Best Part of the Job is When Customers are
Happy and Everyone Keeps Rolling

Consistently across the board that is what every tank wash employee in this interview says when asked, “What’s your favorite part of the job?” Enjoy these scenes and stories from conversations with the following three tank wash experts:

  • Chattanooga, TN – all four tank wash employees have 20+ years
  • LaPorte, TX – Walt, 17+ years
  • Florence, KY – Mike, 20+ years


Spinner [industry lingo] is the term for rotary jet spray nozzle machines that are lowered into the tanks and spray water in all directions; it makes the inside of the tank become similar to a dishwasher.

When tank washing first began, the most basic method of tank cleaning was the fill and drain method; simply fill up the tank and let the water drain out. Then came the spray ball method. Nowadays, the predominant tank wash method is the spinner.
GAMAJET/Sellers is the brand of spinners used by Highway Transport Chemical.

Highway Transport Croydon Tank Wash

above: scene from Highway Transport Croydon Tank Wash

Equipment We Use: RAE monitor to sample the air quality of the trailer. The RAE monitor is worn on the person while they are inside the tanker trailer.

Going in the Tank: As long as you follow the safety procedures, it is fine for a person to be in the tank. We are required to have annual confined space re-certifications. When the customer tells us a trailer is required to be “bare metal clean” you have to go in and inspect the inside of the tank. We get 3 or 4 tanks per day where you have to do a bare metal clean.

Busiest Day of the Week?: Busiest days are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Basically its just busy.

Your Main Customer?: Dow Chemical, BP/Castrol, Stepan and Evonik.

Best Part of the Job?: Customer satisfaction. The time that we spend on these tanks means there’s no problems, no concerns, and everybody’s happy.

Least Favorite Part of the Job?: Slowdowns. We sometimes work with older equipment; equipment failures can slow down our process. Some of the tanker trailers that come in here are center unload trailers. It can be a challenge positioning the center unload tanker trailer when we bring it into the wash bay.

Comments?: We try to conserve our water usage. Dow owns our facility, but we try to help them out by conserving water. This job is not for the timid, weak or claustrophobic. If one person slacks off it creates a problem. Anyone interested in this job must like to work. It can be physically demanding. Companies send inspectors and visitors here. They like to see our procedures. We relay that information and get along good. Every couple of months, our friends at Dow come over to share a sandwich or pizza. Again, Dow is the actual owner of the Croydon facility, and Highway Transport signs a contract and leases the facility.

Walt Gamble, Tank Wash in LaPorte, TX

above: Walt, Highway Transport La Porte Tank Wash

Equipment We Use: Here in LaPorte we’ve always used spinners. Started out with 2 spinners.  Now there are 4.  Our spinners are produced by GAMAJET/Sellers. Our distributor, J. Tech Sales®, recently came out to visit us and held a training class on servicing and rebuilding spinners. We can rebuild our spinners in-house with a $250 kit. If we send out for a rebuild, the cost is around $1,000. We were also having some problems with the chemical that we were using before. Now we use an improved chemical so that we don’t have to wash as long as we used to. We have a guy that handles the wastewater details here in LaPorte. We walk every tank after we get finished, so customers have grown to trust us to clean every tank just right. Most of our customers want the tank to be “bare metal clean.” That means after the spinner has run, we go in and —by hand— get the tank clean down to the bare metal.

Going in the Tank: Going in the tank is not really scary. We’re so used to doing it. We have to make sure we use the air monitor. It is a RAE monitor that checks the carbon monoxide and all the oxygen. It is hand held and attached to a hose you lower down in the tank before you enter. It samples the air quality before an entry is made, and we record the readings on our entry permit to make sure the atmosphere is safe.  We wear the retriever line that has to be hooked to us in case for any reason we have to be retrieved. So far so good, I’ve never had to be retrieved.

Busiest Day of the Week?: Right now its not as busy. Usually Tuesdays are the busiest for us. This is the best time (August) to do our yearly training. We did a tank entry training and simulated rescuing a person.  Tank Entry Training is once per year. We climb on the top and there is an overhead cable that we hook onto. The retriever line is hooked to the overhead cable. The cable is hooked to our harness.

Your Main Customer?: Dow is the biggest customer. Years ago Dow had a guy that used to look at everything. He would come to the terminal and drop in on us. That was when we had just gotten the contract. They still drop by sometimes, just not as frequently.

Best Part of the Job?: Getting the tanks out on time so they can be prepped to go get loaded. It is good to get ‘em out and making everybody happy. As long as the tanks get out on time and as long as they can get loaded and delivered everybody’s happy.

Least Favorite Part of the Job?: Cleaning the drains out. We clean the drains every 4 months.  If you keep the drain clean it makes it easier for the water to flow.  It takes two guys to clean the drains —me and one extra person.
Comments?: What I try to do is do the best possible job I can do on a daily basis. Things are going pretty smooth so far. I always come to do the best job I can do. And the guys around me are great. I try to encourage them to do the same. It’s been a good experience so far. Everybody tries.

The newer tanks are nice. I’d rather clean the rear unload tank rather than one that unloads from the center. It is easier for the spinners to go in and the water circulates better. On the center unload tanks, the spinner can sometimes get positioned over a valve and block circulation. Sometimes you have to shut the water off so the water can catch up with the spinner.

Florence Tank Wash Personnel

pictured above: Tank Wash experts in Florence, KY

Equipment We Use: We got rid of the spray balls when I first came here 17 years ago; they were in the way so we took ’em down. We only use spinners. We have one spinner for each wash bay, and there is a spare spinner. We use the spare when we rotate. Each spinner has a quick disconnect, so that if something goes wrong, we quickly connect our spare spinner.

Here in Florence, all customers require bare metal clean. Some people use the term “Blade Clean,” as if you had scraped the interior of the tank with a razor blade.

Going in the Tank: We regularly do confined space training. It’s not exactly easy. You know you’ve got the harness, the hose, the retrieval system, a respirator…etc. You have to wear all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) + initially test the air.  Plus, there is a monitor that constantly samples the air.

RAE Monitor [industry term] Pronounced “Ray Monitor,” this is the name of a device that senses the following: 

  • H2S – Hydrogen Sulfide
  • CO – Carbon Monoxide
  • LEL – Lower Explosive Limit
  • VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds
  • O2 – Oxygen needs to be 20.9

Tank Wash Gear:

• A 3M™ supplied air panel is used to provide
Grade D breathing air to the tank washer through
a full face respirator.
• Body Harness
• Retrieval Device
• Gloves
• Boots
• Flashlight
• Razor Blade Scraping Tool

Busiest Day of the Week?: Friday normally. We try to get everything completed, so nobody has to come in and work on the weekend. Our tanks here haul a lot of latex. Latex has to be pressure washed then razor bladed off. Whatever latex is left, we go in and scrape out with a razor blade. We also use green Scotch-Brite® scouring pads.

Tank wash here has 2 on day shift and 2 on 2nd shift. The two on 2nd shift are there til 12:00 midnight. It all depends on how the freight runs. Many loads don’t start rolling until the afternoon. That is when 2nd shift becomes busier.

Water usage a concern?: We try to reduce water usage, because water disposal is the larger issue. Our sanitation and disposal is quite expensive. We also have a heel program in place, which helps the environment. Before we begin cleaning, we capture any residue or “heel” of chemicals that might be left in the tank. Plus, there is an oil/water separator. This helps reduce the amount of waste that actually goes into the sewer.

Your Main Customer?: L’Oréal is less than a mile away.  The L’Oréal business cycle determines when we are busiest. Every other tank wash facility in this area is located across the river in Cincinnati…actually 15 miles north of Cincinnati at the top end of the 275 loop. Drivers do not want to fight the traffic to get down here from Cincinnati and across the river. We’re convenient for everyone on this side of the river. We do a good job.

Best Part of the Job?: Payday.  After you do a job 17 years, very few things come up that I haven’t seen or done before. Having this job down makes it nice because I don’t have to worry about too much.
Least Favorite Part of the Job?:  Tank Entry. It is very cumbersome with a lot of equipment you have to wear but a necessity to make sure the trailers meet our customers’ requirements.  When going into a trailer, the air is what we call “supplied air.”  We ventilate by pulling outside air in.  To do that, we use a system where a compressor supplies filtered air that we breathe.  We started using the filtered supplied air a few years back.  There is a lot of training involved.  Once a year we do annual training and go over scenarios where we have to rescue someone out of a tank. Following the proper safety protocol is crucial for:
1. protecting lives
2. protecting customers
It is definitely time consuming to do it the right way, but that’s the only way we’re going to do it.


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