Flat-top vacuum tanks give Marcellus contractor’s portable restroom service vehicles added flexibility.

When things got crazy busy at natural gas drilling pads in the Marcellus Shale play, Steve Bishop – the owner of Bishop’s Fulltime Portables in Ulster, Pa. – started looking for a versatile vacuum truck that would provide more utility for servicing/transporting portable restrooms than the flatbed trucks with slide-in tanks he’d been using.

The answer: Vacuum trucks made by Crescent Tank Manufacturing. The trucks feature unique, rectangular-shaped vacuum tanks that serve as a truck bed, allowing Bishop to carry up to six portable restrooms at a time (four atop the tanks and two on a lift gate). Most portable restroom service trucks can only carry two restrooms at a time, usually on the tailgate.

“The slide-in units [with 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater tanks] on flatbeds worked fine until we got real busy,” Bishop recalls. “I didn’t know what I was getting into … with 300-gallon waste tanks, we started to reach capacity pretty quickly and I found we were making two or three trips a day back and forth to locations.”

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Today, Bishop’s owns seven restroom service trucks: a 2006 International 4200, a 2006 GMC 5500, a 2006 Chevrolet 6500, a 2009 Isuzu NRR and three 2011 Ford F-550s. They’re equipped with steel Crescent vacuum tanks that range in size from 650 to 850 gallons for waste and 350 to 500 gallons for freshwater, as well as pumps made by Masport Inc.

The trucks’ biggest advantage is their ability to carry more than just two restrooms. The restrooms stand upright and stay that way, thanks to the trucks’ low center of gravity, Bishop notes.

“A lot of fracking sites have anywhere from eight to 12 restrooms at one location,” he explains. “If a customer wants to pull, say, three units off a location, I can put them on the deck, strap them down and continue on my route. And if someone calls along the way and needs a couple restrooms at a different location – which happens more often than you might think – I can deliver those three on the truck, as long as they’re clean enough to reset.

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“Without the Crescent trucks, I’d have to send a separate truck and trailer from our yard to deliver more restrooms. So the larger hauling capacity saves us an extra trip. Cost-wise, it adds up. If you’re always sending someone to a drilling site where you just had a driver, it’s a pretty substantial expense in the long run, with the high cost of fuel and labor.”

Moreover, in the fast-moving world of gas fracking, providing fast, efficient service can differentiate Bishop’s from other contractors who lack the extra carrying capacity. Sure, it sets the customer-service bar high when you consistently deliver same-day service to vendors again and again. But with the Crescent trucks, Bishop is confident he can deliver the goods. In fact, two of the trucks – the International and the GMC – can hold up to eight restrooms, providing even more flexibility.

Moreover, the trucks feature lift gates, so they’re easier for drivers to load and reduce the risk of injury. In addition, the trucks are easier to maneuver around drilling sites than a truck and trailer, which Bishop would have to use if he didn’t have the extra carrying capacity provided by the Crescent trucks.

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In conjunction with the restroom business, Bishop also operates a hardware store that rents equipment and tools, and a mini-mart gas station. As such, the flat-top tanks also allow him to make deliveries for hardware-store customers, adding to their utility.

“We can carry anything on pallets – it’s essentially a flatbed truck,” he says.

One thing is certain: Bishop won’t buy any other kind of vacuum truck.

“After I got the first one and saw how versatile it was, and found all the different things it allows us to do, I just kept buying them,” he says. “For the amount of restrooms we were moving – easily 30 units a day between all six drivers at the peak of activity – I just couldn’t imagine doing it with a truck and a trailer. It was like a giant chess match … and we couldn’t do that amount of shuffling without these trucks.”

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