Adding Equipment and Services Brings New Opportunities to Ohio Contractor

Septic pumping opens the door for well-rounded contractor’s repair and inspection work

Adding Equipment and Services Brings New Opportunities to Ohio Contractor

 Owner Dale Wilson, with sons Tyler Wilson (left) and Travis Wilson, uses a 2017 Spartan Warrior jetter to clean a drainline running to a 1,500-gallon aeration system at a residence.

When Dale Wilson isn’t cleaning drains, he’s pumping. Or repairing. Or inspecting drain and sewer lines to see what needs cleaning or repairing. Septic and sewer systems in western Ohio are keeping his company busy and growing three and a half years after Wilson and his wife bought it.

The company is Allen Hughes Septic Tank Service, which was founded in 1985 by its namesake. Located in Harrod, Ohio, the company started out servicing homeowners’ septic tanks in surrounding Allen County and two neighboring counties — Auglaize and Hardin.

The counties largely have a rural population served by septic systems, rather than municipal sewer systems. Though West Central Ohio is dotted with small towns with municipal systems, the towns are scattered among wheat, corn and soybean farms. All the farm homes rely on septic tanks to treat wastewater. Serving these rural systems was the basis for the early success of Allen Hughes Septic Tank Service.

However, in 1997, the company diversified when then-owner Allen Hughes bought a jetter. “It was the only one in the area at the time,” Wilson says, “and the company started doing some cleaning as well. The importance of us having a jetter can’t be overstated. It gives us lots and lots of options.”

Today, 30% of the company’s work is generated by its Spartan Warrior jetter, which can produce 4,000 psi at 18 gpm. Powered by an 87 hp Kubota engine, the trailered rig has a 300-gallon water tank to flush clogged sewer lines. Four days out of five, the company’s jetter is on the road to a job. Customers are not solely residential property owners. Others include light commercial properties like restaurants and institutional clients such as hospitals. 

“We’ll clean anything, beginning with a plain old backed-up service line running from the house to a tank or sewer main. We can jet it or auger it with our RIDGID cable. If tree roots are the problem, we can insert a RIDGID SeeSnake camera to evaluate the problem and see if it has to be dug up.”

The remaining 70% of the business is septic work. A big part of the company’s workweek involves pumping — pumping out septic tanks mostly but also the debris from flushed grease traps. A significant component of the company’s septic work is installing or repairing septic tanks and drainfield pipes.

In a busy year, the company might install 15 to 20 septic tanks — Roth high-density polyethylene tanks, for the most part, usually 1,500-gallon units; or concrete tanks if something larger is required.

But installing tanks is not the core business for the company either. “Repair work is our thing,” Wilson says. A lot of that work is facilitated by the company’s pump truck operator. “When he goes out to pump, he carefully looks at the tank, at its diversion box. Is it corroded? Is a concrete box starting to flake off? If so, he lets the customer know. A large portion of our repair business comes from the pump truck operator paying attention to what’s going on with the tank and box and informing homeowners.”

Septic tank pumping is an almost daily occurrence. “The pump truck is on the road five or six days of the week,” Wilson says. “I’m looking at the schedule right now. Tomorrow he’s pumping four tanks, then three the next day, then three, then four on Friday.” Installing septic systems, on the other hand, is seasonal work. By the first of December, winter cold usually brings such work to a halt till spring.

Equipment upgrades

Wilson is of the school of thought that prioritizes keeping current with equipment, rather than investing in machines and running them till they wear out. While both approaches are defensible, Wilson makes a good argument for operating with updated machinery.

“I do have a philosophy about equipment,” he says. “My wife and I have owned the business for less than four years, but I try to regularly update equipment, for several reasons. You don’t have as much downtime. The appearance of the machines creates a good image for the company. Employees are more comfortable operating newer equipment. So, one of my goals is to keep the equipment up to date. Business has been good for us, so we can do it without struggling.”

Consequently, that pump truck that’s almost constantly on the road is a 2020 Freightliner with a 4,000-gallon Imperial aluminum tank manufactured in Wisconsin. After Wilson decided his operation needed a truck with a hoist, he bought a 2021 Freightliner with a hoist and a 2,100-gallon stainless steel tank.

When an old jetter gave out a year ago, he bought the Spartan Warrior. “I came across Spartan several years ago. We go to the WWETT show every year and I had talked to some Spartan guys. So, when the old machine went down, I called around and Spartan got back to me quickly, and brought me a machine. I really like the machine and the guys are very good to work with. I never looked any further.”

He has a John Deere 17G mini-excavator with a variable width undercarriage for getting through tight gates. Wilson is in the process of purchasing a Deere 60G compact excavator. He trailers an excavator to job sites to dig a hole for a tank, then uses the excavator to unload a poly tank from a trailer and lower it into the hole. Other pieces of machinery in the equipment yard include Bobcat 763H and Gehl 3935 track loaders for moving or loading material and a Ford service van that usually pulls the trailer jetter.

His trucks and trailers and trailered machinery roll out to work in six Ohio counties, having expanded from four in the last couple of years. The company’s service area ranges a hundred miles, north and south, from Toledo to Bellefontaine, and almost as far running east and west. Still, about 40% of the company work is in the home county, Allen.

A good reputation

A couple developments spurred business activity for Wilson in recent years. One was the state of Ohio’s revision of septic tank regulations in 2015. Formerly, counties made up local rules as they wished. Now, Columbus is laying down the law and has begun to enforce it. County health departments have been given the responsibility to conduct inspections and determine if a tank and system is in compliance.

“Once they get a letter form the health department, property owners know it’s time to do something about their septic systems,” Wilson says. The upshot for Allen Hughes Septic Tank Service is more runs by his team to rural properties with noncompliant systems.

The other spurt of business for the company in the last couple of years came in the light commercial segment. Wilson attributes some of it to the company’s good reputation among mechanical contractors at such institutions as hospitals and colleges. “If something happens at one of those places that a mechanical contractor can’t handle, he often subcontracts the work to us. The contractor knows he can depend on us. It works out well for everyone.”

Wilson says treating his customers fairly and honestly is important to him. “I try to be honest in my pricing. One thing I stress to my guys is to be honest with everyone, as well as with each other. Ask questions on the job so we don’t do something wrong. If you can be fair and honest with people, the rest will take care of itself.” 


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