Kentucky’s Busy Bee Septic Systems hits the trails to provide sterling service to an equestrian event.
Bruce Francisco, owner of Busy Bee Septic Systems Ltd., in Pikeville, Ky., has been in the business nearly 45 years. About 70 percent of his work is providing portable sanitation; he also pumps septic tanks and does camera inspections, waterjetting and precast septic tank manufacturing. Nine people work with him – three servicing units, one doing pickup and delivery, two who do cleaning and concrete prep, and three in the office (two part time, one full time). Francisco fills in where needed, as does his wife Betty who handles insurance and payroll. Their three adult daughters, Pat, Linda and Sally, grew up in the business and could help out in an emergency.
Francisco got his degree in medical technology, worked in a hospital lab, then spent seven years as an environmental health officer. “I had everything from a dog bite to septic system inspections to restaurants,” he says. In the late ‘60s, when he discovered no one in the area was pumping septic tanks, he started doing it on the side. By 1975 he couldn’t keep up with both occupations and resigned from the Health Department. In 1976 he added precast concrete. About 1990, he bought 20 portable restrooms from his nephew, who changed his mind about wanting to be in the business. “From there it just kept progressing,” Francisco says, “to the point that we had to have more people and more toilets, and more people and more toilets.” In 1998 he bought out another company, doubling his volume.
Work in their 40-mile service territory comes mainly from coal mining operations, but there are a few special events. Besides the trail rides, they provide units for Hillbilly Days, one of Kentucky’s largest festivals, and a number of events capitalizing on the legendary local feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.
In 2001, when they found themselves in the path of a planned highway, they moved their office – literally. “We just took a reciprocating saw and cut it right down the middle, loaded it up and hauled it down the road,” Francisco says. They currently have a 6,000-square-foot facility with a 30-acre site 15 miles away for storage and precast concrete work.
Francisco says he didn’t pursue the trail ride project. The sponsor, Knott County, contacted him in 2012. Being from a small town of 6,900 he says the county executives knew he was in the portable sanitation business and when they were ready to make a contractor change, they contacted him.
THE MAIN EVENT
The mountainous region of eastern Kentucky, part of the Appalachians, is known as coal country. Coal companies engage in an above-ground mining technique called mountaintop removal. The site of the Knott County-sponsored trail ride is on land that’s been mined and subsequently reclaimed. For 13 years, the county has organized this three-day event the first week of May and again in October to infuse visitor dollars into the local economy. Much of the land is privately owned, so getting permission from numerous landowners and providing liability waivers is no small feat.
In May 2013, 5,000 people, 6,000 horses and 25 vendors from 22 states and Canada participated. Most show up with RVs and horse trailers and set up camp in a vast backwoods area. Hundreds of miles of trails over 43,000 acres extend outward from there.
There’s minimal oversight and organized activities. Attendees pay an admission fee, receive an identifying arm band and are then on their own to ride at will. Evening entertainment is provided Friday and Saturday nights at the campground stage.
The event officially starts on a Friday but gates open the previous Sunday so many make it a weeklong vacation. The primitive campground has no facilities. The fire department supplies water, the county brings in a shower trailer and Busy Bee provides the restrooms. As for the horse trails themselves, riders had to rely on what Francisco jokingly refers to as “porta-trees” because they were too narrow for service vehicles. The company also pumped out a few RVs, as requested.
BY THE NUMBERS
The company brought in 58 standard units – a few Satellite Industries Globals, the majority PolyJohn Enterprises PJN3s, and two PolyJohn wheelchair-accessible units. Francisco prefers dark colors, usually blue or gray, because they resist fading and mask graffiti residue, a big problem on construction sites.
The camping area was crisscrossed with roads, each identified by a letter of the alphabet. Units were placed at about 40 intersections.
The first 45-minute trip to the campground was Sunday morning to drop off 40 units for the early arrivers. The company’s 1995 GMC with a 22-foot bed carried 12 units, an older Ford F-800 hauled 10 on a trailer made by Brian Stigers Truck & Trailer Sales, a 2002 1-ton Dodge pickup carried four in the bed and eight on a company-built trailer, and one of their service vehicles carried six on a company-built trailer. The remaining units were delivered on Tuesday.
“All our trucks are big, with 22.5-inch tires and air brakes because we’re off road so much, especially at the coal mine sites where there’s often no blacktop or even gravel roads,” Francisco says. Getting to the campground was a little challenging for the big vehicles. “From our office to within eight miles of the site is four lane. Then it’s two lane, then one lane, then dirt.”
KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN
The company serviced all units on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday between 6 and 10:30 a.m. Francisco says that’s not the best time of day because people are trying to use them, but on the other hand if they started earlier they’d be disturbing sleeping campers and scaring the horses. They used three International 4900s (2000-2002) built out by Abernethy Welding & Repair Inc. – two with a 1,000-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater steel tank and one with a 1,500-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank. The company builds its own pumps by modifying blowers used by the coal companies. They use Chempace Corporation products.
Occasionally campers moved units on their own, making them hard to find. “They might be put out behind their camper or something. You don’t know what they’ve done with them,” Francisco says.
Waste is unloaded into the company’s 6,000-gallon holding tank then taken to the Pikeville sewer plant.
Francisco reports they had no complaints, everything went smoothly and he’s hopeful they’ll have the job again in October. “We’ve enjoyed doing it,” he says. “It’s been a unique experience and it’s helped us make it through the year.”