, they ruptured, dropping sand and oil 100 feet to the bottom of the elevator shafts. The oil and contaminated sand, considered environmental hazards, had to be removed and disposed of properly. Rogers and three men zigzagged hose through the buildings to the tops of the shafts, then vacuumed 7 cubic yards of material from each.

The company always did small pump jobs for municipalities. But once those customers knew Rogers had a combination truck, they hired him to clean lift stations and remove small blockages, while major contractors cleaned and televised the sewers. “If something stops up, we unplug it without the contractor pulling his men and equipment off the main project,” says Rogers.

As the company’s reputation spread, the work became more difficult. In one instance, a contractor widening a road decommissioned one too many underground telephone boxes by filling it with concrete.

“The phone company wanted those boxes killed so crews didn’t have to dig them up and pull out the wires,” says Rogers. “Filling them with concrete slurry reinforced the boxes so they wouldn’t collapse from the weight of traffic.” The company told Rogers to take everything out of the box that was mistakenly filled, at any cost, so that crews could re-establish a military phone line.

“It didn’t make sense to me, because two bundles of fiber optic lines were down there, but I did as I was told,” he says. “It was all very hush-hush and urgent.” After a week of jetting at 10,000 psi and the combination truck vacuuming the slurry, the crew reached the bottom of the 12- by 8- by 6-foot-deep box, knocking out 230,000 phone lines. The phone company was pleased with its empty box, but the job left Rogers with scars from where the concrete dust got inside his rain suit and rubbed off the skin.

Never stranded

Rogers always evaluates what specialty tools a job will require, then builds the prototypes to test his ideas. Success ranges from getting it right the first time to two or three months of tinkering. “We’ll use the tool and make adjustments on it that night,” he says. “It’s all trial and error, but we always have commercial backups so customers aren’t left stranded. They know we’ll come up with something.”

One example involved a root cutter from Shamrock Pipe Tools Inc. In 2003, a tunnel-boring company dug a 12-foot-deep tunnel to install 3,000 feet of 36-inch ductile steel pipe beneath a residential community.

To prevent the ground from settling, workers injected 500-psi concrete grout to encase the pipe, but it wasn’t anchored and started to float. The undulations caused gaps in the joints, enabling the grout to enter and fill the pipe.

The contractor rented industrial vacuum trucks, expecting his crew to remove the grout, but they lacked experience. Other hired companies didn’t have the proper tools. After analyzing the situation, Rogers worked with a welding shop to duplicate the design of the root-cutter blades, but make them bigger, thicker and with stump-grinding teeth. Removing the grout took three months working at 80 gpm/2,500 to 3,000 psi.

Another example of Rogers’ ingenuity involved a leak in a 4-inch sewer line. When the city inspector tested it, the pipe wouldn’t hold pressure, and camera inspections failed to reveal the cause. Rogers televised the line and couldn’t see any damage either. After thinking on the problem for a while, he went to Lansas Products and bought a very small sewer pipe plug. He then built a pipe works on the shop floor and ran tests to see if his idea would work. It did.

Advancing from cleanout to cleanout, Rogers and crew put a stopper plug in one end of the pipe and a Flow-Thru plug with water and air hoses in the other end. “My pressure gauge was the residential type that screws onto water faucets,” he says. “No manufacturer makes sewer plugs and gauges this small.” Water and air were introduced into the pipe until the pressure reached 5 psi. Then the water was shut off.

“We found the faulty section when the pressure dropped between two cleanouts 150 feet apart,” says Rogers. “We then bought pushrods from an electrical company, hooked them to the plugs, and slid them and the air hose along the line, testing each little section until we narrowed the search to a 2-foot length. When city crews excavated, they found a crack in a joint where the cameras couldn’t see it.”

Improvised equipment

At recent trade shows, Rogers saw cameras on all-terrain vehicles or four wheelers. A toolbox manufacturer took his modified drawings and made a camera shell that fit on the back of a 2000 Kawasaki Mule. Rogers then purchased the OZII pan-and-tilt color camera on the Ultra Shorty transporter, and Inspector General power-control center from CUES Inc. in Orlando, Fla.

“I can inspect 1,000 feet of 60-inch pipe with this self-contained vehicle,” Rogers says. “It runs through easements or subdivisions, but does the same inspections as big camera vans.”

When the company bought the Vac-Con industrial vacuum truck, it didn’t come with an extension boom. “Holding the hose by hand gave everyone a sore back,” says Rogers, whose solution was to build a trailer-mounted boom. Adams Equipment Co. Inc. in White Plains, Ga., gave him an old Vactor hydroexcavating truck. Rogers mounted its boom on a custom-built, 20-foot-long trailer with outriggers, 70-gallon water tank and 13-hp Kohler gas engine.

“All I do is run a vacuum hose to the trailer from my truck, which is parked where it won’t damage anything,” says Rogers. He uses a 3/4-ton 1995 Chevy pickup with utility body to pull the trailer.

Like his father, Rogers is keeping the company small to control quality. His three-man crew has been with him a year, while his mother and wife run the office. “The work is hard and there’s a lot of turnover,” says Rogers. “I’ve had guys stay 10 or 15 years, then want to do something different. Others come and go, always looking for greener pastures, but finding life is better on this side of the fence.”

Employees are salaried with paid vacations. The company pays 100 percent of their health insurance, furnishes breakfast and lunch (and dinner when necessary), provides all work clothes, and provides free lodging when they work out of town.

One trip became the company’s most unusual service call. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation suspected a husband of throwing his wife down a well under a house he was restoring. He had backfilled the well with bricks and mud, and the bureau called Rogers to remove them.

“We proceeded carefully to not compromise evidence,” he says. “It took all day to reach the bottom, and the woman wasn’t there.” Police discovered her body a week later in the husband’s back yard.

Rogers anticipates bigger trucks and more technical jobs in the future. He’s designing an original combination truck that Vac-Con will build in two to three years. “I want to get into specialty markets that nobody wants to touch,” he says. “Examples are bigger, more complex sewer jobs, projects too far off the main road, with limited access, or extremely deep.”

Whatever the years bring, Rogers’ ingenious solutions will enable customers with seemingly undefeatable challenges to say, “Call Rogers & Sons. They have the equipment and knowledge to get the job done.”


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