Pennsylvania Pumper Dwight Woelkers on His Team: “Without Them, I Don’t Have a Business.”

Quality equipment and happy employees help Clemens Septic Service generate more workload and build business value

Pennsylvania Pumper Dwight Woelkers on His Team: “Without Them, I Don’t Have a Business.”

The team at Clemens Septic Services includes, from left, Adrienne Brown, Alexander Woelkers, Casey Brown, Matt Smith, Eric Leber, Eric Landis and Dwight Woelkers. They are shown with a Peterbilt truck built out by Pik Rite and carrying a National Vacuum Equipment pump.

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It’s tough these days to find and keep young people willing to work in the seemingly unglamorous septic industry. But Dwight Woelkers has done just that with a formula that includes not only good pay and benefits, but an approach to management that is kind, helpful and supportive. And, actually, he does provide a glamor outlet — he gives his workers sparkling, up-to-date, award-winning equipment they can be proud of when driving down the road or pulling up to a property.

Woelkers and his wife, Emily, own Clemens Septic Service. The company works out of a garage on a two-acre parcel of land in Telford, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. About 55% of their septic work is residential and commercial pumping, 40% is repairs and 5% is installations. They also do a small amount of excavation work and trucking services. They cover a 30-mile radius.

Woelkers says he operates under three guidelines — do the right thing, do what you say you’re going to do and provide appropriate equipment and resources to sustain the business for the future.


About four years ago, Woelkers, then 66, realized his pumping days were over. “I just couldn’t do it,” he says. “Physically I was worn out.” His son-in-law Casey Brown (42), volunteered to help out and he’s been there ever since. Eric Leber, 33, joined the company right out of high school 15 years ago. He handles estimating, installations, repairs and inspections. Repair technician Eric Landis, 30, came on board in 2020.

Woelkers admits it took about a year and a half to find their most recent hire in October 2022, but Matt Smith, 24, came with great credentials and a Class A commercial driver’s license. He runs a vacuum truck.

Woelkers’ daughter, Adrienne Brown, manages office functions; his son Alexander, a schoolteacher, works in the summers; and his son Addison, owner of a landscaping company, helps out as needed.

“I could not be happier with the people I have,” Woelkers says. “They are family to me. We all get along and I try not to be the overbearing boss. I love to take care of them because without them, I don’t have a business.”

His employee benefits package includes vacation and holiday pay, life insurance, short- and long-term disability insurance, 100% of the cost of health insurance for employees and their families, and Christmas bonuses.


Woelkers started out in his family’s meatpacking business where he worked for 27 years in various capacities, eventually becoming director of sales and marketing. Then he spent a couple years working for his church.

“Then in 2000 my brother, Dennis, heard about this excavating business for sale, Royden Clemens Excavating,” Woelkers says. “Dennis had worked on the construction side of our family business, so he knew how to operate and fix equipment but nothing about the office work. He needed me for that.”

They bought the business and made a slight name change, dropping “Royden” and keeping “Clemens,” which, ironically, is Woelkers’ middle name and his mother’s maiden name.

About a year into it they were replacing some septic tanks and got frustrated waiting for a pumper to pump them out. “I thought, ‘this is crazy’,” Woelkers says. “So I went to Pumper and found a little septic truck up in Boston. We drove up there and bought it. We had no idea how to pump tanks, but we did my house, then my brother’s house. And Mr. Clemens helped us.”


Septic work was slow at first, but steadily grew and eventually became the main focus of the company. A major boost came when the local township started requiring septic tanks be pumped out every three years. Woelkers also added installations and repairs.

The decision to add septic work proved fortuitous as excavation work started to decline with the drop in the housing market in the mid-2000s. Woelkers got a little more serious about the industry. He started attending the WWETT Show and joined the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association. Today he has his technicians take PSMA’s pumping and advanced systems courses.

The company continued to grow, but at one point Woelkers realized that more work did not necessarily translate into more profit.

“We had eight guys, and I was trying to find work for them. At the end of the year I looked at the numbers and told my brother, ‘With all this extra work, all these extra people, we’re not making money.’ I think you’ve either got to be small or you’ve got to be big. It can’t be in between.” He admits it’s hard to turn down work, but they did start to downsize.


The company has three vacuum trucks that Pik Rite built out — a 2006 Peterbilt 335 with a 3,500-gallon steel tank and National Vacuum Equipment Challenger pump, and two Peterbilt 348s (2019, 2024) with 4,000-gallon aluminum tanks and NVE Challenger 4310 blowers. All of them are “shiny red,” Woelkers says. “I order them special that way. It stands out. Everything we have is that color.”

Woelkers says he now prefers blowers over pumps. “They’re more expensive, but maintenance-wise, they’re so much better and they pump better. When you’re pumping a tank and you get down to the bottom and sucking air, you lose vacuum with a pump. With a blower you don’t have that.”

As much as he loves his trucks, Woelkers says there does come a time when they need to be retired. Their 2024 Peterbilt is replacing a 2000 model with 800,000 miles on it. “It’s hard but you have to modernize,” he says. “And you have to look at how much you spend on repairs versus a truck payment. It’s 23 years old, looks new, we’ve put a lot of money into it, repainted it, put in a new engine but it’s at the point where it’s time for a new one.”


Excavation and repair equipment includes three Kubota excavators (2016 U35, 2021 U35, 2019 KX80), a 2017 Kubota skid-steer, a 2000 Peterbilt 379 dump truck and a 2006 Peterbilt 335 dump truck with a Pik Rite dump body. They also have two utility trucks — a 2019 Ford F-550 and a 2022 Ford F-350.

The company is now focusing less on installations and more on repair work which is more reliable, less weather-dependent and less disruptive to the schedule. In 2022 they installed eight systems — Most systems rely on drip, at-grade beds and sand mounds (Eljen GSF). Unless it’s for an existing customer, they now refer installations to other contractors.

“That’s one of the big things I’m very proactive on,” Woelkers says. “We all work together. If someone needs help, we help them. We have our own set of things we do and our specialties, but we all get along very well.”

Most of their repair work involves installing pumps for sand mound systems, jetting drainlines and sand mounds, replacing baffles and distribution boxes, and installing piping. They use Insight Vision camera/locator equipment and a Spartan jetter.

Emergencies come up nearly every day, Woelkers says. The phone goes to an answering service after hours and is always answered by a person.


Although marketing was his forte when he worked in the family business, Woelkers says he does very little of that for his septic company, relying mostly on word of mouth. They also do a little bit with Facebook, advertise in township newsletters, send reminder cards and pass out refrigerator magnets. And they have a clause in their customer estimates that gives them the right to put up a yard sign for 60 days.

Woelkers says each year, they try to donate 10% of their profits to community and church fundraising events.

Although Brown has been researching routing software, plans to buy a system are on hold while the company deals with two other computer issues that have arisen. First, they are in the process of buying a customer list from a company going out of business and will need to convert their customer information, currently on index cards, to the computer.

And, second, they are working through the challenges associated with changing from QuickBooks to cloud-based QuickBooks Online. One reason for the change was to enable customers to pay their bill online. “That has been great, a big plus,” Woelkers says. “Now we email most of the invoices and 50% of our customers pay online.”  It also gives him the ability to access data when he’s out of the office.

The company keeps detailed information on their jobs — where the house and tank are, how many hoses to get to the tank, how deep the tank is, how much sludge and scum were in the tank. Drivers are given data sheets and use their personal cellphones (partially company-subsidized) for navigation.


Woelkers says his biggest frustration these days is on the regulatory side. There are no governmental guidelines for inspections nor certifications required to do inspections, installations or repairs. “We use the PSMA guidelines, but I wish Pennsylvania would come up with something so everybody would be on the same page,” he says. And although more townships have pumping requirements, enforcement is inconsistent.

What he likes best about the business is helping people. “People get frantic and give us a call. We get there and they think the cavalry has arrived. They’re really appreciative.”

At 70, Woelkers says he’s backing off somewhat and taking on more of a mentoring role. And he’s quick to give credit where credit is due for the company’s success.

“I’ve been blessed with great employees,” he says. “These young guys are hungry, they look for new technology, and they come up with stuff I don’t even think of.”


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