Environmental Awareness Builds Respect For Missouri's Austin's Pumping Service

Whether it’s careful handling of wastewater or preserving a precious water resource, environmental awareness is a key to the business plan for Missouri’s Austin’s Pumping Service.
Environmental Awareness Builds Respect For Missouri's Austin's Pumping Service
The crew at Austin’s Pumping Service, shown with a backdrop of service vehicles and with Maggie the boxer, are (front row, from left) Douglas Hurrelbrink, Jack Crow, Elizabeth Hurrelbrink, Chandra Calhoun, Bob Cole and Lora Crow; and back row (from left) Mark Dever, Chad Hurrelbrink, Dakota Brewer and Tyler Cole.

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As an outdoorsman who loves to fish and canoe, Douglas Hurrelbrink has a passionate concern for clean water. Since 2010 he’s brought that passion to pumping through his septic and portable sanitation company, Austin’s Pumping Service, in Strafford, Mo.

Hurrelbrink has built the company by providing a broad menu of services for customers, making a commitment to continuing education for his crew, and selecting equipment to get jobs done right and on time.

And now Hurrelbrink wants to share his enthusiasm for a new water-saving/recycling project he thinks many other pumpers can emulate to show their concern for the environment and grow a green reputation.


At 50, pumping isn’t Hurrelbrink’s first career. He started as a field engineer in California, then moved to Missouri to raise his family. The banking software business he was involved in was going well – until the economy crashed and many banks went out of business.

“I wanted to get into something recession-proof. I wanted to do something totally different,” Hurrelbrink says. “My brother-in-law [Jack Crow] is a plumber and wanted to pursue the pumping side of the business. I researched the industry for eight months.”

He discovered that very few vacuum trucks are repossessed, even during economic downturns. With Crow’s customers requesting pumping services, Hurrelbrink knew there was demand.

To learn about the industry, he talked to pumpers working outside his service area. Before picking up his first suction hose, Hurrelbrink attended the Pumper & Cleaner Expo (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show) and got training (along with other family members), gaining all necessary credentials and licenses to pump, install and inspect septic systems. He applied for the necessary permits to dump at local municipalities.

“I wanted to establish ourselves as a credible company,” Hurrelbrink says. “I’ve been in customer service all my life, and I wanted to project a quality image.”

With memberships in trade associations – the National Association of Wastewater Technicians and the Missouri Smallflows Organization – and training and paperwork in place, Hurrelbrink purchased trucks and restrooms and got to work.


“It surprises me how much work is out there and how little homeowners and Realtors know about septic systems,” Hurrelbrink notes. “Anyone can pump a tank and clear a drain. Our technicians are trained daily to go the extra mile and educate people about what they have.” Every customer is given a booklet explaining septic systems and how to maintain them.

With Hurrelbrink managing the pumping side and Crow covering plumbing (Action Rooter Sewer & Drain), the tandem businesses offer one-stop service aimed at convenience and cost savings for customers. For example, when a septic system backs up, the homeowner doesn’t know if the drain or the septic is to blame.

“We can diagnose if it’s plumbing or septic. We carry drain machines, so often we don’t have to call a service truck,” Hurrelbrink says. “Lots of times we work together on big jobs.”

When pumpers aren’t handling residential calls, they’re busy pumping restaurant grease traps. With many restaurants in the service territory, grease makes up about 50 percent of the business.


Hurrelbrink initially ran the business from a dining room office at home, 9 miles out of town.

“We expanded so quickly that we wanted a presence in town and to park trucks inside to work on them when it’s raining. We planned to build a shop, then one day someone mentioned the old fire station was for sale. We took a look at it, and it was perfect,” Hurrelbrink says.

The building has roll-up doors, handy floor drains and an industrial backup propane generator. An equipment yard in the back has room to store trailers. As a bonus, the Hurrelbrinks also purchased the house across the street that had been used as living quarters for firefighters. With minor remodeling and installing bigger windows in the front for the dispatcher to see trucks and technicians, the house was transformed into a convenient office.

“Our main goal was to establish a footprint for the business, and we have more visibility in town,” Hurrelbrink says. “We were welcomed with open arms and got a lot of support.”


The location provides plenty of room for the business’s fleet, which includes a 2011 International 4300 MaxxForce rig built out by KeeVac Industries Inc. with a 2,000-gallon aluminum Progress tank and a 150-gallon retrofit plastic freshwater tank; a 2004 GMC 5500 Duramax truck with a 1,000-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater steel tank that Hurrelbrink’s employees reconditioned in 2010; and a 2008 Ford F-150 with a 100-gallon custom steel farm tank they modified and a 55-gallon freshwater plastic tank used for small grease traps and portable restrooms in hard-to-reach areas.

All vehicles are equipped with Jurop pumps, Gorlitz or Spartan Tool drain machines, and jetters from KO Pressure Supply (Springfield, Mo.). A couple of 16-foot low-profile trailers from a local builder are also set up with 55-gallon systems by All Star Sewer Equipment in Wentzville, Mo., for hydrojetting and pumping grease traps.

Austin’s Pumping Service has about 50 PolyJohn Enterprises restrooms, ranging from construction units to ADA units. There are several hauling trailers purchased from a local company ranging from 12- to 40-feet. The plumbing side of the business has four full-service plumbing Ford E-250 and E-350 vans.

While each business has its own logo in red and blue, all vehicles are white with black lettering.


Hurrelbrink says his favorite part of the pumping industry is never knowing what to expect. For example, he never wanted to get into portable sanitation, but it was a service that Realtors and property management customers requested, and it now makes up about 10 percent of the business.

“I’m picky about who I do business with,” Hurrelbrink says. He turns down business from customers who are only interested in the cheapest price and aren’t concerned about quality service or having enough restrooms for the job. Most rentals are for construction sites or small events that need up to 15 units.

Hurrelbrink has been most surprised by the opportunities available to a pumping business that handles a wide variety of nonhazardous material.

“One thing I learned about this industry is that you don’t just pump septic tanks,’’ he says. “We’ve pumped flooded basements, swimming pools and lift stations. And I never thought I’d pump a fountain in a tiger cage.”

Huh? Hurrelbrink explains that one customer has a drive-through exotic animal safari featuring white tigers in a large pen with a fountain and bridges. His technicians regularly clean the drain and pressure-wash the area – after the tigers are locked in their cage. One time a technician noticed bones in the drain.

“The joke is that the bones are from the last person who pumped the drain,” Hurrelbrink laughs.

Hurrelbrink also educated himself about land application three years ago when a farmer approached him about applying sewage on his fields. Hurrelbrink researched the process, which includes adding lime to loads and rotating among four fields. He applied for the required permits, and while only about 5 percent of Austin’s septage is land-applied, it is beneficial for the farmer and handy for the pumping business.

Hurrelbrink emphasizes that he is very careful about which loads get spread on the fields. They are usually loads from holding tanks that are free of baby wipes and other trash.

“I’m so water conscious, so I’m very particular about the loads we take to the farm,” he says.


Which brings us to Hurrelbrink’s latest venture – collecting rainwater. The nearly 4,000 square feet of roof on the fire station and office building make ideal surfaces for rainwater reuse. With the help of a grant, and as a member of the nonprofit James River Basin Partnership, Hurrelbrink modified the gutters with screens and filters, and purchased electric pumps and several tanks ranging from 55 gallons to 2,800 gallons capable of storing 4,450 gallons of water.

“I thought it was crazy to use perfectly good drinking water to fill portable restroom holding tanks,” he explains. “We consulted with a rain reserve company and they said one large overnight rain should fill our trucks 12 times.” He anticipates he will have plenty of water to recharge restroom holding tanks and power wash restrooms and trucks – and more.

The rainwater will also be used to irrigate landscaping and water a small vegetable garden. Hurrelbrink invested more than $12,000 in the system, including the 30 percent cost of the holding tanks the grant didn’t cover.

“If it can save on the water bill that’s wonderful,” he says. “But our main objective is not to use freshwater in the restrooms. We are in it for the long term and think over the years it will benefit us.”

This will be the first year, and if it’s successful, Hurrelbrink hopes to share the idea with other pumpers.

As a person who participates with his family in an annual river cleanup and who was given a local “Water Warrior” award, Hurrelbrink views rainwater collection as one more way to conserve water and show that a wastewater business can be part of the solution.


By donating restrooms for fire department events, offering churches 50 percent price breaks and supporting a local basketball team, Austin’s Pumping Service maintains a visible presence locally. Technicians have their own business cards and place door hangers at their customers’ neighbors’ homes. Direct mailing, Internet and smartphone ads, and targeting commercial property managers and restaurant owners have helped the company quickly build a customer base.

But Hurrelbrink emphasizes that the best marketing in the world is meaningless if not backed up with action.

“Wow [customers] with service. Do what you say you are going to do,” he says. “We really want to show that our company is doing the right things because this industry has changed so much, even in the four years I’ve been in it. I see it at the [Pumper & Cleaner Expos] and some of the educational seminars I go to – the real professionals are the ones that are going to stay in this business, the ones getting the credentials. Not just one person at their shop is certified, but all of their technicians are getting the credentials and education that they need. We are going to be one of those businesses.”


All Star Sewer Equipment - 800/944-5023 - www.allstarsewerequipment.com

Gorlitz Sewer & Drain, Inc. - 562/944-3060 - www.gorlitz.com

Jurop - www.jurop.it/eng

KeeVac Industries, Inc. - 866/789-9440 - www.keevac.com

PolyJohn Enterprises - 800/292-1305 - www.polyjohn.com

Progress Tank - 800/558-9750 - www.progresstank.com

Spartan Tool, LLC - 800/435-3866 - www.spartantool.com


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