Indiana’s Dick Blazer is 72 and Still Going Strong

This veteran of 57 years in the onsite industry sees a day when a magic box in the backyard will recycle all your wastewater

Indiana’s Dick Blazer is 72 and Still Going Strong

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Name and title or job description: Dick Blazer, owner

Business name and location: Blazer Farms, Kokomo, Indiana

Services we offer: Installing, repairing, maintenance, inspections. The hardest thing we do is educating homeowners. We make a manual for them with all the do’s and don’ts, articles from Purdue University, all the paperwork — the permits, drawings, soil information. We used to include a survey for them to fill out about their habits, water usage, how much they understood, but in 20 years we got none of those surveys back so we quit doing that. Very few people look at that manual. But now we’re getting a few younger people who are requesting it in PDF form, which isn’t a bad idea.

Age: 72. I don’t know who’s going to do this when us old people quit. Paul Harvey, in his radio show, The Rest of the Story, once asked an 82-year-old dairy farmer when he was going to quit, and the guy said he couldn’t retire until his 101-year-old dad retired.

Years in the industry: I put my first septic system in in 1966 and I bought my first backhoe in 1972. I didn’t get real serious about the excavating part of it until the 1980s when three years in a row our farming business didn’t make enough money to pay expenses.

Association involvement: There used to be two organizations, one in the north, one in the south, but in the early 1990s they combined to form the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association, and that’s when I got involved. I think I’ve held all the positions. I was the first guy they elected a second time for president. I was on the board for years. I’ve been chairman of the certification committee, I’ve taught classes, did field demonstrations, helped put the inspection program together.

Benefits of belonging to the association: I like the networking, talking to other installers, learning what they’re doing that’s working better, what isn’t working, sharing ideas, talking about best management practices. Anybody in this industry knows that one rule does not fit the entire United States so sometimes it’s about best management practices.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Getting people involved. And the cost of being in the organization is also a big issue for some people. The guy that only puts one or two septic systems in a year can’t afford the membership fee. Getting proper education is another issue in our industry. Just because you’ve been through the class doesn’t mean you know how to do it. We’ve tossed out ideas like new installers should have to spend time with an experienced installer. I always love it when people come over and see what we’re doing. You’ve got to learn somewhere and that’s the best way — being on the job and just seeing what’s going on. Putting systems in isn’t terribly complicated but there are a lot of tricks to the trade.

Our crew includes: Tommy Miron and Kyle Carroll work in the field. Greg Morgan is semiretired but makes sure we have material ready to go. He worked in the water industry for years and knows about all there is when it comes to electricity and sewer lines. He is a wealth of knowledge. Marcia Pierce is the secretary and answers phones. Jody Shaw handles business work and is our bookkeeper.

Typical day on the job: My day usually starts at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. I’m in my “mobile office” (my truck) by 6:30, and that’s where I’m at until I come home unless I’m in the backhoe or other equipment. I do paperwork there, I eat there — I live in there basically. I’m at an age where I can’t really work a shovel any more but I run the equipment. I might get in the backhoe at 7:30 in the morning and not get out until 7:30 that evening.

The job I'll never forget: I like challenges. If anybody in our area comes up with a septic situation they can’t figure out, it ends up being me that gets it. It’s not really jobs that frustrate me, it’s people. But I get along really well with almost everybody. People seem to be more challenging since COVID. And septic work is more challenging, too, because people are home more and using a lot more water. More systems went into failure but people weren’t working as much so they didn’t have the financing for what they needed.

My favorite piece of equipment: I love the Trimble electronic guidance system on my backhoe. It guides you where you’re digging. There’s also one on our dozer that we can just program to automatically grade everything just the way we want it. We also have one on our ditching machine, which we use occasionally for doing perimeter drains when it’s a long way to an outlet.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: If somebody says you can’t put a septic system in here, I say, ‘Oh yeah? We’ll see.’ I am not going to give up until I have tried every possible thing. About half of our business is replacements. With new systems you have to play pretty close to the rule, but with repair or replacements our state allows best judgment. The systems where you have to have the homeowner buy more property are a challenge, but that might be cheaper than having to move a well, for example.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: We put a system into a very challenging site. We could not get our backhoe in the yard, we had to use our mini-excavator. The stone and aggregate all had to be dumped out in the front yard on the street. The lady said, “I didn’t realize how complicated it was to put a system in. How in the world do you know when you’re done?” I told her, “When you have no more grass left, we will be done.” That was the case in her situation. There was nothing left in the front or backyard.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: The industry as a whole is improving but getting new onsite system technologies approved in our area has been a very slow process. It’s frustrating.

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: I talked at the IOWPA conference one year on this subject. It was back in the 1980s when there was a recession and some companies didn’t make it. So my talk was — the only two things you have to do is do what you say you’re going to do and return phone calls. It’s so simple but I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve heard complain that someone won’t call them back.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: I’d probably either be a weatherman or a preacher. The weatherman can be wrong all the time and nobody seems to care. And I wasn’t a preacher but my wife and I were youth sponsors for 30 years.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I think the industry is going to solve the onsite problem for homeowners. One of these days, and it’s not far down the road — and it’ll probably be in California where it starts — you’ll use the water in the morning and drink it in the evening when you come home from work. There will be home waste treatment systems that’ll just be in a box and it just takes care of all of it. Right now it’s way too expensive but one of these days it’s going to be as cheap as putting a septic system in.

- Compiled by Betty Dageforde


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