Smokin’ Hot

Covered by a burning ring of fire, the 2017 Classy Truck of the Year is the pride and joy of California pumper Henry Damm
Smokin’ Hot
Henry (right) and Jason Damm, are shown with their Classy Truck of the Year. (Photo by Lezlie Sterling)

When Henry Damm set out to buy his first new vacuum truck for septic service, his overarching goal was to land the rig on the cover of Pumper magazine. Mission accomplished! The flashy 2015 Peterbilt 567, which is used to pump septic tanks throughout California’s San Joaquin Valley, is our 2017 Classy Truck of the Year.

Damm — who with his wife, Beverly, owns Big Bore Drilling Certified Septic & Hydroflushing in Fresno, California — was excited when I called saying his truck was chosen from a field of 18 worthy vacuum trucks featured in Pumper over the past year. But I wouldn’t say he was taken completely by surprise with the news.

He’d been planning for a shot at the top truck honors since he ordered the chassis through Peterbilt in Texas and had it shipped to Imperial Industries in Wisconsin for the build.

“To be honest, when we designed it, I looked forward to being in the Pumper magazine,” he says, recalling discussions he had with artist Justin Craig from Snap Learning. “I told the graphic designer I wanted the best-looking truck there is, that I like flames, and I said, ‘Here is the last 12 months of Pumper magazines. Let’s make it look good.’

“I like Pumper magazine, and I always thought it would be fun to be on the cover. Well, why not go all the way and have the best-looking truck imaginable for pumping sewage?” he concludes.


The canvas for this work of art was a plain white cab and chassis onto which Imperial Industries added a 3,500-gallon aluminum tank, enclosed National Vacuum Equipment 4307 blower, two aluminum toolboxes with double-swing stainless steel doors, and enough shiny bits — visor, horns and wheels — to make a statement rolling down the road. But the key to the appearance package was the vinyl graphics, including a front-to-back flame wrap applied by Method Media.

Why a wrap? “Paint is insane,” Damm says of the cost of a custom spray. Also, the wrap would be easy to change out if he wanted a new look later on, and it’s proven to be durable. “The wrap ran about $3,000; it was a pretty economical thing to do. And it’s been maintenance-free. We have some extra material to cover scratches, but we haven’t had to.”

And the marketing impact of the design is undeniable, he says.

“It gets people honking at us going down the freeway. They’re taking pictures of us with their cellphones,” he explains. “When it’s in the neighborhood pumping septic tanks, people notice and say, ‘I want that truck to come to my house, not that rusted-out honey wagon we’ve seen here before.’”


Damm realizes beauty is only skin-deep, so under that wrap he insisted on solid mechanicals and craftsmanship from the builder. For starters, he says the new Peterbilt trucks handle impeccably well — more like a Cadillac than an older work rig. The PACCAR MX-13 engine with 455 hp provides power to effortlessly climb hills with a full load and good fuel economy — Damm says the digital gauge shows 14 mpg while running a route.

“The PACCAR has been perfect for us,” he says. “So far, it’s not been in the shop at all. We haven’t had any check engine lights.” He says the truck is quiet, the hands-free Bluetooth works great, and the air-ride driver’s seat and passenger bench seat offer comfort and convenience. “It’s a pleasure to drive that truck.”

To reduce truck weight, Damm spec’ced a 10-speed Fuller transmission (Eaton Vehicle Group) over automatics that have grown in popularity. And after driving older, used trucks for many years, he was surprised how smooth and fun it is to run through the gears on the Pete. “I do like manual transmission in this truck. It shifts like a sports car. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever driven.”

And while he recognizes that fewer young drivers today know how to shift gears, he wants his crew handling the vac truck, the company’s Vactor 2100, dump truck, and equipment haulers to be able to do it. “I think it takes more skill, and I expect a little bit more out of my guys,” he says.

After settling on the chassis bought through Golden State Peterbilt, Damm extensively researched truck builders online. In the past, he attended the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo (now the WWETT Show), and he definitely appreciates getting his hands on the trucks in the exhibit hall. But for this build, he mainly took a close look at online photos of each builder’s fit and finish standards, how their welds looked, and if they could customize things the way he wanted.


Damm asked Imperial Industries to build the tank with internal structure to allow for the slick graphics he was envisioning. He likes that the builder could internalize plumbing components and include a drop-down rear manway with no lip between the tank and the hatch so debris doesn’t get hung up while dumping.

“They helped me in sizing the chassis of the truck so we had the proper weight distribution. It was pretty much a stock truck, other than the blower system,” Damm explains. He had a vane pump on his last septic service truck but has quickly learned to appreciate the benefits of the blower, which is quieter in its insulated enclosure, provides constant power, and doesn’t leave any pump oil on the ground at customers’ homes.

Custom tool racks are an interesting addition to keep the truck better organized. Damm doesn’t like the vacuum hoses sharing the hose trays with other tools and supplies, so he bought his Crust Buster tank agitator with the optional custom bracket hanger. And his company designed and fabricated a tool caddy to hold shovels, rakes and probes located on the passenger side under the tank. Handles slide below the tank to an open area under the frame and near the drive shaft.

“Hose racks tend to get cluttered with stuff, and this eliminates covering up your tools,” Damm explains. With a specific location for storage, tools are easier to find and less likely to be left at a job site. “I wanted everything to look good, and I wanted it easy for my drivers,” he says.


The Peterbilt is the only septic service vacuum truck at Big Bore Drilling, which uses it to backstop the company’s installation and system repair services as well as running a daily route. With lighter duty than what some pumpers might put their trucks through and in California’s beautiful climate, Damm expects to get 10-12 years out of a service truck. When it’s time to upgrade, he will remove the tank and convert the chassis for another purpose, such as a dump truck or a flatbed.

One little tweak was necessary after Big Bore Drilling took delivery of the truck. California is notorious for its pollution-related regulations involving work vehicles, and the truck was set up to shut down the engine after five minutes of idling, as required by the state. Of course, that isn’t acceptable on a truck that has a PTO-powered vacuum system. Because longer idling time is required (and allowed) for pumping, Peterbilt had to reprogram the computer so Big Bore Drilling could use it.

Pumpers in other parts of the country are probably not familiar with the idling restrictions, which even kick in while the truck is sitting in a traffic jam on the expressway, for example. Damm says it can be uncomfortable for stalled drivers who can’t use the air conditioning when the engine is down.


This may have been Damm’s last, best chance to compete in the Classy Truck contest, and he made the most of it. He’s 57 years old, and the next vacuum truck build-out for Big Bore Drilling might be left up to his son, Jason, somewhere down the road.

“If I could do this, it would really be neat,” he remembers thinking about pursuing a Classy Truck honor. “It really made me step up my game. I looked at it like, well, this is my opportunity to upgrade my equipment to a higher standard. I’m very excited to be in this position, and I am quite pleased.”

Congratulations, and keep those Classy Trucks coming

Every year I am impressed with the field of Classy Truck entries we receive. Pumping companies more and more understand the immense value of upgrading their fleets with trucks that are beautiful, functional and reliable. That was no different in 2017. I want to thank everyone for sending photos and sharing information about what goes into these impressive work-truck builds.

Keep up the great work! We always welcome your truck submissions. It’s easy to participate. Simply snap some photos of your new or refurbished truck, and write a description of the features and list equipment manufacturers who were involved in the build. Send it all to me at We review every truck sent in and choose many to run in the monthly Classy Truck feature.


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