From cleaning drainfield lines to thawing out catch basins, this versatile machine is a Minnesota contractor’s weapon of choice.
When a business does a little bit of everything, it needs equipment that can do the same. That’s why jack-of-all-trades pumper Phil LaRoche invested in a waterjetting truck — a machine that’s as versatile as it is reliable.
LaRoche is the owner of LaRoche’s Sewer, Drain & Septic Services in Faribault, Minnesota. During the course of more than 40 years in business, LaRoche has diversified his services to provide whatever customers require. Emergency drain service? Check. Preventive grease trap and drainline maintenance? Got it covered. Cleaning septic drainfield lines? No problem. Unclogging frozen lines during Minnesota’s brutally cold winters? Bring ’em on.
“We do a lot of different things,” says LaRoche, who employs seven people and generally operates within a 30-mile radius around Faribault, located about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities. “We do a lot of preventive jetting at restaurants and nursing homes and so forth, thaw frozen lines in winter and clean drainfield lines. We even thaw out stormwater catch basins and exit lines from catch basins.”
To provide this wide range of services, LaRoche relies on a 2014 Ford F-450 box truck that carries a Cam Spray jetter, a pump (18 gpm at 4,000 psi) made by Udor U.S.A., a 49 hp HATZ Diesel engine and a 325-gallon water tank. The engine, pump and hydraulic tank reservoir that powers the jetter’s hose reel are all skid-mounted on a steel plate that’s bolted to the floor of the box truck.
Normally, this kind of jetter is mounted on a trailer. But the team at Cam Spray designed a modular system that can be mounted inside a truck. LaRoche says it required a little more thinking and designing from everyone to make it happen.
“All the ones I had before were trailer mounted, but I decided that this time I’d rather have one inside an insulated box, where it’s warm and less apt to freeze up,” says LaRoche. The truck is also equipped with a 450,000 Btu boiler made by Beckett Corp. that produces hot water (about 160 degrees) for extreme pipe-thawing situations.
LaRoche estimates that 99 percent of the time he can use cold water to unclog frozen pipes, which he encounters only about a dozen times a year on average. But he opted for the hot-water capability after the bitterly cold winter of 2013-14, during which he estimates he unthawed about 300 frozen lines. “That winter I really wished I had hot-water capability,” he says.
Good nozzles are also critical for effective pipe thawing and cleaning, LaRoche says. He uses nozzles made by Cam Spray, MyTana and StoneAge.
LaRoche lauds the system’s hydraulically powered hose reel, which saves time and boosts productivity in the field. “That’s huge,” he says of the efficiency benefits. “If I put 250 feet of 5/8-inch-diameter hose out there and have to reel it in by hand, that’s a lot of work. With the hydraulic system, I can do it in three to five minutes.”
The truck is equipped with two other hose reels. One holds a garden hose that’s used to refill the water tank. The other is a high-pressure washdown hose to which LaRoche attaches wands to perform tasks such as pressurized cleaning of manholes or catch basins.
“I use the 5/8-inch line for cleaning lines that are 6 inches in diameter or larger,” he says. “I’d say that 95 percent of the time I run that hose X number of feet out to wherever I’m cleaning a line. I also carry 250 feet of 3/8-inch hose that I use for 4-inch-diameter or smaller lines. And I also have the capability to downsize it all the way down to 1/4-inch hose for 2-inch-diameter or smaller lines.”
LaRoche still does a fair amount of emergency service work. But over the years he’s developed a solid base of routine preventive maintenance accounts that he services at regular monthly, quarterly or biannual intervals.
“You’re always going to have reactive work, but I’ve worked for the last 30 years to get people on preventive maintenance programs,” he says. “It helps spread out the workload and promotes more consistent cash flow. I wanted to get rid of those feast-and-famine cycles and spread out the work.”
The only thing cleaner than the lines he scours with the jetter is the truck itself, which is washed often to promote a positive and professional image. “I’m very anal about having things look good,” he says. “I’m a strong believer in having nice-looking graphics, too … and people tell us all the time that they called us because our trucks are clean and look good. I think people relate a clean truck to the kind of work they think you will do.”
LaRoche says the truck jetter is critical to his business, estimating that it generates about 30 percent of the company’s overall gross revenue. About 50 percent of his revenue is generated by septic pumping and another 20 percent comes from septic system installations and inspections.
“I’d give up a lot of revenue without it, because there are certain things I wouldn’t be able to do,” he says. “It would be a lot more labor intensive to get jobs done without the jetter.”