The Rural Route

DJ’SPortables puts on thousands of miles through desolate regions to serve members of the Navajo Nation
The Rural Route
The crew of DJ’s Portables works beautiful and desolate territory to serve contracts with the Navajo Nation, which, with 26,000 square miles, represents the largest Native American land mass.

Interested in Trucks?

Get Trucks articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Trucks + Get Alerts

THE TEAM

D.J. Moats Jr. and his wife, Jamie, offer septic, backhoe, and related services, as well as portable restrooms in the northwest region of New Mexico. They operate the portable restroom business as a separate legal entity under the name DJ’s Portables. Jamie Moats runs the office and handles bookkeeping and dispatch, assisted by secretary Ella Charles. D.J. Moats works in the field along with route driver Francisco Segovia.

Their home office in Flora Vista, N.M., is 30 miles from their yard and shop in Kirtland. They work within a 250-mile radius.

 

COMPANY HISTORY

The company’s had a series of starts and stops over the years. Moats’ father, Donald Moats, started the business in 1979 but sold it that same year. He tried again in 1998, and sold it in 2003 when friends offered to buy it. When the buyers stopped making payments, Moats took back the septic and backhoe business. And in February 2010, Moats Jr. bought back the portable restrooms – 250 units, all originally purchased by them in 1998. Moats had a couple of lucky breaks. The units still had their original DJ’s Portables signs on them. And remarkably the company was able to get its old phone number back. “The hardest part,” Moats says, “was finding all the toilets. There were a lot out in the oilfields and I’m pretty sure there are still some there we don’t know about.”

 

THE MAIN EVENT

The Navajo Nation is located on 26,000 square miles in the Four Corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, the largest Native American land mass. Home to about a quarter million Navajo, much of the area is rural and remote. Although most live in houses or trailers, some of the elders still live in traditional eight-sided log structures called hogans. Most dwellings have electricity but not all have running water or even wells. For this reason, some residents are in need of portable restrooms.

 

THE JOB

DJ’s has over 125 individual residential contracts for units with weekly servicing. Company inventory is all 1998 standard models from PolyPortables Inc., PolyJohn Enterprises, and a few Armal Inc. Top Line models. There are many different colors – not necessarily good for promoting company identification, but customers enjoy having a choice. A few residents requested wheelchair-accessible models. Due to high winds in the area, many units are staked down. Deliveries are made using a 2000 Isuzu NPR flatbed.

The company also works with various agencies, such as the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority, for which it supplied 12 standard units mounted individually on 4- by 8-foot carriers from HaulRite Trailers. DJ’s also provided five PolyPortables Tag Along hand-wash stations to Native American Services Corp. for its uranium mine cleanup project. Governing bodies called chapterhouses use units for construction projects, and DJ’s occasionally bids on special events such as festivals and powwows.

 

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

Segovia single-handedly takes care of all routes. The area is vast. He may drive as far as 170 miles one-way to clean a single unit, and puts approximately 3,000 miles a week on the truck. Units are cleaned “top to bottom, inside and out,” Moats says. “If something’s broke, he fixes it right there.” The company uses TOICO Industries products, as well as an oil-based fragrance from a car wash supply house poured directly into the tank water. Graffiti is removed with WD-40 or TOICO’s Graffiti-Gone.

Although they have a couple service trucks with 900-gallon steel tanks from Glendale Welding Co., Segovia prefers to use a 1999 Best Enterprises Inc. slide-in unit on the 2005 Ford F‑550 because of its lighter weight. The 300-gallon waste/140-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank is equipped with a Masport Inc. pump. The waste tank is sufficiently large for his routes, but he tops off the freshwater along the way. “There’s local stores where he can get water. He’ll stop in, fill up his tank, get a bite to eat,” Moats says.

Units are not always easy to find. Navajo Authority is supposed to bring them in for cleaning – “But nine times out of 10 we have to go look for them,” Moats says. The company’s inventory tracking system is “old school,” he says. “We actually have handwritten maps for every unit, and instructions like ‘Look for the green house with the blue roof.’ ” Homes and roads are rarely named or numbered.

Travel is difficult in winter, as many roads are not paved. The company puts two pounds of salt per gallon of water in the tanks to avoid freezing. In summer, the problems are flies, heat and odor. “The best thing I’ve found to repel flies is a disinfectant spray I get from Sam’s Club,” Moats says.

Waste is dumped into a tank in the company’s yard, later taken to a municipal water treatment facility in Farmington.

 

METHOD TO THE MADNESS

Moats manages his large service area while operating on a shoestring by being organized, self-sufficient and focused on customer service.

“If I can save a penny doing something myself, I’ll do it,” he says. That includes doing his own maintenance and rebuilding the pumps every three months – “Whether they need it or not.” He’s generous when elders get a little behind in their payments. He’s also got a soft spot for kids and veterans, most often donating his services for their events.

Managing over 100 residential contracts is not easy but the upside is it doesn’t slow down in the winter. And the trick to servicing scattered units in far-flung locations? “Time management is the key to this,” Moats says.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.