Best of the Decade: Portable Pumping Power

ProVac units’ mobility provides foundation for California company’s grease trap service

Best of the Decade: Portable Pumping Power
Ray Castro, a technician with California-based SRC Pumping, wheels a Conde ProVac portable pumpout unit into a job. The company uses the machines for pumping grease traps in cramped kitchen areas.

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Any contractor who cleans restaurant grease traps and interceptors knows there’s rarely a convenient time for customers. While municipalities typically require regular grease trap cleanings, restaurant owners don’t want to deal with the disruptions — a hose snaking through a kitchen, the odor, the noise and so forth.

But SRC Pumping in Sacramento, California, takes the pain away with a small fleet of Conde ProVac portable pumpout units made by Westmoor. The company’s six ProVac units are essentially miniature vacuum trucks that can easily maneuver through cramped kitchen areas and work quickly and quietly, with minimal business disruption.

“Before we invested in the ProVacs, we used a lot of hoses and accessibility could be a problem, especially in high-rise office buildings with cafeterias on upper floors,” says Jim Walsh, general manager. “But with the ProVacs, we roll them right in. They’re small enough to fit through a standard doorway. Then we pump out the trap and roll them back outside.

“Then we use the pump on one of our vac trucks to evacuate the ProVacs. We can do multiple jobs in one day. ProVacs are the best.”

SRC Pumping bought its first ProVac about 20 years ago after seeing the machine at a Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo (now called the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment and Transport Show). Management was so impressed they kept on adding ProVacs as the company built up its customer base. The business — which was founded in 1913 and has been family-owned for four generations — is part of the SRC Cos. Other services include restaurant grease collection, rendering and recycling of animal byproducts, and production of animal protein meal. It serves more than 4,000 customers in Northern California, central California and northern Nevada.

To provide these services, the company also owns about 15 nearly 5,500-gallon vacuum trailer tankers made by Dragon Products and Galyean, outfitted with vacuum pumps made by Fruitland and National Vacuum Equipment. It also owns four Isuzu trucks equipped with 500- and 750-gallon WorkMate vacuum tanks (FMI Truck Sales & Service) and Conde pumps.

Made from lightweight aluminum, the 52-gallon-capacity ProVac is 24 inches wide, a little more than 4 feet long and 45 inches tall. It weighs about 250 pounds. It’s powered by a 1 1/2 hp, 115-volt/13.4-amp electric motor and a Conde pump produces vacuum power of 35 cfm. It can pump up to 124 gpm at 5 psi of pressure, and it switches from vacuum to pressure mode for offloading with the flip of a switch. Other features include a built-in charcoal exhaust deodorizer that minimizes odors, an automatic lubrication system, 20-foot retractable electric cord, electronic automatic float shut-off, and 2-inch-diameter, 10-foot-long Plastiflex suction hose.

“You can plug it into a normal 110-volt electric outlet,” Walsh explains, noting that the motor isn’t so overpowered that it flips circuit breakers at restaurants. “And it’s very quick and quiet. We also like the reverse-pressure feature. A lot of times the material we’re vacuuming up is coagulated. So if we can reverse [the pump], it breaks the material up a bit.”

One of the ProVac’s biggest assets is its mobility, which allows the company to perform more service calls in a year and, in turn, post more billable hours. For instance, some of the grocery stores SRC Pumping serves might have several grease traps per store. So instead of inefficiently hauling hoses around and potentially repositioning a vacuum truck for each trap, an employee can clean two or three traps with the ProVac, depending on the traps’ capacities.

“We also clean out grease traps at about 30 concession stands at Raley Field,” he adds. (The stadium is home to the Sacramento River Cats, a Pacific Coast League baseball team that’s a Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.) “It’s next to impossible to clean them with a vacuum truck because of limited accessibility, so we have to use some kind of portable device. And the ProVacs are a perfect solution to the problem.”

Walsh also praises the units’ satin-aluminum finish, which he says enhances his company’s professional image. “When we arrive in the back of a kitchen, it’s a professional-looking machine, not like a cheap shop vac or some homemade machine. That’s important because (restaurant) operators don’t like this kind of work — there’s never an ideal time to clean at restaurants. So it helps if we look like a professional outfit while doing it.”

The ProVacs’ ability to pump out grease traps quickly and quietly has also enabled SRC Pumping to establish a profitable market niche. In addition, because the company also cleans grease interceptors, the ProVacs enable one-stop shopping for customers that require both interceptor and grease trap service, Walsh says.

“If we do 1,200 services a month, about a third of them rely on the ProVacs. Is it a good revenue generator? Absolutely. It allows us to do work we otherwise couldn’t do. Without a doubt, using a ProVac is the only way to do this kind of work. If you’re in a business like ours, you need to have one.” 

Still going strong - 2020

In 2016, SRC Pumping operated six Conde ProVac portable pumpout units (Westmoor) and used them frequently for grease trap cleaning.

Jim Walsh, general manager, says all six are still in operation and working well. “They are carried on all of our small pumper trucks and used daily.”

SRC Pumping still primarily uses the ProVacs for small kitchen grease trap cleaning. “The ProVac unit is well engineered and professional in appearance. It’s the perfect size for servicing customers with multiple grease traps and in high-rise buildings,” Walsh says.

Though the company also operates much bigger trucks and tractor-trailers, the smaller Isuzu-type pump trucks that carry the ProVac units are also workhorses because of their ability to maneuver the machines into those harder-to-reach jobs. “When we have to go inside, we can just wheel (the ProVac unit) inside. Then the vacuum tank on the truck evacuates the unit and we move along. We use them daily, and they’re very reliable.”

Manufacturer Westmoor continues to provide excellent service after the sale as well, Walsh says. “I can say, too, that the company that makes them follows up on parts and service and they’re very good. It’s well distributed.”

The ProVac units are still moneymaking machines for SRC Pumping. “Over the years, we’ve gone from making our own to using others, and these are just perfect. They’re the best.”


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