Devoted Pumper Builds Plane, Employs Same Sense of Determination That Exemplifies Septic Business

Some of the best traits of a successful small-business owner – self-reliance, determination and a curiosity to learn new things – helped Bill Keller build an airplane from scratch and soar to new heights.
Devoted Pumper Builds Plane, Employs Same Sense of Determination That Exemplifies Septic Business
At the controls of the Breezy is Bill Keller, flanked by partners Robbie Leonard, left, and Dick Nance. (Photo by Joe Mahoney)

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When you look at the cover of Pumper this month, you might wonder about the photo. It shows three men in an open-cockpit winged contraption parked in front of a vacuum truck. It’s a great photo of the owners of J.L. Bishop Contractor Inc., one of our featured profile companies this month, but I need to put that photo in context.

At the controls of the flying machine is Bill Keller, and he’s flanked by partners Robbie Leonard, left, and Dick Nance. The trio runs the successful pumping company that specializes in environmental cleanup, cleaning grease traps and septic service. They bought the company in 2005 and have demonstrated a passion for the wastewater industry.

But you’ll pardon Bill Keller if he has an even bigger passion in life. And, it’s obvious from our cover photo, that passion is flight. And not just any kind of flying, but the seat-of-the-pants excitement of piloting an experimental aircraft. What you see on the cover is the Breezy airplane Bill built by himself in a part-by-part manufacturing process that took three years and 2,000 to 3,000 hours.

“The challenge really is building an airplane. Very few people build airplanes anymore and most of them are from a kit,’’ Bill explains. “But building an airplane from scratch from tubes and welding metal is very challenging. Then psyching yourself up to fly it and do it safely is very difficult. Few people have built their own airplanes and made a first flight. There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment to do that.’’


Growing up in Ohio, Bill started taking flying lessons at 16 and had his license at 17, as soon as he was legally able to get it. He spent the next 43 years flying everything from single-engine prop planes to multi-engine jets. He’s got a commercial pilot’s license, though he’s never flown for pay, just for fun.

Then, in 2000, after owning and flying many planes, he decided to build his own. He chose the Breezy, which looks like a few chairs on wheels connected to a large fixed wing and an engine in the back. He said the first Breezy was cobbled together in the 1960s by a group of “drunken airport bums’’ who wrote down suggestions about how to repeat the process and started selling plans.

One of the early Breezy pilots gave Bill a ride and he was hooked.

“I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. There’s nothing in front of you and nothing underneath you. Unless you’ve flown in one, it’s hard to describe. Part of the appeal and charm is it appears to be minimalistic. There appears to be nothing there and you wear a leather helmet and goggles.’’


Bill has flown the Breezy for 10 years, and at 60, hopes to soon be able to take enough time off from running the pumping business to make trips to Florida and to Wisconsin for the annual Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture. The flights will be long ones in a plane that cruises along at less than 70 mph, but he’ll enjoy every minute in the air.

Building a plane and flying it requires the same type of self-reliance and determination a pumper needs to succeed in business in the face of new technologies and constant competition. Like someone running a septic service business, Bill never gave up during the daunting process that saw him spend a dozen hours manufacturing a part the size of a quarter and attending vocational school to learn the TIG welding techniques necessary to build a strong fixed wing.

In our profile feature about J.L. Bishop, Bill talks at length about how his business has grown over the years. But all you have to do it ask him a question about flying and the conversation can get sidetracked for hours. He says fewer people today understand the freedom of flight or even have the chance to go up in a small plane, and it saddens him.

“People are more content to play a flight simulator game as opposed to going out and actually flying the plane,’’ he says. But he wants to encourage people to recapture the fascination with flight Americans had 100 years ago in the time of the Wright Brothers. If they’re interested, he tells people to pursue their dreams to fly.


“If you’re motivated enough and want to do it, you’ll find a way,’’ he says. “Just go out and do it. It’s a learning experience. And you’ll meet a lot of nice people. Some of the nicest people are pilots.’’

Bill plans to make another trip next February, to attend his first Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International in Indianapolis. I can’t imagine he’ll wing in to Indiana behind the controls of the Breezy, but don’t put anything past this can-do pumper.

“There have been some nice days of weather in February,’’ he says.


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