Paul Cooley Taps Into His Ancestral Roots While Serving a Celtic Celebration

Iowa Irish Fest mixes work and fun for the crew at Cooley Pumping.

Paul Cooley Taps Into His Ancestral Roots While Serving a Celtic Celebration

Paul Cooley improvised baby-changing units by adding a table to a PolyJohn handicap unit. The two family-friendly restrooms were well-used; Iowa Irish Fest attendees utilize a U-shaped bank of restroom with central hand-wash stations, all products from PolyJohn

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Though his surname is Irish, Paul Cooley didn’t know about many ancestral traditions until his company began providing portable restrooms for the Iowa Irish Fest in 2014. While servicing restrooms, he and his team watch parts of the Highland games such as the stone put (throwing large rocks like a shot put) and the sheaf toss (throwing a bag of straw with a pitchfork over a raised bar).

“A lot of the employees like working at it,” says Cooley, who owns Cooley Pumping/Paul’s Potties along with his wife, Deb Cooley. Though the wide range of activities are an interesting diversion, it’s the focus on quality services that has earned their business the contract for the event for the past five years.

Three crews of teams of two provided restrooms and services at the annual Iowa Irish Fest, Aug. 3-5 in Waterloo, proving that they could handle all the challenges of an event that grows every year.


“My grandfather, Francis Hopkins, started the pumping business,” Paul Cooley says, more than 50 years ago. When Cooley purchased the business in 1993, there was only one small vacuum truck. He added trucks, expanded services, and added Paul’s Potties, a portable restroom division in 2000.

“We bought 16 units the night before Y2K from PolyJohn to rent out for small functions,” he recalls. But that number grew quickly to 140 when a seed corn company approached Cooley about providing 125 restrooms for fieldworkers. Currently the company has just over 1,000 restrooms, including handicap units, and 60 hand-wash sinks from PolyJohn.

With the expansion of other services including drainline cleaning/jetting, recycling and roll-off containers, the original truck has grown into a fleet of four Ford F-550s and five Ford F-350s.

The Cooleys have 15 full-time and five seasonal employees who are cross-trained to cover all areas and fill in when large events such as the Iowa Irish Fest occur. The main shop is in Morrison, with a satellite shop in Reinbeck.


Iowa Irish Fest ( started when the owner of the Jameson’s Public House & Restaurant Irish pub building invited family and the public to a party. That was in 2007, and about 1,000 people attended. This year, in its 12th year, the volunteer committee planned for 40,000, says Chad Shipman, fest director. The “party” has expanded to fencing off seven city blocks, six stages with 24 musical acts including top Celtic performers from around the world, rugby and soccer tournaments, Highland games and sheep-herding demonstrations, free kid-friendly activities, and Sunday Mass with donated canned goods going to the local food bank.

“We say, bring the kids during the day and get a sitter at night,” Shipman says, noting the festival has five beer gardens and whiskey-tasting events.

With the focus on creating a gated premier event, quality sanitation is important, he adds, and Cooley Pumping has been a trusted partner. “We work with Paul throughout the year on quantity and walk through the park to plan spacing for getting the trucks in,” Shipman says. “He’s very personable and has good equipment. His bathrooms are nice.”

While Cooley has provides the restrooms and servicing, the festival also contracts with a business to continually clean the restrooms and hand-wash stations throughout the event. It’s an important part of preserving a good reputation, especially when temperatures can soar into the 90s and keeping restrooms fresh can be a challenge.


With growing attendance at Iowa Irish Fest, organizers increased the number of restrooms for the 2018 event. Cooley Pumping provided 80 standard PolyJohn restrooms, 12 handicap PolyJohn units and 41 PolyJohn hand-wash stations. Because of the event’s family-friendly emphasis, they also used two of the handicap units to create baby-changing/nursing stations. Cooley says he heard a few positive comments about the additions to the Kid Zone of the event. The number of diapers in the trash indicated the two units were well-used.

Cooley has also provided four roll-off containers from Poynette Ironworks for trash collection.

Working with organizers and following a map, restrooms were set up in eight areas, and hand-wash stations were located near the beer tents and vendor areas.

To handle the extra units, Cooley added a third truck, each with two employees. The 2016 and 2018 F-550 trucks with 775-gallon wastewater and 400-gallon freshwater aluminum Imperial Industries tanks and Masport pumps maneuvered well through the crowded area sectioned off for the festival.

“With three trucks, we were able to divide and conquer to get done faster,” Cooley says.


Setup began Thursday, the day before the festival started. Using a variety of Tow Boy trailers holding 10 to 20 restrooms, employees made the 25-mile trip from the Morrison shop to deliver and set up.

Weather cooperated this year, but Cooley recalls the year a strong wind came up and toppled about 16 restrooms and wash stations in one section. Fortunately it occurred on the Thursday before the event and workers were able to reset them right away.

Though maneuvering through the crowded area is challenging, festival attendees are generally accommodating, Cooley says. Servicing is scheduled for the least busy times, Saturday around 6 a.m. and again from 3-4 p.m., and then early Sunday morning. Those times avoid the busiest periods when Celtic bands perform and activities are in full swing. In addition to pumping and cleaning the restrooms, employees make sure units are stocked with Green Way Products by PolyPortables restroom deodorizers to keep units fresh during the hot days of August.

One of the roll-offs was exchanged Saturday morning, and it took a couple of trucks to haul water to keep the hand-wash stations full.


Cleanup started early Monday when employees hauled trailers to Waterloo to load the restrooms and hand-wash stations and remove the roll-off containers. The Cooley Pumping team had everything back at its Morrison shop by noon. Cooley was pleased with how well everything ran with an extra truck this year. “It made it a lot smoother, and we were in and out quicker,” he says. “It’s a very well-attended event that brings in a lot of people. Everyone has a good time. I’m sure we’ll do it again.” 


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