Motorhome Mania

Iowa’s A-1 Septic Crescent Moon delivers door-to-door pumping services for 1,500 RVs at the Winnebago Industries’ annual rally
Motorhome Mania


Dain Mann, Corey Nichols and his uncle Chad Nichols are partners in A-1 Septic Crescent Moon of Mason City, Iowa. Their service area covers a 100-mile radius around their office in northcentral Iowa, extending into southern Minnesota. The company employs up to eight workers during the busy summer season. The staff includes crew manager Colby Nichols (Corey’s younger brother); office manager Jeana Amundson; and drivers Jeff Tiedt, Doug Bohner and Joshua Servantez.


Mann and Corey Nichols have owned A-1 Septic Crescent Moon for five years, and Chad Nichols joined them as a company officer and business manager in 2009. The company has about 225 portable restrooms and hand-wash units, three vacuum trucks, a trailer-mounted vacuum unit and two Ford pickups for excavation work. For the 2010 Winnebago-Itasca Travelers Rally, Mann and Nichols rolled out their 2009 International 4300 truck with its 1,800-gallon waste, 400-gallon freshwater aluminum Progress Tank. The truck was assembled by KeeVac Industries, and is equipped with a Masport 950R pump. A-1 also used a 2000 Ford F-250 at the rally to pull a trailer-mounted 1,500-gallon Calumet steel vacuum tank from Imperial Industries Inc. The trailer has a 10-hp Honda engine to power the tank’s Jurop pump from Chandler Equipment Inc. Mann and Nichols use this trailer/tank only for the annual WIT Rally.

The company also runs a 2003 International 4200 with a 1,000-gallon steel Imperial Industries tank for waste and a 525-gallon National Tank Outlet (NTO) plastic tank for freshwater. Mann and Nichols worked with Rick Johansen Welding to install the tanks and Jurop pump. They also have a 2002 Dodge 3500 equipped with a 350-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater slide-in vacuum unit from Imperial Industries with a Jurop pump.


Soon after Mann and Corey Nichols acquired A-1 Septic Crescent Moon, they also acquired the contract to work with Winnebago Industries to service the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers Club’s annual Grand National Rally. This members-only rally is held at Winnebago’s headquarters in Forest City, Iowa, about 35 miles northwest of Mason City. About five months before the rally, WIT managers contact A-1 Septic Crescent Moon to discuss pricing, expectations and procedural changes from the previous year’s event. They update and modify their plans in the weeks preceding the rally.


The rally, held every July, attracts 1,300 to 1,600 motorhomes and about 3,000 guests from the United States and Canada. Although the rally runs six days, attendees show up early and stay late for pre-rally and post-rally events, hosting visitors more than 10 days. The motorhomes pull into reserved and numbered “addresses” on the sprawling RV grounds. The sites are accompanied by street names and state designations. At a glance, you’ll often identify the travelers’ home states by college or pro football bumper stickers, flags and window decals.


Nichols and Mann say they have pumped between 850 and 1,300 RV waste tanks at past rallies. Most RV owners buy $20 pump tickets from the rally office, and rally officials also hand out complimentary pump tickets to VIPs, officers or others to use at their discretion. RV owners attach the ticket to their windshield when they want A-1 to pump the waste and greywater (sink and shower) tanks. A-1’s crews collect the tickets when servicing the RVs, and invoice the WIT Rally after the event.


Because motorhomes have their own sanitation and restroom facilities, A-1 Septic Crescent Moon needs to place only 18 standard restrooms, two handicap-accessible restrooms and three hand-wash units on the grounds. Besides placing a portable restroom near busy intersections, they position multiple units near seminar tents and the entertainment stage.


When servicing the rally, A-1 Septic’s two crews arrive by 7:30 a.m. and strive to finish rounds and return to Mason City by 1 p.m. They make the roundtrip service run seven times during the rally, which means they pump an average of 170 motorhomes per visit, but that jumps to 200 or 250 during peak days.

The challenge is having the right equipment to work the rally cleanly, quickly and efficiently. “You need big equipment to handle so much work, but you’re constantly squeezing into tight quarters without much room for error,” Mann says. “Our guys have to pay attention every time we move. You’re dealing with about 200 individual ‘clients’ every day, and their rigs can cost $250,000, so the owners often watch every move you make. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to be unhappy.”

A-1’s crews consist of a driver and two hose handlers on the 2009 International; and a driver and one hose handler on the F-250 pickup with vacuum trailer. Whenever possible, the driver positions the tank and hoses so they can pump a motorhome on each side of the street before pulling ahead. When the truck moves, the hose handlers serve as spotters for the driver, and keep the hoses from knocking over bicycles, potted plants, charcoal grills and other personal property.

When pumping motorhome holding tanks, A-1’s crew must ensure the tanks are properly vented to prevent damage from excessive suction. The pumps are powerful enough to cause an RV’s tanks to collapse inward if the vent is clogged or damaged. Crews must be careful the pump is set for vacuum rather than pressure to prevent a mess or damage to the RV.


Crews attach the same hoses for pumping portable restrooms and RVs. The only modification is equipping each suction hose with a standard coupler that fits motorhome drain valves. After dragging the hose to the RV’s service panel, the technician snaps the coupler onto the drain, opens the motorhome’s drain, and then cranks open the valve on the suction hose.


A-1 crews also know some motorhome owners will check their work, sometimes claiming a technician didn’t pump their tanks thoroughly. Rather than turn the truck around and get the entire crew behind schedule, Mann or Nichols grabs a 5-gallon bucket and follows the owner back to their rig. To prove the tank was properly pumped, they place the bucket under the RV’s waste drain, pull the release valve, and catch a drop or dribble in the bucket.

“It’s usually just a faulty sensor inside the RV waste tank, or toilet paper stuck on the sensor,” Mann says. “Their digital gauge might say their tank is still half- or one-third full, but the bucket proves it’s empty. We don’t argue with them. We just check it with the bucket. The last thing we want is someone saying we didn’t provide a service they paid for.”


Chad Nichols says personal service — at the rally or at any job — is critical. “The best possible marketing for any company is having a reputation for good, hard, honest work,” he says. “We try to immerse ourselves in the communities we serve. Sometimes that means getting the job done first and worrying later about compensation.”


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