No Such Thing as a Routine Service Call

In rural New Mexico, Jay Carroll has learned to expect the unexpected when inspecting, pumping or installing a septic system.

No Such Thing as a Routine Service Call

Jay and Penny Carroll 

Name and title or job description: Jay Carroll, owner

Business name and location: Stool Bus, Pie Town, New Mexico

Age: 60

Years in the industry: 10

Association involvement: We have been a member of the Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico for the last seven years. We are grateful for the organization and its professional leadership.

Benefits of belonging to the association: The ability to periodically gather with other professionals in our industry. I am always gratified by the fact that there is a sense of camaraderie among our members. While the Stool Bus provides a service to a primarily rural community with a plethora of conventional systems, I am always interested to get some schooling from other technicians who deal with advanced systems and technologies.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Just as in every other industry — government! In the end, the customer is the most important person in the mix, and the business of wastewater professionals is to provide a reliable service at an affordable price. The service professional carries the burden of providing that service while abiding by the sometimes-oppressive regulations.

Our crew includes: We are a family-owned and -operated company. My wife, Penny, handles paperwork and office functions. The primary truck and equipment operators are my son, Justin, and myself, but we are always accompanied by Agustin Contreras, Adrian Martinez or Jerry Hicks. In our remote area, we rarely travel alone. The distances are too great, and no call is routine.

Typical day on the job: When it rains, it pours. Our service area encompasses a large portion of rural western New Mexico, which is about a 10,000-square-mile range. We don’t get a call every day, but when we do, it can be anything from a simple pumping to an emergency repair, inspection, installation, drain cleaning or a request for a portable restroom. Adding to the challenge of providing the wide range of services, we might travel 70 miles one-way to perform a given task.

Helping hands - Indispensable crew member: Our MVP is, without a doubt, my wife and life partner of 42 years, Penny. She keeps us on track with all of the calls, inquiries, scheduling, permits and jobs. Her impeccable attention to detail and timely reminders are invaluable.

The job I’ll never forget: “Unacceptable and deadly” comes to mind immediately. We were called to do an inspection on an old ranch property, which was under contract to be sold. Naturally, no one could tell us the location of the septic tank, as is so often the case. Corey (a former employee) and I arrived and began to probe in the areas where we suspected the system might be located. We found a spot that seemed worthy of further investigation. While I went to unload the excavator, Corey continued with a little shovel work. When I returned five minutes later, he had opened up a small hole that was completely open beneath. I plunged the bucket of the excavator through the opening and a 5-foot-diameter area suddenly gave way, exposing an 8-foot-high culvert filled with “goo.” As it turned out, the homemade “system” had been covered with a layer of rough-sawn lumber and a few inches of New Mexico dirt, decades ago. The sweet spot we had discovered, to begin our excavation, was dead in the center of the 5-foot-diameter area where 15 minutes earlier our combined 450 pounds was supported by a mere 4-inch layer of New Mexico soil, laced with grass roots. To this day, I still get a cold chill that runs up my spine when I recall that inspection. No call is routine!

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: We started the company on a shoestring budget. And while we’ve seen our share of job site challenges, the most challenging obstacle we have overcome is that we built our first truck with an old, 1,200-gallon water tank and a piston and diaphragm trash pump. It was a sight. … But it worked. And after a year of making do with what we had, Penny came to me and said, “Babe, that thing is making money.”

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: “How could my septic tank be full? It’s only been three years.” I’m always amused at the general lack of understanding that some people have with regard to how a septic system works.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: In certain cases, a more liberal interpretation of codes and regulations should be applied. I understand that the rules are the rules, but there are certain situations where a commonsense variance might apply. For instance, the gallons per day design flow rate for a small seasonal RV park versus one that has continuous year-round occupancy.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: “You have to learn to say no.” I’m still working on this one. I hate to turn down work. But the necessity to balance quality production, maintain one’s sanity, and achieve customer satisfaction is essential. You can’t be all things to all people, but you can try.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Be doing construction, which is what we do when we’re not doing septic-related work — though I prefer the septic business to construction these days. People call with a need, and we show up, solve their problem, get paid, and move on to the next call.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.