A shiny new service rig is 2011 Classy Truck winner A.J. McDonald Co.’s best calling card for new business

To Jim McDonald’s mind, running a great vacuum truck is one of several prerequisites to showing customers you’re a quality septic service provider. A proper rig needs to be efficient and reliable, have good looks and exude the essence of class. Class, to McDonald’s way of thinking, means glossy paint, sparkling chrome accents and professional, tasteful graphics.

Jim and his brother Mike, owners of A.J. McDonald Co. Inc., Pasadena, Md., fired on all cylinders when designing their most recent truck, a 2011 Peterbilt that celebrates the family company’s 70th anniversary. And their solid speccing paid off big, as the McDonald brothers take home the Pumper 2011 Classy Truck of the Year award.

“What an honor,’’ Jim McDonald exclaimed when told his rig was chosen as the sixth annual Classy Truck winner. “I feel like we’ve come a long way over the years and this is an acknowledgement of being out there providing quality service and having a nice truck.’’

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The genesis of the winning truck came at Peterbilt of Baltimore, where the McDonalds, with the help of their recently retired father, Anthony John McDonald, chose a Pete chassis painted an unusual color for a vacuum truck. The dealership called the metallic paint “pewter,’’ but the McDonalds think the faint gold color is more accurately described as “sandstone.’’ They specced the truck with a 350-hp Cummins diesel tied to an Allison 6-speed automatic transmission. Interior conveniences from the factory include a 7-inch backup camera, power windows, locks, tilt, cruise, AC, air-ride seats and a stereo.

Then the truck was off to Lely Manufacturing Inc., where it was outfitted with a 3,000-gallon steel tank, 3- and 4-inch valves, triple rear-mounted sight glasses and top- and rear-side manways. For ample pumping power, a Wittig RFW 150 water-cooled pump was added. For durability and good looks, accents including diamond-plate hose trays, aluminum storage boxes on both sides and other chrome features were added.


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Before it hit the road in November 2010, the Pete’s blank steel canvas was prettied up by artists Chuck Gamber and Joe Westphal at Jack of Arts in Ellicott City, Md. The custom graphics company is known for extreme work truck makeovers, but Jim McDonald requested a tame, but bold look that brought attention to the company name and gave a nod to its 70th year in 2011. The result was coordinating brown accents painted and pinstriped onto the cab and tank and a gold leaf anniversary emblem on the tank.

The truck is built with its workload in mind, 80 percent grease trap and 20 percent residential septic service, most of the work done in suburban Baltimore, where heavy traffic is the norm.

“First and foremost, we wanted a big pump. We do a lot of back-flushing trying to do the job properly, and the pumps on our other trucks took a while to recover,’’ McDonald says. In the past, trucks were ordered with pumps in the 300 cfm range; this one delivers 500 cfms. “That makes a difference when you’re out trying to get the jobs done in a reasonable time.’’

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The auto trans is another key to the workability of the new truck, McDonald says, explaining that the city highway traffic was a gear-jammer’s nightmare on previous trucks.

“We have to run the beltway and deal with that traffic. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic for an hour at a time, you really learn to love an automatic,’’ That, combined with the cab creature comforts make this one cushy ride compared to earlier company rigs. “It’s kind of like a Cadillac. Well, put it this way: I don’t mind driving it,’’ he says.

McDonald credits Gamber for listening to his ideas for graphics, then coming up with his own take. While Gamber is known for hand-painting full scenes on the side of a work truck, McDonald asked him to dial it down a bit. The compromise fits the more conservative marketing approach of the old-line septic company.

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The company’s rich history began in 1941, when shipyard welder A.J. McDonald was injured and could no longer perform the work. He turned to the septic service business, then a fledgling industry, running a 1938 Ford truck with a 500-gallon wooden, tar-lined tank and a lift-and-force pump.

His second truck was another Ford, bought in 1945, when he received special government permission to purchase a vehicle despite rationing during World War II. His septic service was deemed an essential service. In the late 1940s or early 1950s, he brought vacuum into play, drawing pressure from the exhaust manifold on his truck.

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The original A.J. handed the business down to A.J. Jr., the father of Jim, 40, and Mike, 37. The sons carry on the family tradition of adapting to new truck trends and technologies, and one day hope to pass the business down to their children.

The new Pete represented sort of a rite of passage for Jim and Mike McDonald. It was the first truck they really had a free reign to put together after their father retired.

“Before that, he’d humor us, and then decide the way to go. Now that he’s retired, I put my foot down and he said, ‘All right, whatever you want,’ ” Jim McDonald recalls. “It’s proven to be a pretty good truck.’’



This issue marks the first for our new Septic System Answer Man columnist Jim Anderson. He follows longtime Answer Man Roger Machmeier, who wrote the column for about 20 years. Jim will provide some continuity to the column, as he and Roger were colleagues at the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water and Climate for many years.

Many of you are acquainted with Jim from workshops he’s conducted at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo and across the country through the National Association of Wastewater Transporters. Though he retired from the university in 2008, he continues to be active in the industry by serving as education coordinator for NAWT. He maintains the title of emeritus professor at the university and has taught wetland soils classes since retiring.

Jim has worked on onsite systems for more than 40 years and is a recipient of the industry’s Ralph Macchio Lifetime Achievement Award. It was an honor to have Roger involved with Pumper readers for so many years and we’re extremely happy to have Jim on board and available to answer your questions moving forward.

When you see Jim at the Expo this month, join me in congratulating him on his new post as the Answer Man. And whenever you have a question about a septic system, remember we’re at your service. Please send your questions for Jim to me at editor@pumper.com.



I’m looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo as it moves to Indianapolis and its new digs at the Indiana Convention Center. The Expo offers a great opportunity to rekindle old business friendships and expand contacts in the pumping community. I find there’s no nicer group of small business owners anywhere. Pumpers are friendly and approachable, and shrewd businesspeople. I learn so much from the contractors who attend the Expo, and that knowledge serves to improve the content of this magazine.

So if you make it to Indy, look me up and let’s talk shop!

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