Cleaning Up the Competition

Sewer Equipment
Written by Nate Hendley

Sewer Equipment of Dixon, Illinois is cleaning up its market, so to speak. The firm, which designs and manufactures sewer cleaning and vacuum excavation equipment, celebrated its seventy-fifth-anniversary last year. The company prides itself on its customer-focused culture, blue-collar attitude and the design simplicity of its products. The growing firm continues to introduce new equipment, built to a decades-old ‘keep-it-simple’ standard.
“Sewer Equipment is a manufacturer of sewer equipment products for the municipal and contractor markets. We have a nationwide network of dealerships that sell and rent our equipment to the municipal market, as well as our own staff of sales managers that sell and rent our equipment to the industrial, plumbing, government and international markets … We offer the broadest line of sewer cleaning and vacuum excavation equipment of any manufacturer today, bar none,” says Marketing Manager Ashley Stuart.

Sewer Equipment has a variety of brands in its portfolio. Sewer Equipment Co. of America brand focuses on truck and trailer-mounted sewer jetters, combination sewer cleaners, easement machines, rodding machines and bucket machines and is considered the gold standard in the industry when it comes to quality equipment. Sewer jetters use high-pressure water jets to blast debris from pipes; bucket machines pull a tool or ‘bucket’ through a pipe from one access point to another; easement machines carry hose reels across easements without damage in order to access hard-to-reach manholes; and rodding machines utilize a mechanical rod attached to a tool that then moves through the sewer while rotating. RAMVAC brand specializes in vacuum excavation equipment, such as truck and trailer-mounted hydro excavators, as well as trailer-mounted catch basin cleaners. Mongoose Jetters makes high-pressure jetting equipment specifically designed for the plumbing contractor market.

From its very humble origins as a one-person company, “Sewer Equipment has grown dramatically over the years and continues to do so with its constant drive for ever better customer service and product innovation,” says Vice President of Operations John Wichmann.

In addition to sales, the company offers rental, rent-to-own and lease purchase financing options and deals in both new and used equipment. “Pre-owned equipment is an area of our business that has shown significant growth potential and to which we are very dedicated,” says Wichmann.

Customers who order equipment can either pick it up in person at one of Sewer Equipment’s locales, or the firm will make a delivery if so requested. The company has distribution points across the U.S.

Sewer Equipment sells parts and accessories for its products, as well as for competitive products. Other parts and accessories for sale include root saws, pumps, pipe plugs and nozzles as well as tools for manholes such as cover cushions, probing rods and hooks. You can find Sewer Equipment parts and accessories online at

Service support is another company specialty. Sewer Equipment has a team of field service technicians who will come to a client’s locale to assist in troubleshooting or perform repairs, as well as provide necessary service parts.

Besides being where the company is headquartered, Dixon is home to Sewer Equipment’s primary production facility. The firm also has satellite operations in Clinton, Iowa; Island Lake, Illinois; and Rockaway, New Jersey.

The firm frequently brings new products into the fold. Last year, for example, following significant research and development, the company launched the Model 900 ECO Combination Sewer Cleaner.

The Model 900 “is already becoming a staple in the industry, as it is very unique in comparison to what is offered traditionally in the marketplace. Our 900 ECO does not follow the rest of the industry, which has gone toward integrating the work module with the chassis and its inherent complexity, proprietary software and the diagnostic systems that go along with this. The 900 ECO utilizes tried and true basic 12-volt wiring practices that can be diagnosed with a test light and multimeter,” says Wichmann.

Other features include patented Duraprolene water tanks capable of holding up to two thousand gallons of water on board, ninety cubic feet of tool storage space, greater noise reduction and fuel efficiency and single-piston and triplex pump options.

Innovative products have been central to Sewer Equipment’s mission since the firm was founded in 1941. The company can trace its roots to a small garage belonging to one H.T. O’Brien, in Park Ridge, Illinois. O’Brien was tinkering when he attached a two-foot long piece of flexible cable to a hand drill. In the process, he invented a tool that safely and easily cleared his clogged sink. Inspired by this breakthrough, O’Brien built a line of these tools and began selling them to Chicago area hospitals, plumbers, hotels and restaurants—basically, anybody who had to deal with clogged sinks on a regular basis. And so, the Sewer Equipment company was born.

O’Brien continued to introduce new products including cable machines, jetting machines and root cutters. O’Brien retired in 1970, passing the company to his son, Jim O’Brien Sr., who also developed a series of cutting-edge sewer cleaning machines and products. At the time, the company built much of its machinery and equipment in the rural community of Chadwick, Illinois. Today, the firm is run by the founder’s grandson, Dan O’Brien and is based in Dixon. It remains a privately-owned, family business.

Then, as now, the company’s basic design concept was to keep things simple. The general idea was that machinery and equipment that was simple to use would be easier to maintain and require a shorter training period for operators. As a result, sewer cleaning companies could be more productive and boost profits.

“Sewer Equipment is a mid-sized, third generation family-owned business, and as such, takes a longer-term view of the market as compared to many of our corporately owned competitors. This size and heritage provide for a much more customer-centric culture in the way we do business,” states Wichmann. This focus has “always been part of our culture and always will be,” he adds.

With this in mind, the company wants certain traits in anyone it hires for a job. “We look for people with a ‘can-do’ attitude that can think on their feet and are not afraid to make mistakes. Much of our training is on the job, as we have a great staff of people already in place ready to help the new folks jump in and become immersed in their job and our culture,” he continues.

In a similar manner, the company prides itself on a down-to-earth corporate culture that frowns on putting on airs. “We are very much a blue collar, open door type of organization,” states Wichmann.

As a manufacturer, Sewer Equipment emphasizes both safety and quality in all its products. “Every piece of equipment is designed with the utmost safety considerations in mind. In addition to the designed-in elements, we also provide detailed manuals and training seminars to support our customers after the sale,” Wichmann notes.

The company sells safety equipment to customers as well. The selection includes hard hats, ear protection which is important for the noisy work environments sometimes associated with sewer cleaning and gas detectors—a vital tool for anyone poking around sewer systems.

Quality, for its part, is a given. “Excellent quality is no longer an option today but rather a requirement. Every step of our production process is evaluated with various verification parameters,” Wichmann says.

Sewer Equipment’s commitment to quality, safety and industry support is reflected by its affiliation with a wide range of organizations and associations related to its field. These include the American Public Works Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Waterjet Technology Association and Industrial & Municipal Cleaning Association.

“We have many advertising channels,” for promotion, Stuart says. “We have websites for all equipment brands under the Sewer Equipment umbrella: Sewer Equipment Co. of America, RAMVAC and Mongoose Jetters. Our websites not only showcase our equipment, but also provide specification information, 360 degree product views, application photos and much more. Our Sewershop website allows customers to purchase parts and accessories with ease and have them shipped directly to them from our facility. We exhibit at a large number of municipal, industrial and plumbing trade shows throughout the year at locations across the U.S. You can find individual Facebook pages for all of our brands and a Sewer Equipment twitter page. Our industry produces high quality publications as resources for operators and decision-makers, in which we advertise; however, more important, we are asked to participate in product spotlights and equipment editorials.”

As for the future, the company plans to retain the customer focus and spirit of innovation that has made it a success for decades running.

“Sewer Equipment will be doing whatever our customers ask of us five years or fifty years from now. We will grow and expand into related markets as our customers demand,” says Wichmann.



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