When the National Park Service calls Bill Leppala for a pumpout, he embarks on a two-day voyage to Isle Royale, Michigan, and back
How far are you willing to go for a pump job? For Bill Leppala, not even the largest of the Great Lakes will stand in his way.
Leppala, owner of Tula Toilet and Septic in Ironwood, Michigan, recently pumped a septic on Isle Royale in the northwest of Lake Superior. To get there, he and his 5,500-gallon Volvo pumper traveled more than 11 hours round trip via riverboat from a landing at Houghton.
Bill Leppala stands atop the LCM-8 riverboat and landing craft next to his Volvo pumper as he prepares to make the trip to Isle Royale, Michigan. (Photos contributed by Bill Leppala)
On top of that, Houghton isn’t that close to his hometown. “It's about 125 miles away, 2 1/2 hours north of me in Ironwood,” Leppala says.
Once he got to the boat landing, he loaded his truck onto a Vietnam-era LCM-8, also known as a Mike Boat. It’s a 135,000-pound riverboat and landing craft that was used by the U.S. Army and Navy originally. These days, the LCM-8 is used by organizations and governments, including the National Park Service, which hired Leppala to pump a septic at Isle Royale National Park.
Since the crossing takes at least five hours one-way, it’s a two-day trip to pump out Isle Royale. “The National Park Service has very nice dormitories for the maintenance people that they put me up in for the night,” Leppala says.
Here's a look at the kitchen area of the two-bedroom cabin that the National Park Service provided for Leppala's overnight stay at Isle Royale National Park.
The mid-September crossing went without any problems, according to Leppala. “The trip out was nice and calm with 1- to 2-foot swells. The job was about 50 feet off the boat, and that took me about four hours.”
The return trip took more than six hours, though. “We had 3- to 5-foot swells and had to travel to a boat landing that was about 6 miles farther up the channel than the one we left from.”
The waters of Lake Superior stretched to the horizon during Leppala's trip to Isle Royale.
This won’t be the last time Leppala does this unique job for the park service, but it might be his last of the year. “The LCM shuts down Oct. 31, and deck time is at a premium right now because the park service is getting ready for winter,” Leppala says. “And almost all the heavy stuff goes by LCM.”
To get a sense of what the crossing felt like, check out Leppala’s video below. You can see his septic truck in the foreground.
About the park
Isle Royale and the 450 smaller islands and waters around it make up Isle Royale National Park. The main island is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide, making it the third-largest island in the continental U.S.
The Vietnam-era LCM-8 approaches the boat landing.