Almost 700 Restrooms, 100,000 People and Two Minutes of Darkness

The solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime restroom challenge for Oregon’s Middleton Septic & Portable Toilets.

Almost 700 Restrooms, 100,000 People and Two Minutes of Darkness

Photographer Bill Vollmer shot this amazing image showing the stages of the solar eclipse as seen in Madras, Oregon. The crew from Middleton Septic & Portable Toilets got to stop servicing to enjoy the rare view of a total eclipse.

THE TEAM

Misty and Aaron Cox operate Middleton Septic & Portable Toilets out of their 4-acre property in Madras, Oregon. Staff includes 16-year-old son, Kyler; Misty’s uncle, Dennis Middleton; and Roy Retherford. For the eclipse project, seven family members and friends helped — including Misty’s mother, Tammie Clark, and Zach Lofting — whom they’ve now hired. They also had valuable help from two PRO companies that provided trucks, units and moral support: Buck’s Sanitary Service in Eugene, Oregon, and Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service in Molalla, Oregon, which sent four people including Lorry and Trent Clinkscales.

COMPANY HISTORY

Misty Cox’s great-uncle, Eddie Middleton, founded the company in about 1977. When he died two years later, her grandfather, Jackie Middleton, took over while continuing to work swing shift at a mill with help from a friend and daughter, Tammie. Around 1985, he added portable restrooms and soon quit the mill. Occasionally, people approached him about selling, but he was always hesitant. “He had an eighth-grade education and built a six-figure business,” Cox says. “It was his baby and hard to let go of.” Finally, in 2009, when she and Aaron suggested they buy it, he agreed. “I told him I’ll run the business how you run it, and I’ll put my blood, sweat, and tears in it like you have.”

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Madras was pegged as a premier viewing spot for the 2017 solar eclipse. The town of 7,000 started preparing in 2015 for an expected 100,000 visitors. That’s when Cox got a call from the Jefferson County Tourism Group, saying they’d need her services. Their lives took a turn that day as they spent the next two years working out the logistics of such a large undertaking. For the last year, service providers met monthly, working out traffic plans, dedicated service roads, and coordination.

Disposal was a major issue for the Coxes. They are normally not allowed to dump in the town treatment facility but instead use a screening pit that they pump out when full and haul to a treatment plant 35 miles away. But, they knew the 20,000-gallon pit would not be large enough. In the end, the city allowed them to pump directly from the pit to their treatment plant.

TO THE RESCUE

Another major issue was obtaining additional restrooms. They supplemented their 300 with units purchased from a company shutting down, but they still needed more.

“It was a nightmare trying to get portable restrooms,” Cox says. “People ask why we don’t just buy more, but we’re a small company and don’t have that kind of money.” Two companies committed to giving them restrooms, but one reneged and the other quadrupled its price. “It left us in a horrible situation,” she says.

Her luck finally changed when she talked to Scott Weld at Buck’s Sanitary Service. He sold them some units and a couple trucks and offered to bring in more for the event. “I just kept thinking this is too good to be real,” Cox says. “When I was telling him, practically in tears, how thankful I was, he was like, ‘Anytime I can help someone smaller than me, I’m going to do it.’” More help came from longtime partner Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service. Both companies had experience with large-scale events, and the Coxes consulted them many times. “We took their advice on everything they told us.”

THE MAIN EVENT

Traffic on Thursday and Friday was eerily quiet, Cox says. On Saturday, the onslaught began, “and Sunday was hold on for dear life.” Then, for two dramatic minutes on Monday morning, last Aug. 21, as the moon slipped in between the Earth and sun, all was silent in a moment of awe as Madras was thrown into darkness.

Visitors came from all over the world. Many of them stayed at Solartown — a farmer’s field where food, security, and health facilities were set up. Others stayed at the fairgrounds where the town sponsored Solarfest, featuring music and NASA presentations. Many farmers converted their fields into campgrounds, charging rates ranging from reasonable to shocking. Businesses in town stocked up, but unfortunately, other than hotels, they didn’t get the business they expected as people brought their own supplies or bought from vendors.

The quiet was short-lived, Cox says. “Three minutes after the eclipse, I looked up and traffic was at a standstill.”

BY THE NUMBERS

In the end, the company provided 29 ADA-compliant units and 38 hand-wash stations (PolyPortables, PolyJohn Enterprises and Satellite Industries) in addition to 680 units including 100 from Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service, 200 from Buck’s Sanitary Service, 100 from a friend who secured them from an Idaho company, and 100 from the company that quadrupled its prices. Cox color-coded work orders to keep track of whose units were where. They placed 185 at Solartown in small banks, 25 at Solarfest, 77 in town, 45 at the airport, 43 at a Little League camp, 61 at Cove Palisades State Park, 18 in the city of Metolius, and the rest at private parties.

LET’S ROLL

The company started setting out their own inventory around Aug. 1 and picked up the 100 high-priced units when Buck’s Sanitary Service and Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service brought in their equipment. A last minute glitch required them to have all their people and the Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service people spend Wednesday placing units around Solartown after having been told to just drop them off and the facility would do it. By Sunday, it was apparent some areas desperately needed more units, but by then, it was impossible to do anything about it, although the facility and the city moved a few around.

Removal took well into September. They started with city units, then a few of theirs needed for events the following weekend, followed by Buck’s Sanitary Service units needed at forest fires, the high-priced units, and the ones from Idaho by Sept. 5. Then, they started in on their own.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

The company provided 3,000 restroom services and pumped 38,000 gallons of shower water, circulating mostly through Solartown and the airport. Units at Solarfest were serviced once a day. Units in town barely got used. RVs were pumped only on Sunday. Cox set the price high to discourage requests, but even so, she did about 40.

Some team members logged 90 hours for the week. By Sunday, Cox was servicing restrooms along with the guys. “By midnight on Sunday, I just called it for safety reasons,” she says. “It was literally a sea of people, and we just could no longer move our trucks around. The units were full and the lines were a mile long, but we did what we could.” On Monday, the roads were jammed, so they just worked at Solartown.

The service trucks used were built out in-house and have tanks from unknown sources. They include a 1990 Ford F‑350 with a 400-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater aluminum tank, 1996 GMC 3500 with a 500-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank, 1999 Chevrolet T5500 with a 600-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater steel tank, 2003 Ford F‑350 with a 400-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank, and a 1998 Chevrolet T5500 with a 1,500-gallon steel tank. All use Jurop/Chandler or Conde (Westmoor Ltd.) pumps. They had expected to use their 2000 Isuzu with an 800-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater steel tank but the oil pump went out — a huge blow.

A highlight every day for the exhausted crew was lunch. Cox’s mother-in-law, Jane Cox, stocked her house with food and drinks. “Everyone had her number, so when they were ready for lunch, they’d text her what they wanted and she’d make it for them,” Cox says.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME

By no means did they get rich from this event, Cox reports, and in hindsight, she probably should have charged more but says they’re grateful for the income — and they got a lot of positive attention. One of her unplanned jobs was talking to media outlets, including Fox News. She talked to five before she had to stop returning calls. 

The company received many compliments, which really kept the guys going, she says. They took everyone to the Oregon coast over New Year’s as a thank-you gift. “We’re very grateful to them. We asked a lot of them, and they stuck it out and worked hard.” 

As for the eclipse, “I told everyone: ‘I don’t care how busy you are, just please stop and enjoy this moment,’” Cox says. “It was definitely just amazing.”



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