Passionate Pumper Balances Hobbies With Running Small Business

When they’re not running a vacuum rig, this Pennsylvania father-son pumping team is out in the gearhead garage working on their latest 1960s big-block beast.
Passionate Pumper Balances Hobbies With Running Small Business
Tom Bell poses with his two restored Pontiac GTO early muscle cars. Bell finds most of his old cars while running portable sanitation routes through his Pennsylvania territory. (Photo courtesy of Tom Bell)

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Tom Bell, 61, estimates he owns between 20 and 25 classic cars, trucks and motorcycles. His son Shawn, 31, a hobbyist in his own right, puts the figure closer to 30. “We bring home cars and trucks like other people pick up stray dogs and cats,” Shawn says.

Behind every vehicle, there’s a story to tell. Like the time Tom, co-owner of Bell’s Sanitation Services in Grove City, Pa., sold his prized 1970 Z-28 Camaro to buy an engagement ring or the septic pumping job that cost him $37,000.

“I’ve always been into cars,” Tom Bell says. “I would rebuild cars and buy and sell; that’s how I’d finance my hobby.”


Bell’s collection includes ’73 and ’93 Corvettes, but he loves retelling how he came in possession of two rare 1964, first-year-model Pontiac GTOs.

A girl named Trisha attended school where he worked as the principal at the time. She rarely talked but one day asked if he liked cars. She said her dad had three 1964 GTOs and they were pretty nice. But before Bell could see them, Trisha left the school.

That might have been the end of the story except for a chance call from a man in a neighboring town needing his septic tank pumped. Generally Bell, who watches his mileage, would have refused the job, but circumstances were going to bring his truck nearer to the customer that week.

“The gentleman never gave me his name,” Bell recalls. “When I pulled in there was a two-car garage and four cars in the driveway.” Finished pumping the septic tank, Bell knocked on the door. A woman answered and he asked her name. “Evanoski,” she said. Trisha was her daughter.

Bell explained how he had been the principal at Trisha’s school. Short story: Bell spent $37,000 to buy two GTOs that day.

Bell’s collection also includes two Chevy Camaros, two Ford Mustangs, a Volvo, a ’79 Volkswagen Beetle convertible and a ’71 Volkswagen bus, several Mercedes Benzes and a ’48 Chevy flatbed truck. Two-wheelers include a ’71 Honda Trail 90 and 1974 Yamaha motorcycle with 800 original miles.


“We have a ’96 Mustang Cobra Shawn and I bought last year, and I just bought an ’86 Dodge Aries K-Car station wagon. I have a 1982 Chevette diesel. We have trucks. I have a ’69 International, four-wheel-drive pickup with 33,000 original miles we found in the middle of Pittsburgh. Shawn has an International Scout and several farm tractors.”

Bell finds most of his vehicles while traveling rural roads delivering portable restrooms. “We see them sitting in people’s yards or in people’s barns,” he says.

The collection, valued at between $150,000 and $200,000, is stored in two garages at Bell’s house and another across the street. Two years ago he purchased a 3 1/2-acre lot for the restroom and septic business, which came with a four-bay garage. Shawn also has a garage at his house, but the busy April through September restroom season doesn’t leave much time to tinker.

“I do make some car cruises but in the summertime we work seven days a week,” Tom says. “I have restrooms to clean and a lot of times I’ll be picking them up on Sundays from different events.”

Bell says he started the restrooms business on a whim about 10 years ago with 10 units and a slide-in tank. “Don’t ask me why, but all of my life I wanted to own a portable restroom business,” he says.

“I started looking around and there wasn’t anyone in our immediate area. There were people servicing the area, but there was really no one in our county that did portable restrooms. I had an old 3/4-ton Dodge, and that’s how we started,” he says. “I’m still using that pump and tank today [350-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater with Conde pump (Westmoor) and Honda motor].”

Bell also has a restroom trailer, eight ADA units and three hand-wash sinks. “I tell people, anybody can put a restroom in your yard, but it’s the service that counts.” Bell’s truck fleet includes a 2008 Ford (600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater) and 2005 Ford F-550 with Progress aluminum tank (1,350 gallons) built out by Satellite Industries, and a 1997 GMC 3500 four-wheel-drive pickup with a 350-gallon waste tank and 275-gallon freshwater tote. Tom and Shawn built out the septic truck they use – a 1991 Chevrolet Kodiak with 2,300-gallon tank.


“Shawn has always been mechanically inclined,” Bell says. “He’s very interested in trucks. He does lift kits on four-wheel-drive vehicles. He modifies trucks; he customizes them – wheels, tires, whatever people want. He still does that on the side. It’s kind of a hobby for him.”

In 2011 Tom added septic pumping to the business after retiring as assistant school superintendent.

“We’re a small operation; just two of us,” he says of the approximately 200 PolyPortables and Armal units in inventory.

The racing bug has also bit Bell over the years. He and pumping competitor Jerry Schaffer, owner of Approved Toilet Rentals in Ellwood City, Pa., sponsor rival race cars on the dirt tracks of western Pennsylvania and Ohio. “We have a lot of fun with that. It’s always the battle of the restroom companies, and both of our drivers are pretty good.”

Bell says his love of cars stems from growing up in the muscle car era. “There were Hemis, Road Runners, Chargers, Boss Mustangs. It was the golden age of performance,” he says of the 1960s. “When I graduated from high school, I hate to say it, but I probably wasn’t the most studious person and I was having trouble getting into college.”

That’s when fate stepped in. A nearby college needed a wrestler. Bell had wrestled at 180 pounds and decided to give it a try. He did fairly well, but after one year transferred to Slippery Rock University, where he met his future wife, Kathy.

Tom also owned a 1970 classic copper and white Z-28 Camaro with 350 V-8 engine (360 hp) and four-barrel carburetor. It was a gorgeous car, but in 1977 Tom needed money to buy an engagement ring and land for a house.


Years later, Bell bought the car back. “It’s been a slow [25-year] process, but I’ve almost got it done,” he says. “We’re putting the interior in now.’’ It’s one car Bell will never sell. “It’s the car my wife and I went out on our first date in,” he says.

While Tom likes old and unusual cars, Shawn likes things that move – fast. Topping the list is his 2010 Ford pickup with 6.4-liter diesel engine. “It’s probably the most powerful thing I ever drove,” he says. It has 550 horses and 1,170 ft-lbs of torque. Shawn would like to see 1,000 horsepower some day.

Despite his ever-growing collection, Tom Bell is always on the lookout for a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. Why? “When I graduated from high school I was going to buy one, but I ended up buying a Plymouth Fury 111 instead. But I want a 1969 Road Runner. That’s on my bucket list.”


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