You Can Never Stop Learning

I used to be pretty good on equipment; I got started when we had to bury a drain line across a hill.  My foreman told me that it was too steep to use a machine, so we had to dig by hand. Although I was in good shape, I wasn’t about to dig something by hand when we had a machine to do it; I quickly built a box out of cement planks to rest the stabilizer pad on and chained a length of I-beam to the frame of the backhoe to form an outrigger.  We finished in three hours. Although the foreman was not happy I had disregarded his orders, the supervisor was impressed that I saved the company at least two days of labor. From that point on, I was spending more time sitting on equipment rather than manning a shovel, erection bar or jackhammer. 
While I credited my extraordinary abilities to my being smarter than the old timers, as I got older I realized what I really was—a young, bullet-proof new timer who got lucky.  If that old ford tractor would have gone over—it had no cage—I would have been reduced to a hardhat and a pair of work boots. 

I have been out of the trenches so long I have not only lost my edge, but the equipment has changed.  I was used to lever controls; I could “coast” the boom right to where I wanted it, but now they use joysticks.
Here is a good example of just how rusty I am:  The dirt under four inches of line running out of my house to my septic tank settled, and the pipe dropped about two inches.  The rubber coupling kept it together, but there was that obstruction at the joint.  If the obstruction were hit with the right amount of solids, it would temporarily dam-up (until the solids softened), and we would get a back-up into the house.  The joint was located right under the sidewalk in front of my house.  While I could have used older methods—break up the concrete with a sledge and dig with a shovel—I could also get a small excavator, move the sidewalk in one piece, use the machine to dig down, fix the pipe, and put it all back together. 
So, I borrowed a friend’s small excavator. Despite my discomfort, I climbed in the cab and began slowly inching my way into position. I hooked the slab and started lifting.  But after twenty-plus years, the (wet) soil underneath didn’t want to let go, so I poured a few more coals to it.  Nothing.  A few more, still nothing.  Just when I was ready to back off and break it into manageable pieces, it decided to let go. 
The boom jumped up just enough to take out two of my new soffit panels and put a nice wrinkle in the new steel fascia.
The way that we do things in this trade have changed dramatically over the years.  When I first started turning dirt, septic systems were pretty much doing what you wanted; dig a hole here, dig a hole there.  Some type of drainfield…maybe.   Bottomless tanks were common, and many contractors went by the premise of “the deeper you dig, the better,” reasoning that “You don’t want that sewage coming to the surface.”     
Then, there were other contractors who believed that the old systems never had any problems and never failed.  In fact, many believed in running it into local woods to “avoid” the pollution and health risks. 
And, when it comes to suggested maintenance, more than one contractor has said, “You never want to pump these tanks until you start having problems, and then you call out the truck.”    
Today, most states have realized not every home is going to get the big-pipe, and, with septic systems here to stay, these states are tightening up their septic regulations. Unfortunately, however, not all areas have adequate training programs for the contractors that install/service those systems.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t have access to the tools and training; at the national level, you have the NAWT and NOWRA shows and The Pumper and Cleaner Environmental Expo.  You also have several states that have excellent programs, and they are open to anyone from around the country. 
Two states, for example, that provide such programs are Minnesota and Pennsylvania.  When I go to these programs (usually as a speaker) I enjoy the fringe benefits, like taking in the local highlights.  Pennsylvania Amish country is a food heaven, and summertime fishing in northern Minnesota is unforgettable.  These programs, along with other states’ programs, offer excellent opportunities to learn more. It is not just the states and national groups, however, who put on training seminars.  
In the Pennsylvania/New York/New Jersey area, site and soil conditions are not ideal for standard onsite systems, and mounds or holding tanks were often the only option.  Mounds are excellent treatment systems that can overcome the challenges of a bad site, but they do have their drawbacks.  First, they are expensive, and second, unless the property lends itself to integrating the mound into existing rolling terrain or the homeowner is willing to do (pay for) extensive landscaping, they are visually obtrusive.  Holding tanks are not a popular choice for anyone. 
Debbie at Tri-State Pump and Septic Supply in New Jersey carries several alternatives to mounds and tight tanks, including the Puraflo and SeptiTech pretreatment systems.  Coupled with shallow drip irrigation, the mound can be eliminated, and these setups are usually less expensive.  Additionally, the homeowner can lose that big, ugly lump in the yard.  However, she soon found the engineers, health officials and SEOs would not approve them—not because they didn’t work but because they did not know anything about them.
So she took it upon herself to put on seminars to teach them about these alternative products and systems; but she didn’t just focus on the people that held the approval process in their hands; she went after the contractors who installed them as well. In a stroke of genius, she even made them open to the homeowners who would eventually own them.  Once the people who approved them, installed them, and bought them were educated, these systems started selling. 
Once again, it proves what I have been saying: don’t sell your products and services, instead, provide the education and let the education sell your products and services. 
Yesterday morning, as I was writing this article, I received a phone call from a homeowner who was searching for help in opposing a city sewer system.  He said his neighborhood was facing a multimillion-dollar sewer expansion project, and he wanted me to come out and address his community on why they needed to fight this plan. 
Of course, when I explained the increased environmental damages to their rivers and lakes and that it would deplete their water supplies, he was even more adamant about fighting the process. Coincidentally, his neighborhood is located about an hour away from Debbie at Tri-State Pump and Septic Supply. 
Talk about an opportunity.  Now, Debbie and I are going to work on setting up “educational” classes for several communities in her area.  I will be convincing the homeowners that they do not want the pipe, and in order to stop, it they can call Debbie to have her company install a proper septic system.  That’s a plan that will bring in some major money for Debbie (and all of the contractors she supplies) in addition to avoiding a sewage system.

Jim vonMeier performs educational programs directed at homeowners, teaching them the health and environmental need for proper septic systems and how to find a certified septic professional to inspect/design/install/maintain their systems.  He has also represented homeowners in their fights against public sewer projects and speaks at contractor certification courses around the country on the subject of customer service. 


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