Portable Restroom Company Finds Its Sweet Spot With Rural Routes

Learn how Canada’s Go Services manages the challenges of rural oil field routes

Portable Restroom Company Finds Its Sweet Spot With Rural Routes

Members of the Go Services night crew roll out in weather that's 40 degrees below zero.

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Being a portable restroom provider and septic pumper in Alberta is no joke. It’s a tough gig. Winter isn’t just cold in Alberta. It’s freezing. Negative 20 to negative 30 degrees freezing. That’s cold enough to not just freeze diesel fuel, but valves on trucks as well.

For Dustin Cabelka, co-owner of Go Services in Red Deer and Fort McMurray, Alberta, it’s just another winter’s day in the frosty tundra — where 95 percent of their work this time of year is servicing oil fields and construction on new oil pipelines.

The company services an all-rural area, with two operations located seven hours apart (Alberta is located north of the U.S. border in Montana). Between the two sites, they own about 800 PolyJohn portable restrooms, have 18 trucks and 27 employees.

But with such a vast service area and subzero temperatures, how does a company navigate these challenges?

“You bid jobs appropriately knowing there are ever-changing circumstances,” says Cabelka, adding that additional charges may be necessary since they are traveling so far between stops. “Every delivery is a charge; every pickup is a charge.” Extra mileage is put on so those charges help cover that. Customers have trailer units far away, and they will pay extra for servicing, Cabelka says.

Keep it old school

And while route planning software can be a lifesaver for some operators, Cabelka says their routing is done the old-fashioned way — with spreadsheets.

“We haven’t found anything to help us with the rural stuff,” he says. “There is no software that has helped us. We move around so much; these pipelines keep moving. Things change every day.”

For example, Cabelka notes, he may have 500 units out in rural areas but only about 40 in the city. The majority of his work is on pipeline construction, where work and units are constantly moved. “We follow the trucks on GPS, but we just do [all routing] by directions on spreadsheets.”

Well-oiled machinery

Portable Restroom Company Finds Its Sweet Spot With Rural Routes

A Go Services truck drives through a plant in weather that is 40 degrees below zero.

Portable Restroom Company Finds Its Sweet Spot With Rural Routes

A Go Services truck on a rural route last fall.

Add ever-changing routes to the ever-freezing temperatures, and Cabelka’s crews need to be prepared for anything. That includes increased truck maintenance; their main office in Red Deer has a maintenance man in house.

Having newer trucks is key to keeping the fleet — all Dodges and Peterbilts — running well. One of the oldest trucks is a 2011, while 10 of their trucks are 2014 and newer. With the rough roads and weather, trucks, and especially tires, don’t last. “Tires are the bane of my existence,” Cabelka says.

When the weather is severe, especially in remote rural camps, “the trucks have almost been running for two months,” Cabelka says, when they are running crews 24/7. There are extremely remote drilling rigs in the bush area, along with supervisor shacks, “so our guys go out and pump the tanks and move the tanks to the new site,” he says, leaving trucks running continually.

Invest in and vet staff

In addition to the challenges of harsh terrain, long routes and extreme cold, Cabelka’s drivers also have to comply with special clearances needed to service pipeline and oil field sites.

Cabelka says operators need to “get ticketed” to go on the sites, and each site has their own specialized orientation for the plants. “It takes me three weeks to get someone trained,” says Cabelka, noting that it is an added expense to get those clearances. “Once [clients] know we have the training, they don’t want to find another contractor.”

It’s a job Cabelka takes seriously, since, he notes, “a lot of our portable toilet competition won’t ticket their guys.”

This winter, Cabelka says he has close to 600 units out, many serving the oil fields.

“That’s pretty much what we’re built on right now,” he says. “It is what it is, and we make it work.”


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