In these days of technology changing before we can buy the latest gadget, combination sewer cleaning machines remain the only way to accurately and effectively clean sanitary and storm sewer lines. “It used to be that combination machines were purchased by the larger cities,” says Tom Jody, marketing director for Vac-Con, a custom manufacturer of sewer cleaners, industrial machines, jetters and hydroexcavation trucks. “As time has gone on, we’ve seen that change. Smaller cities and towns of maybe only 5,000 can justify the purchase to protect their sewer systems.” 

Along with cleaning clogged pipes, Jody says the real advantage of having a combination unit is the opportunity for a preventive maintenance schedule for sanitary and stormwater lines to comply with regulations and prevent blockages in the first place to avoid flooding and backups into neighborhoods and homes. That is growing in importance with ever-increasing stormwater regulations. “Obviously, it’s much easier to clean a catch basin with a combination truck than to send a crew out with shovels.” 

Moving and storing 

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Vac-Con began as a manufacturer of combination machines in 1986 and is now part of employee-owned Holden Industries. From the beginning, the company wanted to use non-corrosive tanks and decided upon cross-linked polyethylene for the freshwater tank, and Corten corrosion- and abrasion-resistant steel for the debris tank. 

The company also pioneered the three-stage fan, he adds. “Our three-stage fan can generate up to 8,000 cfm of airflow to move material. Perhaps its most important function is that it is capable of vacuuming underwater without needing a device at the surface to provide air to the system.” 

Powered by hydrostatic drive, the fan runs when the truck is in neutral so it doesn’t require the use of a transfer case or split-shaft PTO, making it safer and more efficient. Vac-Con also utilizes an auxiliary engine to drive the water system so it is independent of the vacuum, saving fuel. “The truck engine drives the vacuum system because it requires more horsepower,” Jody says. “The deck-mounted auxiliary engine delivers water at up to 120 gpm and up to 3,000 psi.” 

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A single-engine option is also available, with the hydrostatic drive allowing adjustment of power to the vacuum and water systems. A hydroexcavating package is also available. 

Disposal gains importance 

Jody says disposal options have grown in importance in recent years. “It used to be that it was all taken to the landfill,” he says. “Now it generally has to go to a wastewater treatment plant. Some areas have drying beds or a dewatering container that separates the solids and the liquid flows to a treatment plant.” 

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In response, Vac-Con now offers a hi-dump option so operators don’t have to leave the site to dump the contents of the debris tank. “It allows the tank to be elevated to dump into a container so a standard roll-off truck can haul that container away while the vacuum truck continues to clean the sewer.” 

Other newer features include such things as telescopic booms and articulated hose reels to allow for better positioning of the truck. “The latest improvement Vac-Con has added is the Omnibus control system that uses single joystick control to operate all of the functions of the truck,” says Jody. “It has more than 20 functions through just eight buttons and four wires, eliminating 124 wiring connections.” 

While the basic truck hasn’t changed all that much – high-pressure water, vacuum system, debris tank, and a source of freshwater, Jody says the technology has changed. “The combination machine has advanced in terms of performance, ease of operation, operator convenience, safety, and innovative features.” 

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