West Virginia wastewater hauler Crosier’s Inc. relies on heavy-duty trucks to serve coal-mining customers.
There’s no easy way to service portable restrooms in and haul gray and black wastewater from mines in West Virginia’s rugged, mountainous coalfields. But Ron Crosier — the owner of Crosier’s Inc. in Lansing — finds he can boost productivity and efficiency with a fleet of equipment built on a very basic premise: Bigger is better. Much better.
The owner of the well-diversified, waste-disposal services company says his drivers routinely encounter seven- or eight-mile-long stretches of interstate highways with 7 percent grades, and haul roads in coal mines with up to 15 percent grades. Mine roads are incredibly dusty in summer and axle-deep mud is common in winter.
"In summer, truck air filters clog very quickly — the dust gets everywhere, inside toolboxes and your truck cabs," says Crosier. "And the mud is very detrimental to bearings, seals and tie-rods ... it all takes a huge toll on trucks."
Moreover, mine properties are so big it might take four to six hours to service all the restrooms at just one mine, traveling on roads that traverse bone-jarring, barren terrain that Crosier compares to the surface of the moon. Worse yet, the mine roads get rerouted — sometimes on a monthly basis — forcing drivers to constantly relearn routes.
In addition, drivers often find themselves driving alongside massive mining haul trucks with tires that stand taller than their vacuum trucks. The grueling conditions result in higher insurance payments, and mines require Crosier's drivers to attend an annual eight-hour course that certifies they're trained to drive safely on mine property.
All of Crosier's restroom-route drivers also must obtain commercial driver's licenses in order to legally drive the large, heavy-duty trucks. That benefits the company by minimizing the chances for accidents and reducing truck-maintenance costs "because guys know how to drive them properly," says Crosier, who bought the business in 1995 from his father, John, who founded it in 1964.
To handle the extreme driving conditions, the company – which also cleans grease traps, then treats the grease and resells the resulting brown grease — buys pre-owned, heavy-duty, single-axle semi-tractor trucks with rust-free aluminum-and-fiberglass cabs. The tractor chassis then receive a customized, three-foot extension to allow for correct weight distribution of the heavy loads.
Crosier's installs tanks bought from Satellite Industries and pumps from Masport Inc., says Crosier, a former engineer who graduated from the West Virginia Institute of Technology in 1986 and later earned a master's degree in business administration from Marshall University.
"We buy trucks with 200,000 or so miles on them because the engine and cab will last until about 800,000 miles," says Crosier. "The trucks also have 35,000-pound gross vehicle weights, as opposed to 26,000 pounds for a typical restroom service truck.
"We'll put 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year on the engine," he adds. "The transmissions in these trucks are huge and hold up to abuse. We can't get that length of service out of a typical portable restroom truck."
To minimize downtime from the wear and tear, Crosier's employs two full-time mechanics. It's a necessity, because the closest dealership shop is 40 miles away. "We'd either have to tow a truck a considerable distance, or drive it there, then transport the driver back to our shop – not very efficient," he points out.
On the restroom side of the business, Crosier's owns about 1,500 restrooms, mostly manufactured by Satellite Industries (about half are deployed at coal mines and the rest are used at construction sites and special events); and roughly 30 hand-wash stations, made by PolyPortables Inc.
The company also owns three 2000 International 9100s with 2,000-gallon aluminum tanks, made by Amthor International; a 1998 Peterbilt 385 with a 2,000-gallon, stainless steel tank made by Dyna-Vac Equipment; two 2007 International 4900s, one with a 2,000-gallon aluminum tank made by Progress Vactruck and one with a 1,000-gallon, stainless steel Dyna-Vac tank; and two 2003 GMC 4500 flatbed delivery trucks.
Stricter environmental regulations for wastewater discharge, enacted during recent years, created additional service opportunities for hauling graywater from on-site bath and shower houses. For some mines, it's impractical to install small waste treatment plants; they're not only expensive, but they're permanent facilities, which aren't a good fit within mining operations that move around, depending on permits, the price of coal and other factors.
"So it's often cheaper to haul it than to treat it," Crosier explains. "It was a logical extension of our existing services. The mines needed companies with vac trucks and sewage-hauling permits, and there we were."
When mines do build small, "package" treatment centers, Crosier's sometimes obtains contracts to haul away the sludge that remains after treatment, clean filters, add chlorine and dechlorination products, make sure alarms work, and check for effluent cleanliness.
To haul graywater from mining bath and shower houses, the company relies on a 2006 International 5900, outfitted with a 4,800-gallon steel tank, built by Imperial Industries Inc., and a Masport pump; and two 2007 Sterling 9500s with 4,800-gallon steel tanks made by Imperial with a Masport blower.
Crosier's also cleans large, aboveground tanks at coal preparation plants. The plants use flocculants to treat contaminated water, a byproduct of the coal-cleaning process.
"The flocculants clean coal dust from the water so it can be re-used," Crosier notes. "But flocculants have a limited life because they gel. So we periodically clean out the flocculants. It's a long, arduous process to clean 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of flocculants that are solidified like Jell-O.
"We have to set up confined-space equipment ... so our guys can physically get into the tanks and squeegee them clean with kerosene to remove flocculants," he continues. "We also must use trucks with high vacuum power. We need to move 1,500 to 2,000 cfm to drag this stuff through the lines, so we use powerful blowers instead of traditional vacuum pumps.
"Anything that touches it — hoses, clothes, boots — gets thrown away at the end of the day because it's ruined," he adds. "We might clean only one flocculant tank a month, but it might take several days to do it."
To clean the tanks, Crosier's crews use a 1998 Sterling 9500 with a 4,800-gallon mild steel tank, made by Imperial, and a National Vacuum Equipment Inc. blower that generates 1,500 cfm.
Treatment plant plans
To handle the roughly 100,000 gallons of gray and black water the company hauls each month, Crosier's is investing more than $500,000 in an on-site, sewage treatment plant. It will be capable of handling 30,000 gallons a day and will produce water that nearly meets drinking-water standards, which will allow for less expensive surface discharge, Crosier says.
Until now, the company relied mostly on public waste treatment facilities combined with land application on rented land. But the hassles of obtaining approval permits and educating the public about the benefits of land application have made on-site treatment more attractive, even though it's more expensive to build a treatment plant, he notes.
"We will spend more than we do on land application," he says. "But there's so much tied up in the permitting process and so much time devoted to dealing with the public that it's not worthwhile, even though from an environmental perspective, land application is the way to go.
"We've basically given up trying to educate people about it ... plus, it seems like we're always in a position where we're looking for the next farm we can use, and the next farm, and so on," Crosier says.
The company has about 600 acres permitted right now for land application, and spreads about a million gallons annually. But Crosier says frequent complaints about truck traffic or concerns about well water quality explain his preference for an in-house treatment plant.
Pumped about service
It's interesting to note that Crosier left a corporate job years ago, trading in the perks that come with being a structural engineer for the challenges presented by portable
restrooms, grease traps, and sewage and septic waste. And in 17 years, he increased the company's annual gross revenue to about $2 million from $225,000.
"I had a nice office with a wonderful view and a great staff," he says of his old job. "When I told my co-workers what I intended to do, they thought I was nuts. They couldn't understand why someone would leave that sort of work and a comfortable office to do this sort of work.
"But they don't realize that when someone in this business needs you, they really need you," he continues. "And when you fix their problems, they're genuinely grateful that you're there, doing what you do. I didn't get that kind of gratification working in an office."