Meet Mississippi’s Shannon Atkisson, the Owner of Our Classy Truck of the Year

A big, bold and blue rig from Southern Comfort Services takes top-truck honors for 2021.

Meet Mississippi’s Shannon Atkisson, the Owner of Our Classy Truck of the Year

 2021 Classy Truck of the Year honors go to Shannon (left) and Zack Atkisson, of Southern Comfort Services in Carriere, Mississippi. shown here with the winning rig. (Photo by Andrew Welch)

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The way Shannon Atkisson sees it, there are limited ways to effectively market septic services anymore. Google advertising and social media need to be part of the equation. Beyond that, Atkisson’s trucks at Southern Comfort Services are the main tool to drive new business. People see his rigs moving around Carriere, Mississippi, (45 minutes north of New Orleans) and they call for service.

“You’ll be surprised how much business you’ll get just from driving a nice-looking truck. We’ll generate 50 to 100 pumpouts a year based on the truck alone. It happens two or three times a week that people have seen the truck and they’ll tell us they like it,” Atkisson says. “They’ll see the truck at someone else’s yard and come over. The truck helped them come over because it’s classy and looks nice. If you represent yourself on the outside, they’ll think you do a better job.”

Classy is the operative word here. Atkisson’s 2015 Kenworth T880 was plucked from a great-looking bunch of monthly Pumper Classy Truck entries last year and is our 2021 Classy Truck of the Year. The Radar Blue stunner with black accents, gold graphics and well-placed bits of shiny chrome, was built out by Amthor International and bought secondhand in 2018. It carries a 5,000-gallon aluminum tank and 510 cfm Jurop Chandler pump and is powered by a PACCAR 585 hp engine tied to an 18-speed Eaton Fuller transmission. 


Atkisson didn’t choose the striking paint job. It chose him, as that’s the way it was traded in at the Pennsylvania Kenworth dealership where he bought it. He also didn’t choose the 18-speed manual transmission. Though he’s been jamming gears on big trucks his whole life, he’d prefer to follow the trend toward automatic transmissions for convenience and resale value. But he’s made the most of what the truck gave him, recognizing the value of a unique color scheme and ordering new graphics provided by local Mike the Knife. 

The truck is comfortable to drive, has a nicely appointed interior, and many exterior features that provide eye candy and greater functionality for the operator, usually Atkisson’s son, Zack, and sometimes the 58-year-old owner himself, who also keeps busy with other business ventures. Bright work includes aluminum wheels, stainless steel hose trays, chrome horns and stacks, and dual rear aluminum boxes — one for tools and the other for a 40-gallon freshwater supply and 12-volt pump. Aluminum is also used wherever possible, including the cab, to raise the wastewater capacity.

Top and rear manways ease clean-outs, a drop tag axle helps carry large loads, the 4-inch inlet and outlet valves have heated collars. LED lighting is found all the way around, for accents, safety and night work. The truck carries 150 feet of hose Atkisson cuts from rolled hose stock into 22-foot sections so they perfectly fit the trays. That’s because he doesn’t like the look of hoses wrapped around the back of the truck. 

The interior features leather, air-ride seats and cab and the seats are heated and cooled, the latter providing more benefit in the muggy southern Mississippi summer. 


When you’re relatively new to the septic service industry (Shannon bought the company three years ago and rebranded it as Southern Comfort), having the truck land a few new customers every week provides a huge boost. The truck’s good looks were such a benefit that Atkisson had a second 2017 International with a 2,400-gallon tank, painted to match it. And a third truck — another 2017 International with a 2,400-gallon tank coming on line soon as a backup — is getting the same treatment. 

The lettering is similar to what’s emblazoned on Southern Comfort bourbon whiskey bottles, and Atkisson said it is in keeping with the classy Southern theme found on the pumper’s website — which shows trucks with a backdrop of live oak trees, alligators and herons. The typeface is made to stand out by using two layers of vinyl, the gold on top and a black shadow text underneath. The messages are kept basic so graphics don’t clutter the tank, and you won’t find poop jokes anywhere. 

“We don’t want to be cutesy, we just want to be classy,” Atkisson says of avoiding potty humor. He has strong feelings about the jokes — and about including political messages anywhere on his vehicles or his website. He says neither the “No. 1 in the No. 2 business” type of slogans or taking sides in these politically divisive times will generate business. Quite the contrary, political messages will offend many potential customers, he says. “Why eliminate half of your traffic? All we’re trying to do is convey something clean and simple,” he says.

Carriere is located near Picayune and the company provides pumping, portable sanitation and point-of-sale real estate septic inspections in a 30-mile radius. Zack Atkisson does most of the pumping and restroom route driving and Kim Atkisson, Shannon’s wife, runs the office. Pumping and portable sanitation are intertwined, as the smaller truck (with a 2,000-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater tank) carries a two-unit fold-down restroom carrier and serves both purposes on daily routes. 

The company has 280 restrooms from Armal, of which 160 are in regular use mostly for construction contractors. They perform three to five inspections a week, and average about 15 pumping customers weekly. 


The decision to purchase the big rig was based not so much on the capacity to pump more tanks, but to drive down disposal costs, Shannon Atkisson explains.

Like many pumpers, Southern Comfort was challenged by rising disposal fees and limited dumpsite availability. They had been dumping at a Picayune treatment plant in the center of their service territory. But the plant was charging 15 cents per gallon, which translated to $750 for a full-capacity 5,000-gallon load. The Hattiesburg plant 60 miles away charged $50 per load. 

Atkisson reasoned that if he dumped two loads per month at Hattiesburg, he would save more than enough in fees to make the $1,000 monthly truck and insurance payment for the big rig. So the company collects septage and portable restroom waste in a 6,000-gallon storage tank, then runs a full load as necessary to the Hattiesburg plant. While the Classy Truck is still used for pumpouts, it mostly racks up highway miles. “You can see how this truck has more than paid for itself just going to the dump,” he says. 


Atkisson has thoroughly enjoyed his late-career entry into the wastewater industry. Having grown up on a farm, he can relate to the work ethic of pumpers and the strong pride folks in this industry feel about businesses that have supported many families through the generations. Some might think the job is dirty or unappealing, but he doesn’t look at it that way. “I like to tell people you can get paid well for doing a job that most people don’t want to do,” he says. 

Whenever he is faced with a truck upgrade, Atkisson will always choose to pay extra to build on his company’s clean and professional image. He explains it this way:

“We’ll roll up on a $40,000 house and a half-million-dollar house. At the trailer house, they don’t really care that much (about the clean and well-maintained truck). But the people with the nice house and in the nice neighborhood, they want people to think they spent a little more money to get a better company,” he explains. “It surprises me people don’t spend more on the appearance of their trucks.”

Atkisson is planning to be at the WWETT Show this month in Indianapolis, where copies of this issue of Pumper will be distributed. 

If you see him on the exhibit floor of the Indiana Convention Center, show him your appreciation for enhancing the professionalism of the septic service industry.  


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