Clay Lincoln Overcomes Obstacles to Find Success With Linkon Logs Portables and Event Services

Iowa farmer, firefighter and restroom operator faces down a devastating Missouri River flood to provide needed services for his community

Clay Lincoln Overcomes Obstacles to Find Success With Linkon Logs Portables and Event Services

The Linkon Logs Portables and Event Services team includes, from left, Dennis, Clay, Preston and Collin Lincoln. They are shown with an enclosed Big Horn trailer used for restroom delivery.

Firefighter, farmer and campground owner Clay Lincoln hadn’t thought about adding another career, one in portable sanitation, until his restroom provider ended the business relationship to pursue another venture. With 120 campsites along the Missouri River near Pacific Junction, Iowa, in 2016, the PRO convinced Lincoln that a $12,000 slide-in unit to service his own campground would pay for itself within a year.

For his business, Linkon Logs Portables and Event Services, Lincoln recalls, “I also bought 18 portables and did the campground, school and parks.” In the second year, he added servicing two more campgrounds and purchased 16 Satellite | PolyPortables Maxims and a Satellite Suites Selfie trailer to service events such as the Taco Fest and Memorial Park fireworks show.

“I had a great second year. And going into my third year, my goal was to get a built truck,” he says. After shopping for a truck with specific options he wanted, he purchased a 2014 Ford F-550 from FlowMark Vacuum Trucks with a Masport pump, 900-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater aluminum tank, and dual-side service — perfect for working with campers and restrooms.

“Many of the campgrounds need the RVs pumped out along with portable restroom services. Many times guests of the campgrounds will use the portables, while RV owners need the blackwater and graywater dumped on a regular basis,” Lincoln says. “Linkon Logs services seven campgrounds in the area, and it provides a great opportunity for extra revenue.”

“This truck has saved me,” he says, referring to how useful it became in the spring of 2019 when severe flooding in the region affected his campground, business property and father’s home. 

EXPLORE FIVE ISSUES THAT AFFECT CLAY LINCOLN AND LINKON LOGS PORTABLES AND EVENT SERVICES

1. SURVIVING FLOODS, SERVING IN A TIME OF NEED

Living along the Missouri River, the Lincoln family has learned how to deal with minor flooding that occurs, but March 16, 2019, was the worst they had seen since 2011. In 1997, Lincoln’s father, Dennis, farmed 1,500 acres and started a campground, Riverview Acres, on the land along the river that he couldn’t farm. Lincoln took over the farm and campground in 2010 when Dennis was going through cancer treatments.

Because the 2018-19 winter was so brutal, many of the owners had moved their campers out of the campground. In March, when snow turned to rain, the floods hit. The campground and his father’s home with the shop buildings where Lincoln kept his portable restrooms and equipment were the most vulnerable. With the help of fellow firefighters, Lincoln moved his father and stepmother out of their home. Lincoln moved his restroom inventory to his home on high ground near Glenwood. His campground manager used a skid-steer to pull out most of the campers that were left. Only about 10 campers in the muddiest areas were lost in the flood.

At first, the water flowed over the levee. Later the levee broke in several places. It submerged the campground and filled Lincoln’s two shops, rising 14 feet above ground level. When the water receded, the family started cleanup on the house and shops, and they hosted Vice President Mike Pence on his tour of the region, raising awareness for a disaster relief bill.

“Shortly after, it reflooded and made us realize we can’t fix anything until the levees are fixed,” Lincoln says. The campground closed for the 2019 season, and he wasn’t able to plant any crops.

However, the flood created demand for portable restrooms at schools and government facilities. The city of Glenwood lost its water plant, and the schools were shipping in water to flush toilets. At the school district’s request, Lincoln and two other providers brought in 80 units and hand-wash stations to service four schools. Lincoln also set up units for several government facilities, including the courthouse and City Hall.

Having just purchased a truck, Lincoln hadn’t planned to buy restrooms, but he bought 44 Satellite | PolyPortables Maxims to meet the demand.

“It hindered cash flow, but I expect twice the growth of income from the year before and it’ll benefit me in two or three years,” he says, noting that because of farming, he understands how income ebbs and flows each year.


2. JUGGLING CAREERS, HELPING HANDS

“Very seldom do I worry about downtime,” says Lincoln with a laugh regarding his busy schedule. He credits his career as a firefighter for having the opportunity to operate a portable restroom business. Firefighter work schedules are typically 24 hours long. Most work every other day for eight to 10 days before getting a string of four or five consecutive days off. The consecutive days off allow many firefighters to stay at home with young children or pursue other side jobs. Health insurance initially attracted him to firefighting in 2007 after attending college, running a gas station, café and motel, and being a nursing home operator.

He loves his job as a firefighter and appreciates the opportunity it gives him to farm and run the campground and restroom businesses. Farming and campground skills help with the business, and his business management degree provides an outline for understanding economics.

“But honestly, I think it’s just about hitting the ground running. You deal with things as they pop up,” Lincoln says. He has also been surprised how helpful vendors and other portable restroom operators have been as he learned the business. “I’ve never been in a business where people help each other so much.”

Working with his firefighting schedule, he sets up routes in different directions so he can service all the restrooms within seven days. For more frequent jobs, such as the 10 restrooms at a grain plant that need servicing every other day, he relies on his sons and their friends.

3. WORKING WITH A YOUNG LABOR POOL

With business growth and a demanding schedule, Lincoln is at a point where he needs a full-time employee. But because he couldn’t farm and didn’t have a campground to run in 2019, he continued with what worked in the past: teen helpers and creative scheduling. “I would never have imagined that boys 16 to 18 would line up (for this work). It’s the ‘throwing hay bales’ of this era,” Lincoln says, comparing restroom work to a traditional summer farm job.

The job appeals to youth because, instead of working full time for minimum wage, the teens work part time at $15 per hour and have a flexible schedule to participate in summer sports and events. Lincoln’s oldest son, Preston Lincoln, 18, delivers and services restrooms, helps with routes and even handles some sales. Younger son Collin, 15, helps set up restrooms and also cleans, stocks and power-washes units; and his daughter, Hallee, 14, also power-washes restrooms, cleans the trailer and helps with billing. Lincoln’s wife, Brooke, owns a salon and keeps the family schedules in line.

The teen crew is available during the busiest part of the year when Lincoln may have three or four events on a weekend. He works on his days off, and the teens cover the rest.

Just because his crew is young doesn’t mean he expects less from them. “The seed is planted, and I see that Preston understands the business is successful because we clean a little better than the other guy,” Lincoln says, and Preston passes that on to the rest of the crew. “They become more responsible. They may not run a business, but they learn that doing the little things will help you succeed.”

4. BUSINESS CONDUCTED THE “SMALL-TOWN” WAY

There may not be a large population with lots of markets to serve, but living in a rural area has some benefits. If you do a job well, word tends to get around and new clients come to you. Early on, a local construction company owner gave him the opportunity to provide restrooms for crews. The framers and electricians “sang my praises,” Lincoln says, because he kept the restrooms clean. “Now I have almost all his business.”

He currently services four communities in a 45-minute radius including construction, golf courses, weddings and events. Small-town customers tend to be loyal if you provide good service and follow through with what you say you will do, he says. “I try to provide construction rental services the same as we do for a wedding party. It’s all just service. The challenge for me is: How far do I travel before I just break even? Is it worth going 45 miles for two restrooms?”

5. INVESTING FOR THE FUTURE

Every investment Lincoln makes improves efficiency or helps meet customer demand. In addition to the newly purchased truck, Lincoln has an enclosed Big Horn trailer that carries up to seven restrooms. Besides making the transportation of restrooms safer and easier, the trailer is a moving billboard, stickered with his business’ logo and phone number for advertising. An F.M. Mfg. restroom mover makes it easier for him and his young crew to maneuver units on location.

In addition to about 80 Satellite | PolyPortables restrooms, Lincoln added a two-station Selfie trailer to his inventory to offer a trailer unit for weddings and corporate events.

Lincoln plans to run Linkon Logs full time (along with farming and operating the campground) in 2027 when he retires as a firefighter. Prior to that, he hopes to find the right person to work full time in addition to his part-time crew. “They are great labor, and I think it’s really good for the kids to experience real work. It brings out a lot of character, and they learn to work with people,” he 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.