Former Ambulance Converted to Valuable Plumbing Tool

A used ambulance combines with a custom water jetter configuration to give an Iowa plumber a vehicle that can efficiently respond to any drain cleaning emergency

Former Ambulance Converted to Valuable Plumbing Tool

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As a plumber and drain cleaner in rural north-central Iowa, Kent Morton — the owner of Mort’s Water Co. — tries to offer customers as many services as possible. He also tries to minimize the amount of time he spends traveling among jobs, so it’s only fitting that he invested in a jetting truck that’s as versatile as his business.

About eight years ago, Morton bought a used ambulance for about $15,000.

“We were looking for an insulated and heated truck so we could jet lines in winter,” says Morton, a master plumber who established his company in Latimer, about 85 miles north of Des Moines, in 1999. “It also had to be heavy enough to carry a jetter and a water tank; and at 20,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight, it fit our needs.

“The ambulance has worked out well for us. It has a lot of compartments, so it’s kind of a shop on wheels. It’s equipped to fix almost anything drain-related. Sometimes we’re traveling 25 or 30 miles one-way for service calls, so we want to take everything we need with us without having to double back.”

The truck has a custom configuration developed by Cam Spray, featuring a skid-mounted water jetter, a 150-gallon water tank, a power-rewind hose reel that holds 250 feet of 3/8-inch-diameter hose, and a pump that delivers pressure of 4,000 psi and flow of up to 7 gpm. The company primarily uses Warthog nozzles from StoneAge.

Morton didn’t want a large water tank to occupy valuable floor space, so Cam Spray found a rectangular-shaped water tank (about 2 feet wide, 2 feet tall and 6 feet long) and mounted it on a raised ledge once occupied by a bench seat along the driver’s side of the truck. The jetter fills up the entire rear half of the truck, so technicians use a side door for access to augers, cameras and plumbing parts located adjacent to the tank, Morton says. The truck enables technicians to do an average jetting job anywhere from 25 to 30 percent faster.

“It’s so slick — we just pull up, open the doors and go to town,” he says. “There’s no setup involved. We can just get after it. And if we spend less time on jobs, we can do more drains per day. And more jobs generate more dollars.”

Morton also touts the jetter’s reliability. 

“It’s pretty bulletproof,” he says. “We’ve had no mechanical problems — and we use it a lot.”

In addition, the company also owns a Cam Spray trailer jetter (15 gpm at 3,000 psi) with 400 feet of 1/2-inch-diameter hose and a 325-gallon water tank; the ambulance can tow the trailer when needed. The trailer jetter is used for jobs that require longer hose runs, like the time the company had to unblock a frozen, 600-foot-long milking parlor drainline on a large dairy farm.

“We used the trailer jetter and a 200-foot spool of extra hose,” he says.

The ambulance is used mostly to clean 4-inch sewer lateral lines and light-commercial drainlines up to 6 inches in diameter.

“Between the trailer and the ambulance, we can handle just about anything,” Morton says. “We went into drain cleaning with the idea that we could do 100 percent of every facet of a job, and that’s what helped us build our business.”

While not the norm, it’s also not unusual for an old ambulance to find a second life as a plumbing service vehicle. Check out this article from the February 2017 issue that looks at how Mike Farias of Dixon, California, built his business — and his branding strategy — entirely around a fleet of converted ambulances.


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