Sweet (?) smell of success

SPRUCE – Lynn Gillespie has been cleaning and renting out portable toilets for more than 16 years and knows how to handle not only the smells, but attitudes of people. Some turn up their noses when she tells them about her line of work.

At festivals, fairs, events and construction sites, Gillespie and her small crew are out daily, pumping out human waste and trucking it to a disposal site to prevent the spread of disease.

“Portable potties are raw sewage and that’s pretty rough,” the 53-year-old said. “But I get to where I don’t think about it. I just put my hose in and suck it up. I focus on getting the job done. That’s what you have to go through.”

With more than 200 sparkling units, Gallespie could be considered a porta-potty princess. But, she’s really the queen of clean. The units, new and old, are lined up in rows next to her family’s home north of Spruce, and there isn’t a hint of odor anywhere.

“I’ve got to make sure they are done right,” Gillespie said. “People need to feel comfortable. I want people to say, geez, these porta-potties are really clean.”

In a field dominated by men, Gillespie is a rarity in the business. In addition to renting out the portable toilets, Gillespie and husband, Richard, also clean out septic systems and do repairs.

“We’re like a utility,” she said.

Gillespie started young, working for her father, Bernard Abbott, who pumped out septic systems and portable toilets. Then in 1997, she launched Lynn Abbott Septic, offering tank services and 10 portable toilets for rent.

When she tells people what she does for a living, she usually gets a reaction.

“Even I wouldn’t do what I do,” she said. “It takes determination, I guess.”

One key is to be versatile, Gillespie said.

“You have to be able to deal with a lot of different people and a lot of different attitudes,” she said.

Gillespie also is on hand to clean the stalls at fairs, concerts and other events where hundreds of people need facilities.

“You never know where you are going,” she said. “You never know who you are going to meet.”

Winter is slow. December through February, she rents out 55 portable toilets, mostly to construction sites and farms. In June and July she and her husband are busy pumping out septic tanks, especially for summer residents.

The rest of the time, “there’s the damn phone,” Gillespie said. Her home office, separated from the rest of the house, has a bed next to the phone, so she or her husband can catch up on sleep between calls for service.

“It makes us money,” she said. “But by the end of August, I am so tired.”

In summer, she is often accompanied by her granddaughter, Jacklyn Bruske, a fifth-grader.

“She goes to work with me and she knows exactly when to hand me a spray bottle,” Gallespie said.

Her son, Tom Gallespie also helps out, while a third man does line repairs and installs lift pumps. Her daughter also has worked in the industry.

“This is our business. This is our retirement,” Gillespie said, hoping that other family will continue the business after her.

“If my mom won’t, I will,” her nine-year-old granddaughter said.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.