‘The Transformer’ Super Truck Is More Than Meets the Eye

A custom-built multi-use sewer truck racks up revenue for A-1 Total Service Plumbing

‘The Transformer’ Super Truck Is More Than Meets the Eye

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For years, Raymond Gray contemplated a big idea for what might be called a sewer truck on steroids. He envisioned a vehicle that would reflect the name of his Los Angeles-based company, A-1 Total Service Plumbing: a do-it-all truck capable of inspecting, waterjetting and robotically milling, repairing and coating pipelines.

Gray’s vision became a reality in 2020 when he took delivery of this rolling Swiss Army knife, built by Midwest Technology Solutions in Indiana and Schwalm USA in South Carolina. Gray then further customized the truck with help from his cousin and mechanic, Joey Vizzini; his son, Daylyn; and his father, John Gray.

“We call it The Transformer because it’s like Optimus Prime — it took a lot of parts to put it together and it can change into a lot of different things,” says Gray, who established his plumbing, drain cleaning and trenchless pipeline rehab company in 2003. It employs 70 people and runs 83 service vehicles that work throughout Southern California.

“It does just about everything except cook my breakfast and make my bed in the morning.”

The price tag for the vehicle and the equipment it carries is an eyebrow-raising $2.5 million. But Gray, who’s a passionate technology geek when it comes to drain and sewer work, believes in the old adage about having to spend money to make money.

“I made most of that money back — about $1.7 million — on one job,” Gray says. “And by the time that job was finished, I had nine other projects lined up for that truck that generated another $2 million.

“This truck allowed me to tap a big market for rehabbing and repairing commercial pipes.”

Better yet, it’s designed for easy operation. In fact, Gray points out that Jackson Rogan, the 19-year-old nephew of his general manager, Brandon Grove, learned how to operate it in about six weeks.

Total-service vehicle

The truck is built on a 2012 Freightliner 26-foot box truck. The equipment and technology it carries or tows includes:

Two robotic milling and sewer machines from Schwalm Robotic GmbH — a TALPA FSR 1330 (for working in 6- to 18-inch-diameter pipes) and a TALPA FSR 2060 (for 10- to 36-inch-diameter pipes).

A 250 hp, diesel-powered water pump (40,000 psi at up to 6 gpm), made by Jetstream of Houston (a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corp.). It can be used independently or with the Schwalm cutters to remove large debris and concrete from pipes 8 to 36 inches in diameter.

A Pathfinder XL TR3400 and a Pathfinder TR3300 crawler camera system, plus a LETS LE3270 lateral launch camera system, all from Aries Industries.

Trailer-mounted, in-house-fabricated water jetter.

Two 500-gallon, custom-built, stainless steel water tanks, equipped with cooling coils and a filtration system that relies on Nuvo filters.

One of the tanks is specially designed to contend with the problem posed by running equipment off the jetter that doesn’t need as much flow as the massive pump provides. For example, Gray might only need 3 gpm to run a Schwalm robotic cutter, while the pump produces 6 gpm.

“You need an extra place for that excess water to go,” he explains. “As such, we designed it with a bypass pump that sends the extra water to the other tank, where it goes through a series of 3/4-inch-diameter copper cooling coils and a filter before it’s pumped back into the other tank for more jetting.

“It allows us to recycle and conserve water, which is a big deal here in California.”

Gray says he loves Schwalm equipment because it’s so easy to use and is extremely versatile, thanks to a wide variety of attachments that can do everything from jackhammer concrete, cut through steel rods with high-pressure water, pull point-repair bladders into place, flush and descale pipes, reinstate tie-in lines and more.

“I even rigged it with a special tip that allows it to spray an epoxy coating inside pipes,” Gray says.

Up for a challenge

All Gray needed to make the truck a reality was a huge project that would justify the expense — and require its many capabilities. And that job finally came along in 2020, when the owner of a private dam in Northern California asked Gray if his company could tackle an unusually challenging pipeline repair.

The problem was a 60-year-old, concrete-encased, corrugated-steel casing pipe, 300 feet long and 24 inches in diameter. The pipe, which is used to control water flow or to drain the lake behind it when needed, ran through the dam — 160 feet underground at its deepest point.

“The owner had the lake drained so the dam could be inspected,” Gray explains. “They found the pipe had deteriorated so badly that the corrugated steel inside it had inverted on itself and created a blockage.”

Completing the job required using almost all of the truck’s capabilities.

The first step: removing about 80 feet of peeled-off pipe, which was accomplished by using a high-pressure waterjetting attachment on one of the Schwalm robotic cutters.


Removing other debris from the pipe also posed a challenge because of accessibility issues. But Gray found a solution: He fashioned an adapter that allowed the Schwalm robot to carry a fire hose into the pipe to flush it out.

The company then used the Schwalm cutter to remove more damaged pipe that still was attached to the concrete casement. During that process, aggregate in sections of the concrete walls came loose, which threatened the integrity of the pipe.

So the A-1 crew installed three, 20-foot-long Perma-Liner Industries sectional point-repair bladders, using the Schwalm robot to pull them into place. Later they lined the entire pipe using a Perma-Liner steam-cured pipe lining system, he says.

The entire job took about two months to complete. They could have done it without the truck, Gray says — but it would’ve taken roughly 10 weeks longer. It also would’ve been much more expensive because he would’ve been forced to hire subcontractors as well as buy other pieces of equipment.

Gray points out that the truck, which took six months to build, is used for a wide range of applications but it isn’t in the field every day.

“It may not go out on every job every day, and we don’t always use all the tools,” he explains. “But it doesn’t leave our yard unless it’s going to make $50,000 for the week.

“It’s 100% a money machine.” 


Readers with questions about the A-1 Total Service Plumbing “super truck” can contact Raymond Gray at 562-318-4371 or rayg@a1tsp.com.


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