Supersize My Classy Truck

This year’s batch of top septic service trucks carry bigger loads and have already clocked many years of reliable service for their owners.
Supersize My Classy Truck
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It’s Classy Truck time, one of my favorite months of the year here at Pumper. This marks a decade since we started collecting all the monthly Classy Truck winners and asking readers to help us choose the classiest truck of the year. Turn inside this issue to review the 2016 winners, and then go online and cast your ballot for the winning truck.

The roundup of septic service trucks provides an interesting indicator of equipment trends in the pumping industry. I still recall the first winning truck, a brand-new Sterling rig built out by Pik Rite for Ed McGuire, of McGuire’s Septic Service in Rome, Pennsylvania. A racing and old-car enthusiast, McGuire had the truck painted in a two-tone treatment combining 1957 Chevy Turquoise and Chrysler Super White. I bet that tricked-out ride is still on the road doing the dirty work.

In the economic boom years of the mid-2000s, pumpers spared no expense on their rides, employing sharp graphics, complex paint jobs, and I recall one Classy Truck owner even adding a custom hinge kit so the doors of his purple and yellow rig would open vertically.

Then the period following the 2008 housing downturn and economic recession was marked by no-frills service trucks, with pumpers relying more on stout tanks, strong pumps and basic paint jobs than any flashy touches. Those years also saw plenty of older trucks being tastefully refurbished as contractors continued providing reliable service for their customers.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a couple emerging trends in the Classy Truck entrants. Truck owners are adding convenience and safety features, such as more valves, additional work lights and Bluetooth-enabled interiors set up to be efficient rolling offices. And the vacuum tanks have been getting bigger. More capacity means hitting more job sites and taking on more waste before clocking out to dump. This results in more cash in the pocket.


That brings us to the most recent collection of Classy Trucks. In 2016, we published an unprecedented number of trucks, growing from the usual 12 monthly winners to 18 rigs (doubling up in every other issue of Pumper) in response to a flood of reader entries.

From recent conversations with pumpers, I can only conclude an improved economy is driving the purchase of new trucks or refurbishing reliable models already in service. Many contractors have reported being as busy or busier than they were in the construction run-up of a decade ago. They want to put more drivers on the road serving both residential and commercial customers, boosting the demand for service trucks, both new and used.

What trends can we decipher from a peek inside this year’s Classy Truck garage? I reviewed the photos and crunched the numbers, confirming some continuing truck-buying trends and coming up with a few surprises along the way. The following are a few observations I take away from the 18 trucks that made the grade in 2016:

Kenworth rules

Of the 18 trucks, six were built on a Kenworth chassis. Peterbilt took second place with four entries. A surprise nameplate, Sterling (which ceased production in 2009) accounted for three trucks. International and Freightliner (2) and Mack (1) rounded out the brands. Also of note, steel tanks lead the way, used on 10 of our trucks this year. Aluminum follows with seven trucks and one carries a stainless steel tank.

Trucks are lasting longer

In a magazine feature that has been dominated by new or newer trucks, the average age of the published trucks is a real shocker: 9.3 years. Yes, there were two 2016 models and three from 2015, but the collection also included three refurbished trucks from the 1990s. This may speak to perceived reliability of certain truck brands, an interest in repurposing old-school over-the-road semi-tractors, and some aversion to new emissions technologies required on trucks over the past several years.

Bigger continues to be better

While I never determined the typical capacity of tanks among past Classy Truck groups, I’m going to guess this is the first year the average has topped 4,000 gallons, 4,019 to be exact. This confirms what contractors have been telling me lately, that they want to pump three, four, five or more tanks before having to make a trip to far-flung treatment plants to dump. The smallest tanks were in the 2,500-gallon range, while the biggest among this class carry 5,000, 5,200 and 6,000 gallons.

Top engine brands tied to manual transmissions

I keep hearing there’s a movement toward automatic transmissions in work trucks because new drivers don’t want to become adept at gear-jamming. This is likely the case in smaller portable sanitation service trucks. But for heavy pumpers, not so much. Among this year’s Classy Trucks, 17 have manual transmissions and one has an automatic. And they’re getting their power mainly from Cummins and Caterpillar (6 each) and PACCAR (3) engines.

On the rise

Some features enjoy surging popularity. Chrome is an old favorite, as most of the trucks use many shiny accents — hose trays, stacks, tanks, cabinets, bumpers and horns — and lightweight aluminum wheels or durable stainless steel wheel covers are almost standard issue today. Lighting is another area of improvement, with work lights, warning beacons and ample splashes of LED marker lights. We should start asking pumpers to send daytime and nighttime photos so we can check out the lighting effects. Also, pumpers seem to be adding more convenience accessories, such as Crust Busters tank agitators, and carry more vacuum hose to keep those bigger trucks off driveways and lawns when necessary.

On the way out?

Of our 18 trucks, only one carries a tank wrap. Wraps have been a popular way to add some pizzazz to tank graphics, so is this a one-year anomaly or are they losing popularity? Only one truck has flame graphics. Past years’ trucks have often included color-contrasting flames across the hood. Patriotic themes were not as big with this year’s trucks, either. Only one truck showed a red, white and blue theme and it wasn’t carried out as dramatically as trucks in past years, which saw flowing flag graphics across the tanks and cabs.

Slow move toward social media

Only one of the trucks for 2016 carries a social media icon, the Facebook symbol on the Brad’s Septic truck. Three other pumping companies incorporated their website address in the graphics. In a day and age when pumpers admit getting a greater percentage of their customers through internet searches, it surprises me when they don’t include this contact information on their rolling billboards. Most still display a phone number, but it’s notable that the majority of millennials — and even older folks — are dialing phone numbers less and less.

Words to live by

I have to give a shout-out to two of our truck owners who included great slogans — you could almost say mission statements — on their rigs. My favorite is Mercer’s Septic, which states, “Big enough to serve you, small enough to know you.” My runner-up is Brad’s Septic, which concludes, “A job well done is a job done well.” You know the professionalism of this industry has come a long way in a short time when so many trucks used to proudly carry tasteless jokes that demeaned how pumpers earn a living.

Basic white is always in style

Some popular truck colors come and go, but you can always count on white as the old favorite. This year, six trucks are white, five are blue and three are red. There’s a split between a single color for the cab and tank, and a cab with one color and the tank either painted silver or left in an aluminum or stainless steel finish.


Mine is an unscientific analysis of truck trends based on a look at the latest Classy Trucks. I don’t pretend these trucks are a perfect indicator of where the industry is going with its service fleet. But it’s interesting to study the trucks that owners liked well enough to submit for publication in the magazine. They are proud of their rigs and wanted to share them with the Pumper community.

Please take a few moments to review the Classy Truck roundup inside the magazine or online at Then follow the instructions to vote for your favorite truck. Good luck to all the entrants. After you vote, consider sending us a photo of your latest truck for consideration as a future Classy Truck.


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