The Pumping King Family of Massachusetts Celebrates a Golden Anniversary

Thanks to daughter Karen King’s dedication to the wastewater industry, family company Action King Services looks forward to the next 50 years of satisfying customers.

The Pumping King Family of Massachusetts Celebrates a Golden Anniversary

The Action King Services team includes (from left) Frank King, Michael Pagan, Hugo Ospina, Liz Sears, Efrain Martinez, Krisna Thou, Jerry Croteau, Amy O’Neill, Mike Diaz, Karen King and David Sanchez. In the background is a vacuum truck from Pik Rite with a Gardner Denver pump

When Karen King rode with her dad in his pumper truck as a kid, she considered it fun quality time to talk while they traveled, to be able to help whenever she could and — her favorite thing — to honk the horn. She never imagined that she, the only girl in the family with three brothers, would be the one to keep Action King Services in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the family. But about 15 years ago, she found herself drifting back into the business because of her desire to spend quality time with her young son.

After a few years working part time, she had an epiphany.

“I realized I can be helpful and make a difference,” King says. “I realized I enjoy this, and it gives me the flexibility to be a good parent and to help out my family.”

Now, her son, Dalton, is a college junior; and King is vice president of operations and part owner with her parents, Frank and Louise King. It’s a partnership they all appreciate. Because they know Karen King is capable, her parents can enjoy time off in Florida during the winter, and King enjoys being an entrepreneur working with a team she considers extended family.


Frank King, 75, has been an entrepreneur since he delivered newspapers and mowed lawns as a boy. After serving in the Army, he operated high-pressure steam boilers and steam generators, working for the commonwealth of Massachusetts. As he started classes to earn a better license to earn more money, King noticed how others were making a living.

“My cousin was in the sewer business 12 miles away, and he bought a new house and that looked good. And a friend at the hospital pumped Chinese restaurants, and I thought that looked good,” King recalls.

After talking to his cousin, he did what many pumpers did in 1968. He bought an old truck (1950 Chevrolet) with a 1,200-gallon oil tank and took it to a shop to install a diaphragm pump. His cousin sent some business his way, and King pumped tanks in evenings, weekends and on his days off. He kept his day job, earned an engineering license and was chief engineer at a boys’ school on 1,000 acres that was a former Shaker village. When the pumping business grew, he purchased another truck and hired someone during the day. King continued to pump on nights and weekends. Louise King answered the phone and scheduled the calls.

“We worked that way for over 20 years,” Frank King says. He quit his regular job when the business needed his full-time attention, and he had the opportunity to purchase a pipe lining company and contract in Boston to do video inspections for utilities for the Big Dig, when part of Interstate 93 in the heart of the city was rerouted underground in a tunnel system.

It wouldn’t be the first time that starting with something small turned into something big.


Lowell had another family business that started in 1917. The DeMoulas Market grew into a supermarket chain called Market Basket that now has dozens of locations.

“I got asked in the ’70s to pump a failed septic system (for Market Basket) in Seabrook, New Hampshire, for six months. It wound up to be 20 years,” he recalls, until the store was hooked up to the city’s sewer system. Though the store was an hour away, he took the job and picked up a couple other businesses in the area. Later, when the plumber who handled the other Market Basket stores retired, Action King picked up the business pumping grease.

“Now we do 90 percent of their stores. We pump stores every two or three months and take out as much as 5,000 gallons of grease. We do internal grease traps in the bakery, produce and meat departments, and we do high-pressure jetting. They have a sushi bar and chicken broiler, and that generates a lot of grease,” King says.

The account means longer traveling distances into other states, with the farthest in Maine and on the Vermont border, but “It’s a fantastic account,” Karen King says.


In the management role King has held for the past several years, she understands the importance of reliable income from accounts like Market Basket. But she also has experience with nearly every aspect of the business.

King, who has a plastics engineering degree and is mechanically inclined, admits she never intended to work in the business. She enjoyed working for a couple of companies before moving back to Lowell in 2004. When the job she had required an hour-plus commute to work in Boston, the single parent of a young child decided being with her son was her top priority.

“I started out at the (Action King) office, filing and helping my dad,” she recalls. “I was low man on the totem pole and learned that working in a family environment was a better way to be a parent.”

She gradually added more hours and more jobs with the business while supporting her son in sports and other activities. She got to know employees and grew to appreciate them as family.

The varied jobs and experience help in her position as overseer. Though she doesn’t have a CDL to drive, she occasionally rides along when a driver needs help on a jetting or pumping job.

“I stress teamwork,” King says. “I think they respect the fact that I know what I’m talking about. I listen to what they say and don’t pretend to know it all. I think that helps the team to be a team.”


“With employees, just knowing who your people are is key. You need to know the situations they are dealing with and support that person,” King says. “Most of our guys hang out outside of work. They cook out. They come together. We are like a little family. I have 17 ‘kids’ on my board.”

Action King provides health insurance; vacation and holidays off; a SIMPLE IRA plan; and periodic safety, equipment and miscellaneous training.

The owners also maintain an up-to-date fleet and equipment. Because they pump large stores, Action King buys trucks with big tanks.

“We have five with 5,000-gallon tanks,” Frank King says. “Most are tri-axle, and all have Gardner Denver pumps.” The trucks are 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011 Internationals (the 2011 is a PayStar) and a 2011 Kenworth. All have steel tanks, and most were built by Pik Rite. A sixth truck is a bit smaller — a 2011 Volvo with a 4,600-gallon steel tank and a Fruitland pump.

King recently traveled to New York to purchase a truck with a larger tank, a 2012 Peterbilt with a 6,000-gallon steel tank and Masport pump built by Imperial Industries.

For pumping grease for businesses with smaller volumes or interior grease tanks, Action King drivers use a 2017 Ford F-750 with a 2,000-gallon aluminum tank built by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks with a Masport pump.

Action King also has two 2014 GMC service vans, a 2005 Hino multipurpose box truck, a 1992 Vactor truck built on an International chassis and two high-pressure water jet trucks (2007 Ford and 2015 Ford) carrying American Jetter and US Jetting units.

To run the company more efficiently, trucks are outfitted with GPS tracking — not because of trust issues with drivers, but for billing and to determine accurate time spent on jobs. Drivers use cellphones or dashboard GPS units to map their routes.

The office recently expanded from two to three full-time people. To accommodate the growth, Karen King remodeled the house used for an office to expand into the second floor. Her next goal is to update the computer system, and she is researching business software now.


Frank and Karen King agree that honesty has grown Action King from a one-man, part-time business to one with 17 employees who serve customers in Massachusetts and bordering states.

“We are known for honesty. If someone overpays $2, we call the customer. Who does that? If we do something wrong, we own up to it. We don’t charge customers for our mistakes,” Karen King says.

Providing honest, quality service earned the contract with Market Basket and other businesses throughout the region, the Kings say.

In addition to loyalty to customers and vendors, the Kings emphasize the importance of creating a good working environment. “My father is big on respect,” Karen King says. “There is no swearing in the office. In the big picture, we want to keep the customers we have,” she concludes, adding that Action King also remains ready to take on new opportunities after 50 years.

Passing the business along

Communication and respect are key to working together and transitioning a family business between generations, says Karen King, who owns Action King Services with her parents, Frank and Louise King.

“We tend to do the same things and think alike in the processing factor,” she says of her father. “If we disagree, we talk about it.” For example, if a truck breaks down on the road, they analyze the situation to see if they should send someone from their shop or call a tow truck.

At the same time, each of them has different skills that work well together. “I’m rough around the edges,” Frank King admits. “Karen smooths things around for me.”

“He is a little more direct and gruff,” Karen King says, so she is often the one employees seek out for a listening ear and levelheaded response.

Growing up with computers, King also handles the technology side of the business and handles tasks like updating the computer system, for example.

“On the flip side, (Frank) started the business and knows more when it comes to purchasing a new truck. He’s learned from experience and has more technical expertise,” Karen King adds.

She credits her father for never pushing her or her brothers into the business.

“We were expected to go and do what we wanted to do. That has assisted me being here now. Because I had different bosses, it helps become the person you want for a boss,” King says. She notes that as a woman she has had to prove herself in the male-dominated industry, but starting at the bottom and her slow transition into management helped. “Anything I ask someone to do I have done personally,” she says.

Because of her engineering background and natural mechanical skills, Frank King has confidence in leaving Karen King in charge during winter months when he and Louise King head to Florida.

Because they work well together, Frank King will always be part of the business he started half a century ago. “I don’t see me retiring completely,” he says. “I have cut back a little, but I’m still up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. I still occasionally pump when a call comes in at night.”

Karen King is gratified to have her father as a mentor and business partner. “I consider myself lucky that my father and I work well together,” she says. “I hear horror stories about others and am pleased we have such a great relationship — at work and after hours.”


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