Want to Make a Difference as a Pumper? Get Involved With a Trade Association and Run for Office.

Michigan’s Raymond Daniels is dedicated to helping his customers, improving his industry and becoming an effective citizen legislator.

Want to Make a Difference as a Pumper? Get Involved With a Trade Association and Run for Office.

Raymond Daniels probes to locate the access lid on a tank at a residential septic system.

Raymond Daniels just plain gets things done.

That’s true whether he’s building up his family’s septic pumping and portable restroom business, advocating for his industry as a Michigan Septic Tank Association board member or serving on the Arenac County Commission or Clayton Township Board.

The business, Daniels Septic Service, operates in a rural area around the community of Sterling (population about 550), in eastern Michigan about an hour north of Saginaw and a few miles inland from Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

But Daniels has an impact statewide, working with MSTA colleagues to influence laws and regulations that benefit the industry, customers and the environment. As a fixture in local government, he sets aside partisanship and concentrates on solving problems and delivering high-quality services.

“If you don’t want to voice your opinion in public, then don’t sit back and complain about what’s going on around you,” says Daniels, who runs the business with Betty Daniels, his wife of 43 years. “When you have the opportunity to make a difference, you should take it.”


Raymond Daniels went into business at the tender age of 21, leaving a job at a grain elevator and buying the company from cousin Claude Daniels in 1977. Back then, the business consisted of a customer list and a 1968 single-axle vacuum truck with a 1,200-gallon tank. “It had what we called a surge vacuum pump,” Raymond Daniels recalls. “It would create about 14 to 15 inches of vacuum on a good day. The pump had a gasoline motor with a pull rope for a starter.”

On his cousin’s advice, he bought an electric cable machine to clear homeowners’ sewer lines so that on finishing a job he could be sure the toilet would flush. The early years were lean at times: “Years ago it was pretty typical in the winter to go a few days without pumping a tank. We took on a paper route in the middle of one winter for a little extra income.”

From there, the business evolved slowly but steadily. In 1983 he bought the company’s first portable restrooms — eight units that company founder George Harding helped Daniels assemble. In the late 1980s, he bought a new 2,200-gallon tank and mounted it on a used chassis. “We were servicing a lot of 1,000-gallon septic tanks, and with a 1,200-gallon tank, we could pump one tank and that was all,” Daniels recalls.

Today the company operates two vacuum trucks to pump tanks mostly within a 30-mile radius of home base. The newest truck is a 2011 Freightliner purchased from Istate Truck (formerly V&H Trucks) with a 3,600-gallon aluminum tank (Imperial Industries) and water-cooled vacuum pump (National Vacuum Equipment). The other truck is a 2007 Kenworth with a Battioni vacuum pump and a 2,000-gallon aluminum tank (also Imperial Industries).

The restroom fleet numbers 150 and includes Tufway and Maxim 3000 models from Satellite | PolyPortables and Fleet models from PolyJohn, along with sinks from Satellite | PolyPortables. 

Two flatbed trucks perform double duty for hauling and servicing units. A 2015 Ford F-550 has space for six restrooms and carries a portable vacuum unit supplied by National Vacuum Equipment with a Battioni pump. It carries a stainless steel tank from Northeastern Mfg. (400 gallons waste, 300 gallons freshwater). A 1996 International 4700 is equipped with a PTO-driven Jurop/Chandler vacuum pump, also with a stainless tank, 400/300 gallons. It carries 10 restrooms.


A small and close-knit team keeps the business running smoothly. Betty Daniels, a semiretired registered nurse, works part-time in the office. Joy Landosky is office manager. Daniels’ son Bryan Daniels delivers and services restrooms along with Jack Dunn and handles land application of septage. Roger Saddler pumps septic tanks.

The septic pumping business thrives on repeat business and word-of-mouth, augmented by a few signs posted along highways and a presence on the internet. “The Yellow Pages are just about a thing of the past,” Raymond Daniels says. “People seem to look to Google for everything. A lot of people want us to put them on a list and call them in three years or five years. We send those people postcard reminders and give them a little discount.

“One thing we learned years ago is that your competitor is not your enemy. If you can get along with your competitor, it’s a lot better for you and for them. Don’t get into a price war — nobody wins. You both end up losing money.” As an example of cooperation, Daniels points to a competitor on the restroom side: “She uses one of our trucks sometimes, I get toilets from her, she gets toilets from me. It works out a lot better that way.”

A challenge on the septic pumping side of the business is locating drivers who have a CDL. “Part of it is that some people don’t care to go through the scrutiny of being drug tested,” Daniels says. Others who have a CDL can work on road construction for a higher wage than a septic pumper can support. To counteract that, Daniels provides substantial flexibility in time off for personal and family matters.

On the plus side, the smaller of the company’s two pump trucks has a 26,000-pound gross vehicle weight, the heaviest that can be operated without a CDL. The portable restroom truck drivers only need a chauffeur license.

Restroom rentals tend to be small and scattered. There are no big events requiring 20 or 30 units. The bulk of the market is in home residential construction. Several builders rent units year-round; one contractor typically has three houses in progress at any given time.

Other rentals come from weekend parties at homes using one or two units at a time, and from campers. “We have one large campground that has two nice bathhouses,” Daniels says. “But a lot of people who camp there want their own portable toilet. On some weekends, we end up renting six to eight units at different campsites.”

Daniels finds training for team members easier on the restroom side because the work is repetitive: “You power-wash the toilet, deliver it to a site, add water and chemicals, put the hand sanitizer in. It’s always the same things.” On the other hand, for septic truck drivers, every property is different. They may have to locate the tank in the yard, find the tank opening, dig up the tank and be alert for problems and defects.


Septage management has been a chronic issue in rural Michigan. Daniels Septic Service land-applies the material and in 2002 installed a 400,000-gallon tank for winter and wet-weather storage.

“We were probably the first in Michigan to put in a tank of that size,” Daniels says. “It works out great. Years ago, in the middle of winter you could apply septage on top of the ground, and then there were problems with runoff. People at the Department of Environmental Quality say that since storage tanks have come into play, they have a whole lot less problems.”

Daniels has about 145 acres, mostly his own land, permitted for application; after setbacks and other considerations, only about 80 acres actually receive septage. “Everything is injected,” he says. “We use a 300 hp 1980s Allis-Chalmers articulating tractor. We pull a 6,700-gallon tank (Du-Mar Tank) behind with nine injectors.”

Septage is injected 6 to 8 inches deep so that it won’t bubble to the surface but still makes the nutrients available to the crops. Daniels farms the land for cash crops as animal feed, a good secondary source of income. He mainly rotates soybeans and wheat but occasionally plants corn.


It was septage management that first drew Daniels into the policy arena as an MSTA board member. Michigan passed a law requiring any pumper within a 25-mile radius of a wastewater treatment plant to take septage there.

That posed a problem for pumpers who had no treatment plant nearby and had invested in storage. The concern was that a small community treatment plant could decide to take septage, and then pumpers within 25 miles of that facility would have their storage investments negated.

“I made several trips to Lansing with a couple of other folks from the MSTA board,” Daniels says. “We did a lot of negotiating with the DEQ. We reached an agreement where if you’re within 25 miles of a treatment plant, you have to take it there — unless you had your storage in place before that plant started accepting septage. That provision has no sunset on it. We can use our storage for as long as we’re in business.”

The MSTA doesn’t always win. Last summer a bill passed with support from the Farm Bureau allowing farmers to own portable toilet trucks, clean their toilets and haul the toilets without first pumping them, all without being licensed by the DEQ. That cut into restroom operators’ businesses. “We fought it hard, but the bill got passed and that’s what we have to live with,” Daniels says.

There’s another issue on the horizon: Some wastewater treatment plants in rural areas have turned to taking septage only three days a week. That’s a major problem for pumpers in those areas who can’t or prefer not to land-apply, Daniels say. “Even if they had storage tanks, the treatment plant will only take so many gallons. One of our board members said this opens the door for people to open private treatment facilities.”


Daniels takes an interest in government affairs outside his industry, serving his county and township. “I was a Clayton Township trustee for 18 years, and in 2007 I decided to run for Arenac County commissioner,” he says. “We have five commissioners in our county, and in that year, all five of them were not re-elected, so we had five new commissioners.

“We showed up at the first meeting and none of the other four had ever served on a township board. They said, ‘Well Ray, I guess you’re chairman.’ They were all Democrats and I was a Republican, and they still voted me in as the chair. That’s how politics should be.”

Today, as Clayton Township supervisor, he is in theory the head of a board that also includes the clerk, the treasurer and two trustees. Daniels sees it differently: “We’re all equal — we all get one vote.” Whatever it takes to get the job done.

On the airwaves

In September 2017 during SepticSmart Week, declared by Michigan’s governor, Raymond Daniels became a bit of a celebrity. WNEM-TV out of Saginaw included him in a news segment about the potential harm to water resources caused by failing septic systems and the importance of septic system maintenance.

“The TV station called and said, ‘We’d like to talk to you about SepticSmart Week,’” Daniels says. “They had received a news bulletin talking about clean water in Michigan and people along the coastal highways who have septic systems.”

The Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network cited an analysis indicating that 6,000 to 15,000 septic systems in a five-county study area were likely failing, releasing up to 1.26 billion gallons of sewage annually. “Three of the counties were places on the shore of Lake Huron where we do business,” Daniels says.

Filmed standing beside one of his pump trucks, he told the interviewer, “I tell people all the time: The only way to know for sure (if a septic system is functioning) is to open the tank and look at it. That will give you all the answers.”

He says part of the problem is people living full time in homes with septic systems built for weekend seasonal cottages. The key to avoiding problems, he says, is education: “It’s not that complicated to maintain a septic system. The cleaner the water going out of that septic system, the better for the environment. The DEQ and the Health Department are educating the pumpers much more than they ever did before. In turn, we can educate the homeowners.”

To this day, he’s not sure how the TV station chose him for the interview: “They may have just happened to call and catch me and I was willing to talk to them. They drove an hour to get to my place, and they drove by four or five other pumpers to get to me.”


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