BILL Becker, president of Kentuckiana Tank Wash, took his lessons to heart when as a teenager he began his tank cleaning career in the mid-1970s scraping out set-up tanks.

Today, he and his wife, Karen, vice-president, own the Louisville, Kentucky, eight-acre, six-bay foodgrade and chemical cleaning facility and adjacent two-bay repair shop.

It was as a teenager that Becker started working at Tri-City Tank Wash for Al Luther, who many in the industry claim was one of the gurus in tank cleaning knowledge before his death a few years ago.

“From that point on, I've been pretty much full time in the tank cleaning business,” says Becker.

Another industry veteran, Mac Brosmer, also tutored the young Becker. As he learned the business, Becker was promoted to shift foreman, assistant manager, and manager at Luther's tank wash.

After Luther sold the cleaning facility, Becker remained for about four years, then he decided to move on. In 1987 he accepted an offer from Louisville Edible Oil to be a partner in a foodgrade tank cleaning facility that would be located in a six-story, former whiskey storage warehouse.

“My first reaction was no,” Becker says, having inspected the old building and doubting it could meet the tank cleaning facility requirements. “Then they worked on it, and I decided the thing just might work.”

The 27-year-old was named president and hired Scott Royalty, who eventually became general manager.

Retaining employees has not been a problem for the Beckers. Four of the men at the tank wash have been at the company for more than 10 years, another for 13 years, and one for 15 years.

With a work force firmly in place, the business showed promise. The closing in 1988 of the wash bay where Becker had begun his career was another boon for Kentuckiana. “We immediately got a big influx of business,” he said.

Two foodgrade bays were constructed, first dedicated to Louisville Edible Oil (now Golden Foods), and then expanded to commercial service. In 1989, Becker added two more bays and began offering chemical cleaning.

“Now that I was looking at chemicals and petroleum, I made the decision in 1990 to build two high-hazards product bays and asked Al to help me with the design,” he says.

By 1992, Becker had assumed 100 percent ownership of Kentuckiana, and was making plans to expand the cleaning operation and introduce a shop service. By 1994, the truck and trailer repair facility was in operation.

In 1996 Ed Barnette joined the team to handle marketing.

Eventually the facility would include two foodgrade, two chemical, and two high-hazard cleaning bays that typically handle about 30-35 tank cleanings per day. Kentuckiana provides a comfortable driver lounge containing a color television with movie channels, microwave oven, soda and snack vending machines, and showers.

The shop consists of two long bays with enough room to accommodate four tank trailers at a time. A mobile truck for on-road service also is available. The shop has about $25,000 in parts inventory on hand.

Foodgrade bays

When Becker first joined the new company, he oversaw two foodgrade cleaning bays for in-house use only. But it wasn't long before he added commercial services.

The foodgrade cleaning bays are equipped with an in-house designed system with three vats: 1,500 gallons for hot water, 500 gallons for cold water, and 500 gallons for detergent. Tri-Clover pumps and Sellers spinners also are part of the system.

Later, Becker used his cleaning knowledge garnered from Luther to install a kosher wash system in 2000 to serve foodgrade carriers in the Louisville area. Working with Tank Cleaning Consultants for the design, he chose Sellers spinners and a Sani-Matic Inc stainless steel system with three vats that hold 750 gallons (hot water), 750 gallons (cold water), and 750 gallons (detergent).

The kosher cycle includes a hot water prerinse with a sanitizer, then a 200-degree Fahrenheit hot water wash for 10 minutes. A blow dry completes the cycle. The kosher system piping and Fristam 30-horsepower pump are segregated from the others used in the foodgrade cleaning.

Producing steam is a 200-horsepower Cleaver Brooks boiler designed to provide not only steam for all of the wash bays, but heat for the wash and shop bays, and the offices. Blue Grass/Kesco supply the water softeners equipment and chemicals.

The two high-hazard bays designed with the input of Al Luther operate with Chemdet Fury spinners. Two Worthington 75-horsepower pumps and two Marlow 10-horsepower return pumps also are part of the system.

Six 750-gallon vats hold stripper, super striper, caustic, detergent, and hot and cold water. Blue Grass/Kesco supply water softeners and Montgomery Manufacturing Company supplies stripper. Other detergents and a a stripper-related product are supplied by George Lyon.

After the tanks are checked for heel, caustic or super strip is used for 20 minutes. Rinse water is then applied in two or three cycles for 30-35 seconds. When finished, the tanks are dried with an ambient air blower with enough power to change the air in the tank three times a minute.

The non-hazardous chemical wash bays contain three vats with 500-gallon capacity each for soap, hot and cold water. The blower used in these bays is equipped with a trap door to prevent hazmat vapors from entering the blower system. The trap door only opens when the blower is operating.

In handling the wastewater, Becker decided on using two in-house designed treatment plants. Foodgrade wastewater is pumped to the treatment area where it is contained in an 8,000-gallon holding tank. Oil rising to the top is skimmed off and placed in a holding tank until it and the solids, also caught in the holding tank, are removed by a rendering company. Treated wastewater is pumped into the municipal sewer after the pH is adjusted.

Wastewater from the chemical bays is pumped to another 8,000-gallon holding tank, then into an equalization tank where the pH is adjusted. Solids are skimmed off. A dissolved air flotation system helps bring oil to the top. Wastewater is returned to the sewer after sometimes receiving biological treatment, depending on the product.

Latex and slurry products are removed and placed in drums where they are treated separately.

Separating the wastewater systems in these ways may seem complicated and time-consuming, Becker says, but he believes the decision makes it easier to control the process and extends the life of the equipment, eventually contributing to the bottom line.

Another decision Becker made recently was to purchase MSA motion detectors for employees working in the wash and maintenance bays. The system beeps if it does not detect motion from the person in five seconds, again in 10 seconds and 15 seconds, and then a full alarm is sounded.

In another safety move, he also recently replaced all the safety equipment for employees, purchasing new harnesses, and respirators. Becker sees the updating precautions as just one more way to keep his employees safe.

Training plays a big role in the safety effort at Kentuckiana. Becker uses a cutaway tank trailer in part of the training process, including confined space entry, to give employees a first-hand view of the procedures.

“You don't ever just assume procedures are safe,” he says. “We spend three days explaining things, sometimes longer, or as long as it takes for employees in training to understand.”

Training includes Federal Drug Administration foodgrade compliance issues, chemical requirements, regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, as well as local laws.

“Training is time-consuming,” Becker says.

The Beckers commitment to safety has served the company well. That commitment, coupled with a sound foundation in the tank cleaning industry began when he was a teenager and learned from his mentor, Al Luther, bodes well for the future.

Part of that future includes the couple's two daughters, Kristy, 17, and Kelsey, 13. The girls are in the office on weekends and school holidays preparing information for special occasions or for business trips.

“They take an active role in helping us at Kentuckiana,” says Becker. “They do sacrifice a lot of their time for us.”

The daughters aren't shoveling heel from the bottom of tank trailers, but already they are following in their father's footsteps.