What’s the Secret to Longevity for a Small, Family Pumping Operation?

After a century of profitable septic system and grease trap service, a fourth generation of the Forest family is taking the reins in Des Moines, Iowa.

What’s the Secret to Longevity for a Small, Family Pumping Operation?

The Forest family’s wastewater services team includes (from front left) Tory Forest and his wife, Katelyn Forest; Tyler Forest; Tyler Forest’s fiancé, Alynnia Freeburg; Jody Forest; Penny Forest; Dillon Downey; and Chuck Pallwitz. Jonathan Spencer is at the rear left. (Photos by Mark Hirsch)

It’s rare for a small family business to prosper into a fourth generation. That’s a source of pride to Jody and Penny Forest, whose business marks its 100th anniversary this year, just as their two sons assume part ownership.

Tyler Forest, 31, is a partner with his parents in Forest Septic Environmental Services, based in Des Moines, Iowa. Tory Forest, 28, operates Forest Grease & Commercial, now a separate business serving restaurants and other establishments in and around Des Moines.

It was Jody Forest’s idea to split the company and let each son run his own operation: Other successful pumpers had warned him about the conflicts often inherent in partnerships. “I want to set them up for success,” Forest says. “I don’t want to set them up for failure. We decided not to make them partners because they get along too well. Why ruin a good thing?”

Tyler and Tory Forest are pleased with the arrangement; both plan to expand their businesses while continuing the family tradition of hard work, fair dealing, quality service and personal connections with customers.


The family business was started by Robert Arthur “Babe” Forest in 1918. In those less enlightened days, he used a long-handled scoop to empty outhouse pits into barrels, then hauled the material to the Des Moines River and dumped it there. His son, the late George Forest (Jody Forest’s father) helped with that work. 

The business evolved into pumping septic systems; George Forest and his brother Bill took it over in the late 1940s. “They ran it for 40 years and never hired an employee,” Jody Forest says. “My dad was in one truck and my uncle was in the other, and that’s how they built our reputation, as owner-operators.”

In the mid-1980s, George Forest bought his brother out, and Jody Forest went to work for him. He learned a key to success by watching how his father treated customers: “When my dad would go out to collect a bill, he’d always go into the house, and there I sat waiting in the truck for half an hour because the person was giving him pie or a cup of coffee. I couldn’t understand that because we had so much work to do, but now I find myself doing the same thing. 

“I can’t tell you how many times when customers would call or when he would arrive at their homes, they would use his first name. That was it right there — getting to know them on a personal basis and building trust. That’s how my dad did it.”


When Jody Forest bought the company in 1988, it consisted of two older vacuum trucks and a large book of septic tank and grease trap pumping customers. To continue operations, Forest immediately had to build a new truck and hire an employee. “I put in some long days for a lot of years,” he says. “My body is telling me that now.”

He kept following his dad’s lead, building the customer base, making sure the phone was answered promptly, calling customers if arrival for service would be delayed, handling emergency calls with a sense of urgency, and eventually developing a customer education brochure that spells out the do’s and don’ts of septic system care. 

Then came 2008, a landmark year. That’s when Forest formed what today is called Accurate Dewatering Service and installed a septage dewatering system, designed by Therese Wheaton of Crystal Environmental. It dewaters 3 to 4 million gallons of septage per year using a 40-cubic-yard stainless steel box. Other area pumpers bring their septage there; Chris Mershon is the treatment plant operator.

One year later, two new laws gave the business extra shots of adrenaline. First, the City of Des Moines enacted a fats, oils, and grease ordinance that ordered quarterly pumping of restaurant grease traps and requires all grease to be delivered to the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority wastewater treatment plant, where it’s fed to the anaerobic digesters to produce biogas for power generation.

Forest Septic already serviced numerous grease traps, and through word-of-mouth, the phone started ringing. The grease business tripled in six months; Forest added a truck and full-time operator to meet the demand from independent and chain restaurants. “Most of the places are doing away with small grease traps,” Forest says. “They have 1,000- to 5,000-gallon grease interceptors that we pump.” The Des Moines plant accepts grease for just 2 cents per gallon, far less than at other plants in the area.

Also in 2009, the state adopted a law requiring septic system pumping and inspection at the time of home sales. Since then, Forest Septic has done more than 6,000 such inspections; Tyler and Tory Forest are certified to perform them. “Out of all the inspections we’ve done, we’ve never been taken to court or involved in litigation,” Jody Forest says. 


Along the way, Tyler and Tory Forest began working in the business during summers. Tyler Forest attended Kirkwood Community College for liberal arts studies for two years and joined the company full-time in 2007. Tory Forest earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Iowa State University, then entered the family business in 2011. Jody Forest believes that working long hours helped prepare the boys for the challenges of self-employment.

Last year, Jody and Penny Forest decided the time was right for an ownership transition. Tory Forest is buying the grease and commercial side of the company on a contract with plans to own it outright in 10 years. He personally services the restaurant and commercial accounts while his wife, Katelyn Forest, runs the office and handles scheduling and dispatching.

Tyler Forest has become part owner of the septic tank service side. Though he previously worked in the field on both sides of the business, he now works in the office. “He is very good with people, so we put him on the phones,” Jody Forest says. “I decided to stay in the truck.” Also in the field are service technicians Dillon Downey and Jonathan Spencer; Chuck Pallwitz is shop manager.

Penny Forest still runs the office, handling bookkeeping, billing, reminders and other functions. Tyler Forest’s fiancé, Alynnia Freeburg, is now assuming some of those duties and will develop the company’s social media and other marketing initiatives.


Tory and Tyler Forest have big plans for their businesses. Tory Forest, with a solid customer base in hand, was able to secure a credit union loan to buy a vacuum truck from his father — a 2015 Freightliner with a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank (Progress Tank) and a Wittig (Gardner Denver) 350 cfm vacuum pump. While he concentrates on the commercial side, he helps with septic tank pumping when that side sees an overload in demand. 

“We all wracked our brains to figure out the best way to split up the business,” he recalls. “This seemed like the best way to do it. I was more than willing to let Tyler take over the bigger portion. Our parents have been a huge help in the transition. My dad and grandfather both instilled a great work ethic in us. Dad always taught us just to be honest and respectful and super nice to customers. 

“I’m blessed to take over a business that was already established. Right now, we’re just a single truck, but over the next five years I plan on getting at least one more truck and one more employee. We’re not sure how fast we’re going to grow, but that’s the plan.” 

Likewise, Tyler Forest aspires to expand the business from three vacuum trucks to four and to exploring in-vessel composting of septage as an add-on to the Accurate Dewatering Service business.

After his community college studies, he had planned to take a year off to contemplate his future. One year with the family business has turned into 10 and an ownership stake.

“As a young kid, I always said there was no way I would be taking over this business,” he says. “Now I take pride in it, and I can see that it had everything to do with everything we had while growing up. I’m a lot like my dad, who always took pride in helping customers. We’re going to do everything we can to fix their issues and save them some money. Being a little personable can go a long way. We try to instill that in our employees, too.”  

For the moment, Tyler Forest handles scheduling and dispatching, interspersed with occasional fieldwork, such as installing risers on septic systems. “Dad always said that pumping septic tanks was our bread and butter,” he observes. “There are enough septic tanks around. If we can keep four trucks busy here in central Iowa and work into composting, that’s exciting.”


While their sons build their businesses, Jody and Penny Forest look forward to a new chapter in their lives. Jody Forest eventually will enjoy more hunting and fishing — his man cave hosts a collection of mounts of deer from Iowa and elk from out West. Penny Forest looks forward to more time for reading and taking in movies.

Both are proud of the businesses they’ve built and the sons who carry them on. “I think we raised our boys really well, and we believe they’ll continue to do things the way we did, with honesty and integrity,” Penny Forest says. “We get lots of compliments on their customer service. Their work ethic is good. There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll do just fine.”

Will there be a generation five for the Forest family businesses? With a first grandchild already on the way, no one should bet against it. 

Making pumping easier

There are times Jody Forest feels his 57 years, especially when pumping septic tanks. “I’ve got arthritis in my wrists from doing so much probing,” he says. “My body is telling me to stop; my mind wants to keep going.”

And so he does, with help from a brand-new vacuum truck built by Pik Rite on a Freightliner chassis with a 4,700-gallon low-profile painted aluminum tank, a vacuum blower from National Vacuum Equipment, and heated valves. It includes a rear-mounted, swiveling hose reel from Omega Liquid Waste Solutions with 200-foot capacity and full remote control operation. Jody Forest saw a photo of a similar truck in Pumper magazine and knew he had to have one.

He took delivery in late 2017. “It’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s going to allow me to work out of a pump truck for a few more years, which I need to do. We can pump septic tanks from the road now — we don’t necessarily have to back into people’s driveways. I can grab the end of the hose at the reel and walk to where the septic tank is. Then I can operate everything from the septic tank and never have to go back to the truck.”

The remote control has a 300-foot transmission range and handles all the functions necessary to pump, backflush, and empty the tank: “It’s twice as fast. I don’t have to lay the hoses out and make connections. When I’m done, I don’t have to unhook the hoses. I cap the end of the hose, and that prevents any mess at all in the yard. I’ve got to feed the hose onto the reel manually, but that just means guiding it on, left to right. I put a ratchet strap on the hose to snug it down.”

After working with the truck for two days, he decided to order another one to make life easier for his team members. Because the trucks are long, at 42 feet overall, he plans to add a backup camera to each one for safer maneuvering.

The Forest Septic Environmental Services side also operates a 2011 Freightliner carrying a 3,500-gallon steel tank with a full-opening rear door and National Vacuum Equipment blower pump designed and built by Advance Pump & Equipment. Crew members use a Takeuchi mini-excavator for inspections and to expose systems for service. It fits through a 32-inch gate and is very yard-friendly.


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