Embracing New Technology Put O’Fallon Sewer Service in a Position to Grow

Wastewater industry veteran Leonard Earnest constantly turned to new tools, equipment and techniques to build a thriving business in metro St. Louis.

Embracing New Technology Put O’Fallon Sewer Service in a Position to Grow

Soltyslak is shown with a pump from Liberty Pumps.

O’Fallon, Missouri, doesn’t rival Florida or Arizona for winter weather, but O’Fallon Sewer Service has found that the winter months are surprisingly busy for the portable restroom business in this fast-growing suburb of St. Louis.

Leonard Earnest, the founder of the company, says the summer has big events around the Fourth of July, plus county fairs and other festivals, but the fall has plenty of smaller events, such as farm stands, weddings, and parties. 

“There’s maybe six toilets at one event and four at another. There’s more effort in it, but it keeps us busy,” Earnest says. “Then we get Halloween, the pumpkin stuff, the wineries and the duck hunting. Maybe about February we might have a slower month, but by March and April, it starts blooming again. And, of course, the construction goes year-round.”


Renting and servicing portable restrooms is only one branch of O’Fallon Sewer Service, which now has 15 employees and lots of different types of equipment. In the beginning — 1962 — it was just Earnest and one machine. “It was a combination of a sewer machine and a sink machine, and you had to switch the drum part from one to the other, depending on the job,” Earnest recalls.

Even so, Earnest says he felt like he was ahead of the competition in St. Charles, Warren, and Lincoln counties because he had a cabling machine. “In our three-county area, I was the first one to have a machine like a Spartan. Up until that time, everybody was just poking sewers open with a tape,” Earnest says.

He would haul his machine around with a vacuum truck he put together himself. “It started out I had just the pump truck that hauled the machine on the side of the truck, and I’d even have to haul the drum in the cab and put it together on the job. That didn’t last very long. It just wasn’t handy. To go in town to clean somebody’s sink, you had to take the pump truck.

“It wasn’t a good plan, but it got me started. After about a month, I got a pickup with (a cap) for the machine,” he says. Before long, Earnest got in touch with Ken-Way for a sink machine and Spartan Tool for a sewer machine, “And away we went. We were some of their earlier customers.”

When he started O’Fallon Sewer Service, Earnest was working in electronics for McDonnell Douglas, the St. Louis-based aircraft manufacturer. He continued working there for another five years, operating his company on the side, before making the leap into full-time self-employment. His career at McDonnell Douglas was going well, he says, but he preferred working for himself.


In the beginning, Earnest cleared sink and sewer clogs and did light plumbing work, plus pump maintenance and repairs, but his business grew and diversified. In the late 1970s, he started renting and servicing portable restrooms. He says he’d been thinking about it for a while, and his wife finally said that he should either do it or stop talking about it.

Renting and servicing portable restrooms has grown to be a significant part of the business.

The company now has about 500 PolyPortables restrooms and 32 handicap-accessible units from PolyPortables and PolyJohn Enterprises. It also has 12 PolyPortables hand-wash stations, 12 T.S.F. (Tuff Jon) hand-wash stations and 30 freestanding sinks from PolyPortables and T.S.F.

This inventory is serviced by three Ford F-550 Super Duty trucks with steel tanks. One is a 2016 outfitted by Satellite Industries with a 600-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tank and a Conde pump (Westmoor). Another is a 2012 outfitted by Specialty B Sales with a 400-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater tank and a Masport pump. The other one is a 2007 outfitted by Keith Huber with a 650-gallon waste and 250-gallon freshwater tank and a Masport pump. Chemicals are supplied by Satellite Industries.

For septic pumping, O’Fallon Sewer Service has a 1985 International outfitted by Specialty B Sales with a 2,000-gallon steel tank and a Masport pump, and a 1999 Chevy C6500 also outfitted by Specialty B Sales with a 2,000-gallon steel tank and a Masport pump. Both trucks have 250-gallon water tanks.

In 1993, Earnest’s son, Jeff Earnest, took O’Fallon Sewer Service into excavation service, installing septic systems and doing sewer line and waterline repairs. Today the company has two International trucks to haul excavating equipment, including a Kubota KX121 excavator and a Case 1841 skid-steer loader.

The rest of the truck fleet includes three Ford vans, plus two 1-ton utility trucks, one of them a Ford, the other a Chevy, used for service calls.


Jeff Earnest estimates about 25 percent of the company’s portable restroom business comes from construction projects, the rest comes from special events. O’Fallon Sewer Service is the exclusive provider of portable restrooms to two of the area’s big events, the St. Charles County Fair and the Festival of the Little Hills, an annual exhibition for crafts people and artisans that lasts three days.

The company also had another big event in 2017 since O’Fallon was in the path of totality for the solar eclipse. “People came from everywhere,” Leonard Earnest says. “We nearly rented everything we had.”

Earnest attributes the company’s growth to O’Fallon’s growth. “The area is growing,” he says. “It has really kept us busy.” O’Fallon, about 40 miles west of St. Louis, has a population of about 87,000, which has more than quadrupled since 1990. The city has been named one of America’s best places to live by Money magazine numerous times.

More important for O’Fallon Sewer Service’s septic system installations, the area around the city is also growing. The city of O’Fallon is in St. Charles County, which was the fastest-growing county in Missouri in the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. In fact, since Earnest founded his company in the 1960s, St. Charles County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

“It’s been growth since the giddyap,” Earnest says. “We work in the three outlying counties. The migration to the country helps us. We don’t do the city work; we do the outlying county work. People like the life in the country. They like living where they can have 3 acres or so. It’s beautiful out here.”

The company serves a 50-mile radius around O’Fallon.


O’Fallon Sewer Service has its own wastewater disposal facility, a 1-acre, 15-feet-deep lagoon on a farm the company owns. According to Earnest, O’Fallon Sewer Service was the first septic pumping company in Missouri to build its own wastewater disposal lagoon.

“We had to go through the expense of building it,” Earnest says, “but it does save us a lot of time.”

Earnest says the lagoon is large enough to take care of all the company’s septic pumping and portable restroom pumping. Evaporation, he says, disposes of a lot of the water. The company can land-apply the sludge to the farm under the right weather conditions. A local farmer takes care of planting and harvesting of corn, soybeans and hay the farm produces.

In the early days, Earnest’s marketing plan consisted of advertising in the phone book and local newspaper. The newspaper ads, he says, were mainly targeted to potential competitors. “I didn’t want people driving through to think that there wasn’t somebody already here doing (wastewater work),” he says. “It was like an old dog marking his territory.”

The company still uses the phone book, but it also has a website and uses social media. It also has a customer base built up over more than 50 years. “We have customers that have been with us almost since the beginning,” Earnest says.


At 79, Earnest has cut back on the hours he works and is making plans to retire, but he still enjoys the challenges of his business. “Being able to solve problems for people is great. When we’ve got employees out here doing something and they’re not sure, they get ahold of Jeff or me. We have the satisfaction from that.”

As he looks to the future, Jeff Earnest does not expect major changes for the company. He likes the way the different parts of the company are balanced, with each of the five functions — septic pumping, portable restrooms, plumbing, pump servicing and replacement, and excavating — accounting for about 20 percent of the business.

Leonard Earnest says his company has become the go-to place for answers about problem installations.

“Many of the builders and plumbing contractors, when they put something in and it doesn’t work, we’re the ones that go out there and tell them what’s wrong. That’s kind of gratifying.”

Retirement in his sights

Leonard Earnest has two sons and a granddaughter working in the business, but he’s had to look beyond the immediate family to staff his growing company. Finding good people has not been difficult, he says. Sometimes recommendations come from people who are already on the staff.

“We haven’t hired anybody that we haven’t known,” he says.

Employees of O’Fallon Sewer Service usually stay for a long time.

“Our employees have been here forever and ever. It takes something real stressful for us to let anybody go.” Earnest says. “We pay well, and we pay for health insurance for them and their families.

“We’ve had people retire from here, and we’re still working,” he says. Working, but cutting back after more than 50 years.

“It’s a family business. Right now, my wife, Marilyn Earnest, and I catch the loose ends. We’ll answer the phones, even in the evenings and anytime else, but we do take our vacations. We do love to fish,” he says. “We’ve got the boys; we’ve got the employees. We just keep getting everybody more in shape, more trained, where we can totally get out. We will before too long.”


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