The “Forever Truck”

Dean Enterprises set out to build a flagship for the family pumping company. What they got was the 2016 Classy Truck of the Year.
The “Forever Truck”
The Dean family poses with their prize Peterbilt truck. From left are Brad, Rick, Mike, Peggy, Tony and Tom Dean. (Photo by Corey Wilson)

About a year and a half ago, Brad Dean submitted a photo of his family’s 2009 Peterbilt 367 septic service truck for our Classy Truck contest. I called to let him know the rig was going to be published in the February 2016 issue of Pumper. I clearly remember the conversation because he promised his truck would win the annual contest.

So when I called him again recently to tell him the prediction came through, he was happy, but not completely surprised. Everybody in the Dean family – operators of Dean Enterprises in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin – had a hand in designing the truck, built out by T-Line Equipment. They were confident in their chances to win the Classy Truck of the Year because the Peterbilt was meant to be a signature truck for the company, one that could stand the test of time.

“Like I told you a year ago, it’s one of the nicest looking trucks on the road,” Brad says. “It goes to show I’m not the only one thinking that now. We built it to be a 25- to 30-year truck. That truck is going to be there a while. It’s on all of our letterheads; we send it out on billing statements and it says Dean Enterprises. It’s kind of our brand, we base it around that truck. We did all right.”


Our winning 2016 truck was certainly battle tested. In the first year we expanded the Classy Truck contest from 12 to 18 rigs, the silver and blue Pete fended off many worthy challengers in the closest online voting since the contest started. Online voting is one element of the selection process, along with the choice of a panel of judges at COLE Publishing.

In my opinion, the 2016 lineup was as consistently top-notch as we’ve had in 11 years of Classy Truck of the Year competitions. In years past, two or three trucks usually stood out from the crowd and had a clear path to victory. Whether it was the snappy graphics or paint job, lots of chrome and high-quality accessories or a stout tank and pump combo, the top finishers were easy to spot. This past year, I would have to say that at least half of the trucks had a chance to win.

And in an interesting twist, three of the best trucks came from the winner’s home state of Wisconsin. In addition to the Dean truck, there was a great Mack Granite submitted by Schulteis Sanitation in Slinger, and a beautiful 2015 Kenworth T880 offered by Mike’s Septic in Eagle River.

“I always knew there were good looking trucks out here,” says Brad, who often sees the Schulteis truck out on the road and thinks quite a lot of it. He says there are other new trucks in his service territory and mentioned another company, Kuettel’s Septic Service in Hortonville, which keeps nice trucks … one bought and refurbished by Brad and his family.


The Classy Truck of the Year winner was built as Rick Dean’s dream truck and the last big vacuum truck Dean Enterprises would need. Rick, 56, is husband to Peggy Dean, who runs the woman-owned business, and father to Brad and his three brothers — Tony, Tom and Mike — who all work in the business.

“If you’re last name’s not Dean, you pretty much don’t get to drive the Peterbilt,” he says. “That’s our flagship, our baby.”

With its 6,000-gallon stainless steel tank, 600 hp engine and National Vacuum Equipment 866 pump, the truck is mainly used for cleaning residential and special event holding tanks and some septic work. It has an 18-speed transmission, full-locking rear differentials, four 4-inch fill ports, front and back, and a 6-inch dump. It has four sight glasses in the rear and one in the front, a Rearview Systems backup camera, LED rear lighting, handy shovel holder, diamond plate hose trays and toolboxes, aluminum wheels, chrome stack and vacuum pump exhaust.

Good looks were as important as the working tools. The cobalt blue and silver color combination has become the signature of the septic-pumping side of the business. Peggy produced the graphics – of her own design – on the company’s in-house sticker machine. Working closely with Don Torp at T-Line, it took the family 18 to 24 months to design and build the truck just how they wanted it, from a repurposed milk hauler. It was put on the road for Dean in 2013.

The Pete was supposed to be the Deans’ “forever truck,” but company growth has spurred them to buy three more big trucks to augment their fleet of portable sanitation trucks. For example, Dean landed a contract to work the Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, which includes multiple daily pumping of 30 large holding tanks. It also has the exclusive contract to serve the Ford Festival Park in Oshkosh, which includes 600 to 700 portable restrooms for major music and camping events. The big trucks are used to shuttle waste from portable sanitation rigs on site.


Brad Dean likes to buy new trucks for the portable sanitation side of the business, but prefers to repurpose rigs to carry the larger tanks. Here are a few of the factors he looks for when buying and speccing out a big truck:
Timeless Peterbilt style

The Deans like the old-school profile of the long-hood Peterbilt. “We stick with the classic look and that truck won’t get outdated for a long time. That’s been an iconic look for Peterbilt for 30 years,” Brad says. In addition, the interior doesn’t change much on a Peterbilt compared to some other cabs. The premium package came with wood-grain accents and cloth air-ride seats.
Milk haulers

Working in the Dairy State, trade-in milk haulers are common, and Dean watches for them as chassis for the company’s fleet. This Pete came with 300,000 miles on the clock, ripe for replacement in the dairy industry, but with plenty more miles to go for a pumper. The milk haulers “buy them new and take the hit when they trade it in,” he explains. “But for those big trucks, we don’t use them that much. We use them June through August.” The key is knowing the history of a used truck, and Dean knows the small dairy company that owned the Peterbilt and they take good care of their equipment.

Painted stainless tanks

Dean likes the durability and longevity of stainless steel tanks, but he doesn’t like the maintaining a mirror finish. He had the stainless finish roughed up and painted silver. Stainless, he says, will dull every five years and requiring time-consuming polishing. Some owners don’t mind the labor, but the Deans aren’t in that group. “Once you get it shiny, it’s easier to keep shiny,’’ he says of the stainless finish. “But if you paint it, it’s good forever. Silver won’t fade that much and if you get a chip, you don’t have to worry about it because it’s not going to rust.”

D-baffle structure

Rather than speccing horizontal baffles made from perforated tank heads, Dean orders solid vertical D-baffles that support the sidewalls from the skid to the top of the tank. “It takes the weight and transfers it to the top of the shell and there’s nothing in the middle. I could walk up and down the tank and it supports the structure of the barrel better,” he says. “It’s a clean shove right down the middle and it empties out great.”

Single rail frame

Wisconsin weather is tough on work trucks, and Dean wants to minimize the corrosive impact of road salt. To do that, he specs his big trucks with a single 3/8-inch frame rail rather than a double 1/4-inch frame rail. Both are heavy-duty, he says, but the double frame rail is susceptible to rust jacking, where corrosion works between the seams of the double rail. He says the single rail is just as stout in the long run, and it also removes some weight from the chassis, helping with weight limits and fuel economy.

Congratulations go out the Dean family, but I also want to give kudos to all of the companies that sent in Classy Truck photos. Your attention to detail, performance specifications and concern about professional image are raising standards across the industry. Dean sends out his props, too. As he put it:

“There are quite a few pumpers around here that have nice, new trucks. If you keep a raggedy old piece of junk out there, that’s how people are going to view you,’’ he says. “If you put a nice truck out there, that ups your image and helps the industry as a whole.”


You may be reading this column from the exhibit floor of the Indiana Convention Center during the WWETT Show, Wednesday, Feb. 22, to Saturday, Feb. 25. If that’s the case, or if you’re in the planning stages for your trip to Indianapolis, I’d like to talk to you in person at the show. I’m interested in hearing the challenges your business is facing heading into the 2017 busy season. We may be interested in sharing your unique experiences in a future issue of Pumper. You will be able to reach me directly at the WWETT Show by calling 920/328-8692. Hope to see you in Indy!


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