Should Pumpers Take on Campground RV Tanks?

Two experienced service providers lay out the risks and benefits of adding camper clean-outs to your menu of services.

Should Pumpers Take on Campground RV Tanks?

Bridgeport Vacation Trailer Rentals runs two flatbed trailers with 525-gallon poly tanks, receiving suction from a Phelps Honey Wagon 300G pump and a 5.5 Honda GX engine. (Photos by Mary Shafer)

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Bridgeport, California, is a tiny tourist town in the Eastern Sierra. During late spring to early fall, vacationers flock to small hotels, inns and about a dozen surrounding campgrounds to experience world-class fishing. Bridgeport Vacation Trailer Rentals rents, sets up and services 40 recreational vehicles in those campgrounds.

Owned since 1962 by Mike and Gretchen Montgomery, the business is now run by their granddaughter, Daniella Talamantes, and her wife, Angel Talamantes. Daniella grew up in the company. Now 30, she knows every facet of the business, which stays open late spring until just before the first snow. The majority of campgrounds where their rentals are positioned are U.S. Forest Service-owned, about 13 miles up a relatively steep mountain road. 

In 1990, Mike Montgomery realized that from both an efficiency and cost perspective, it made sense to pump out their own rental units’ “black tanks,” RV terminology for wastewater holding tanks. He bought the company’s first pumping rig, and they’ve been servicing their own trailers ever since, as well as those of other campers who approach them when they see the slogan on their tanks: “Flag us down — we take crap off everybody!”

One pumping call is included for each rental week, along with potable water refill, since most of the campsites don’t feature utility hook-ups. Bridgeport promotes business primarily with a website (, a rack card, business cards and campground envelopes (described later). 

BVTR now runs two 14-foot flatbed trailers on double Dexter axles, both fitted with a standard square hitch that fits the receiver used to haul rentals. “Everything we use has to do double duty” to stay lean and cost-effective, says Daniella. 


Mounted on each trailer is a Phelps Honey Wagon 300G pump running on a 5.5 Honda GX 160 gas engine. It will pump 50-60 gpm on a lift up to 25 feet, though they don’t do any inground pumping. Contents pump through 60 feet of 3-inch hose, connected via rubber adapter to a 4-inch RhinoFLEX (Camco Mfg.) RV waste hose. This ends in a Valterra 5-inch ClearView extension, and closes with a RhinoFlex sewer cap. It empties into a 525-gallon poly tank. The business has a dump station connected to the municipal sewer at its yard.

“The trailer unit is the best setup for us,” Daniella explains, “because we don’t have to pay for licensing, insurance and registration for a dedicated truck that we may not otherwise use. When we’re done pumping, we can unhitch the trailer and use the trucks to haul rentals, pick up supplies or anything else.”

The women agree that a dual-axle trailer unit is much more maneuverable among the many trees and other trailers inside the campgrounds, where it must be positioned toward the rear of the unit to be pumped, where drainpipes are located. Two axles also make jackknifing far less likely.

The economics work for them. Daniella estimates that a business wanting to add RV pumping as a sideline could set up such a unit for under $10,000. “The trailer is roughly $2,000. The pump itself is $3,000. The tank is about a thousand dollars, and I think that came with the hose. Then add your insurance and everything.”


Angel describes a typical pumping run, which they do in separate rigs on Tuesdays and Thursdays:

“Normally, each campground has a two-lane road. There are some tight spots, but it’s important to make sure we’re able to run the liquid downhill, to get the pump to prime. So you’ve got to strategically place yourself where the hose is going to be a straight shot. You don’t want to have to drag it around a bunch of branches and stuff.

“You also don’t want to mess up someone’s campsite, and you can’t park where no one will be able to get around you. But it’s almost inevitable with that. I put my flashers on, and I won’t be too long, but you get the occasional impatient camper.”

Daniella agrees. “You’re not able to please everybody. If we’re in the roadway, we’re doing our job and we’re not going to be there more than 10 minutes. If you can’t wait, just reverse and find another way to get past.” 

One thing most non-RVers don’t know is that the level sensors inside RV black and gray (used water) tanks are notoriously inaccurate, due to the inevitable buildup of gunk and scum. Often, the women will complete a pumpout, then get a call from the renter saying their gauges show the tank still full. They explain the sensor issue, which some folks don’t believe, because they can still see a small level of liquid left in the tank. As pumpers know, this will always be the case, even right after pumping.

So they show their customers that “we always use a clear hose connector,” Angel says. “We can see what’s going on in the hose. When everything’s done coming out, it’s empty.” 


They provide rolling 10-gallon “blue boy” tanks, into which renters can partially empty a graywater tank until they can get a pumpout. Instructions left with the rental forbid using these for sewage. Once filled, they can wheel it to a campground dumpsite.

When they pump out a trailer, they put a bucket or basin below the drain connection to catch stray drips. They painstakingly avoid large spills, which could become a hazmat situation and potential legal liability. For this reason, they remove the black tank valve handle, to discourage people from accidentally opening it. To pump, they open the valve with a hammer claw. They carry extra buckets, spill towels, extra hoses, bottles of bleach and a large quantity of disposable gloves, worn for every pumpout. 

Asked about the urban legend about a trailer pumpout resulting in a collapsed black or gray tank, they laugh and say many ask about that. “We’ve never had it happen or heard of it actually happening,” says Daniella. “But if it did, it was likely the result of someone using way too high a vacuum on a unit whose vent stack was clogged. It is theoretically possible, but really unlikely.”

Most malfunctions are a result of user abuse. Bridgeport supplies single-ply, rapid-dissolving toilet paper and forbids use of anything else in their rentals. “Double-ply doesn’t dissolve fast enough during the time that average campers use a rig, so it builds up in the tanks and clogs,” explains Daniella. “We don’t allow flushable wipes or anything else,” she says, admitting that nevertheless, they frequently must deal with clogs caused by everything from pinecones to sunglasses and baseball caps, somehow going into the toilets. This usually entails fishing an old broom handle up through a hose or down into the tank.

Angel adds, “We use an additive that helps break down waste and toilet paper, which also lubricates the valves to keep them opening and closing easily. And it definitely helps with the smell.”

She likes to lay her hoses out in long, parallel loops on the trailer between pumpouts. “It’s more efficient when I go to the next rig. I just pull it out — there are no snarls, knots or kinks in it.”

In campgrounds that don’t offer their own pumping service, Bridgeport hands out bright yellow-orange envelopes with instructions printed on them. Campers who wish to get pumped out leave cash in the envelope, and tack it to the numbered site post. They don’t need to be present for service.


All services are performed with constant vigilance for people and pets roaming close by. “We haven’t really hit anything,” Angel says. “I think people see what we’re doing, and they don’t want to get too close.”

Daniella agrees, saying that being hyper-careful becomes a state of mind when servicing campgrounds. “We’ve basically been doing this since we could drive, so you just get good at it.”  


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