When Rick Hall started riding along in his father's septic service truck at age 6, Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States, Hawaii and Alaska were new to the nation, and gasoline was 25 cents a gallon
When Rick Hall started riding along in his father's septic service truck at age 6, Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States, Hawaii and Alaska were new to the nation, and gasoline was 25 cents a gallon. A lot of things have changed over the years, but the 58-year-old Hall still believes in the values of hard work and wrench-turning he learned as a kid in the 1950s.
As owner of Casa Grande Pumping Service in Casa Grande, Ariz., with his wife Darlene, Hall is used to getting his hands dirty and solving problems with his equipment. "We're doing OK; we're blessed," he says. "We don't owe a dime on anything. Everything we've got is paid for."
A do-it-yourself mindset and constant diversification of pumping-related services have served the small family company well. There's always been enough revenue and the phone keeps ringing, through good economic times
"The pumping business is going to stay good," he says. "I don't know about the portable restroom business with the economy the way it is. We haven't seen any construction in nearly three years."
Casa Grande is mainly a septic pumping and portable restroom company, but also offers plumbing, grease trap, sand trap and drain services, septic inspection and repair, electronic locating, lift station work and hydrojetting.
GET TO WORK
"We've always had plenty to do," Hall says. "There's always something to do in this business and you can create all kinds of different things if you want to work. Some people leave a lot on the plate because they're too lazy to pull a shovel off the truck and do a little extra work."
Mechanical skills are common across the entire staff at Casa Grande. "We can work on our own trucks, we rebuild our vacuum pumps, and can weld our own tanks," Hall says. "We've been doing it so long it's just second nature to us."
All of the company's vacuum pumps are from Thompson Tank, but they are purchased used and the staff rebuilds them. "They're just Chevy motors with different heads to create the vacuum," he explains.
Of the firm's three vacuum trucks, one is a rebuilt 1973 Kenworth Hall bought used sometime in the 1980s, but broke the frame a few years later. "We found a used frame off a 1987 Kenworth and moved everything over. We pulled a vacuum trailer with it for years."
Last year, the crew tore it apart and completely refurbished the old truck, adding a 4,000-gallon I.M.E. steel tank with a 1980 Thompson 454 pump. It pulls an additional 1,500-gallon pup tank trailer. "We cut out the back of the cab so the seat would slide back farther, and added an extended hood from a
The hood was the first thing put on the new frame. Hall then repositioned the cab to match it up, which required drilling new holes to attach the two. "It has new upholstery and new paint, and we bought a 1996 Kenworth T600 and took off the daylight doors. They bolted right on the old Kenworth. So it looks like a brand new truck."
SERVING PRODUCE INDUSTRY
Hall takes pride in the appearance of his fleet. All the trucks have polished aluminum wheels. They look good and reduce the weight of each wheel by 30 pounds. "The more weight you knock off, the more gallons you can haul," he adds. "Customers like to see a nice, clean truck. We have water on every truck and wash out all the hoses and wash everything down to keep them nice and clean."
The rest of the fleet consists of a 1996 International with a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank and 1979 model 454 Thompson pump. A 2007 International has a 2,000-gallon Progress aluminum tank with a 1975 292J six-cylinder Thompson pump, rebuilt of course.
A 1980 Peterbilt tractor carries a 1984 454 Thompson pump and pulls a 1984 Trailmobile trailer with a 5,500-gallon steel tank. It can also pull a self-contained 1980 Maverick vacuum trailer with a 5,500-gallon steel tank and a two-cylinder Deutz engine that turns a 1980 Thompson 292J pump.
"Nothing is real new," Hall adds. The seven International portable sanitation trucks are a bit newer, ranging in age from 2005 to 2007 models. He has about 300 restrooms out on rental, with a total inventory of 1,000 units from Satellite Industries. Hall offers 70 dual-unit trailers and 50 single-unit trailers with Satellite restrooms and hand-wash stations. All the trailers were handmade by the crew at Casa Grande.
The migrant agricultural community provides much of the portable restroom business on a seasonal basis. "We do the cantaloupe, watermelons, spinach, onions and potato fields," he says. That sector is seeing more regulations concerning sanitation since 29 people died and 140 were sickened in the summer of 2011 from listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in Colorado.
"They cracked down after that," Hall says. Portable restrooms in the fields must include hand-wash stations, prevent any water from spilling on the ground, and must have proper disposal facilities for paper towels.
A FAMILY COMPANY
While the Casa Grande business was formed in 2000, Hall is no stranger to being an owner. He started Rick's Pumping Service in Mesa in 1973 and built it into a company that grossed $1.8 million a year with 18 service trucks on the road. At the same time, he was helping run his dad's business, Lonnie's Sewer and Drain Service. "We'd end up doing all the calls on nights and weekends; never took a day off, didn't take any vacations, we just burned ourselves out."
When an opportunity came to sell the business in Mesa, Hall took it and relocated to Casa Grande to start the new, smaller pumping and portable sanitation company.
Before the economy spiraled downward in 2008, Hall was servicing 1,200 restrooms weekly. That's down to about 300 now. But the septic service has remained steady, at an average of 20 to 30 pump-outs a week.
His son Ricky runs the septic side of the company, while Hall handles the portable restrooms. He says it provides a comfortable living, and it's not as demanding as it used to be. "We have weekends off now; we're usually done by 2:30 or 3 o'clock.
"He's ready to run the company," says the elder Hall of his son. "He can do anything; he's a genius with small engines and electrical work, and he can weld."
Hall says the same of his younger brother Mark, who has worked for him since their parents died about 30 years ago when Mark was just 17. Calvin Johnson and Carlos Navarro run the portable restroom trucks, while Troy Anderson works with both the portables business and the septic pumping. Darlene runs the office and the Halls' daughter Trica does the books.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Hall's do-it-yourself mentality dates back to the early days of the family business. Hall's uncle Mike Cady used to make sewer machines out of old washing machines for Rick's father. "He'd take the drum and cut it down to whatever size was needed," Hall says. "He used the bearings, the motor, and even the belt. We didn't have backhoes. When we put a sewer line in, we dug it by hand."
It's a business that runs in the family's blood; older brother Charlie and two first cousins are in the plumbing and septic businesses as well. Another first cousin is in the used-oil
"My birth certificate lists Ben Langis Cesspool Service as my father's employer," Hall says. "They called Ben 'The Judge' and he was quite a talker. In the summer, they'd leave Phoenix with one septic truck. None of the little towns had pumpers back then. Ben would go ahead and set up at the local bar and hustle business, then they'd fish every afternoon. They'd go as far as Colorado, then work their way back down to Phoenix for the winter."
A lot has changed since those simpler days, and Hall sees a bright future for his 25-year-old son in the industry.
"It's a real good business to be in," Hall says. "There's always going to be something to do. If it's not pumping a septic tank, it's cleaning a grease trap or a lift station, or cleaning the bottom of a swimming pool, or pumping rocks out of a sewer line. There's always something you can do with a vacuum truck."