Once you get past smell, port-a-potty pumpers say job not so bad
Admittedly, it’s not the job anyone dreams of topping their resume. But on this Labor Day holiday weekend, those affluent in influents and effluents say picking up garbage and pumping port-a-potties provides a steady livelihood that isn’t subject to the vagaries of the economy.
“Everybody says I have a crappy job,” port-a-potty pumper Troy Quicke said last week in between servicing some of the 50 stand-alone portable toilets he pumps on an average day. “I drive a turd hearse.”
Quicke’s employer, Rapid City-based Kieffer Sanitation, retrieves garbage and pumps thousands of port-a-potties, vaulted toilets, septic systems and recreational vehicles from Belle Fourche to Wall, covering a large section of western South Dakota. And Kieffer’s 65 employees, who average $17 to $21 per hour, never have to worry about their jobs vanishing, said District Manager Casey Bulyca.
“Our guys do a good job, and garbage is never going away — it’s incredible consistent,” Bulyca said. “There is nothing glorious about what we do, but it’s a good job with a fair wage and something we are proud of.
“Everybody makes jokes about garbage, but imagine if every garbage man quit picking up garbage tomorrow,” Bulyca wondered. “In a week or two it would be a health crisis.”
Quicke, 46, previously worked at a series of jobs before joining Kieffer Sanitation a year ago. Those positions included serving as a district manager of convenience stores and as a Pizza Hut general manager, working as a corrections officer and dispatcher for a Nebraska sheriff’s office, a stint with Habitat for Humanity and owning his own car lot in Hot Springs for four years.
The married father of five admitted he never considered life as a port-a-potty pumper until he acquired a commercial driver’s license and later saw the position advertised with Kieffer Sanitation. And he said the $5,000 sign-on bonus erased any reservations he may have had.
“I never thought it was something I would do, but it’s a good job,” Quicke said as he made his Rapid City rounds. “The company takes care of its employees, it’s just a good place to work and the management is fantastic. They buy us drinks and lunch, and they are concerned for our safety. With exception of the Sturgis rally, it’s usually a Monday through Friday job with good benefits and good pay.”
Despite the job’s advantages, Quicke and Bulyca recognize that their line of work isn’t right for everyone.
“Getting over the smell of garbage and port-a-potties is tough for some people,” said Bulyca, who has worked in the industry for more than seven years. “But once most guys get in the business, garbage gets in their blood, the job kind of grows on them, and they tend to stick around.”
Quicke agreed and said that, although he’s seen “some disgusting stuff,” particularly when wind storms have rolled a port-a-potty he’s set to service, he’ll keep adding to the estimated 12,500 portable toilets he’d pumped over the past year.
“When you first turn on the pump it stinks pretty bad, but you get used to it,” he said. “It’s not a job for everybody, that’s for sure. Fortunately, I don’t have a weak stomach, so it’s probably the right job for me.”
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