A royal flush: Marshall County company provides ‘thrones’ for dignitaries, royalty
Culver resident David Harling recognizes it’s important to have a sense of humor in his line of work, which is a good thing, since there were more than a few chuckles accompanying genuine amazement at the level of prominence his Argos-based company holds in the country and even the world.
Harling heads up Ameri-Can -- a name derived from its American and Canadian connections, lest the reader had other implications in mind -- whch supplies “luxurious” toilet trailers to for a range of uses, from small, outdoor events to presidential inaugurations, to the Queen of England’s jubilee.
Harling’s mother and step-father, Gladys and Ron, started the business back in 1988 in the same location it occupies today on the north side of Argos. David, a web designer living overseas, opted to return to the area and “enable family succession” in the business in 2005, when the couple retired.
“We have a lot of fun with our industry,” Harling told an audience of Culver Kiwanis Club members at the club’s recent weekly meeting. “Anything associated with bathrooms or using the toilet is always good fun. Our customers are the most fun!”
Harling said the company once had only three major competitors nationwide, but since the downtown in the RV manufacturing industry, that number is up to some 15 (more overseas, particularly in Asia).
There’s a “big market” today in custom decontamination shower trailers, however, much of it tied to federal requirements for decontamination of workers involved in endeavors such as bridge renovation, where lead paint may be present, or any federally-funded work around possible asbestos.
The Argos facility, he noted, employs 23 in its assembly division and six in its office.
Some of those employees had an opportunity during the George W. Bush presidency they likely never bargained for. Harling said the company was contacted by the White House to build “some really special restroom trailers.
“They said, ‘We have a lot of outdoor activities on the White House grounds...but because of security changes, we can’t let people into the White House sometimes.’ The chief usher of the White House runs the White House, I’ve learned...anything that goes on (there) has to have his blessing. These (White House) guys made several trips to the plant and designed the look they wanted. We made the interior and exterior -- it had an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)compartment and a fake roof. They said, ‘When these things are finished, we want your crews to deliver these trailers. We’ll make it worth your while.’
“You would think our guys setting up restroom trailers (at) the White House were visiting roaylty! They got tours, they were allowed to eat in there, the confection chef made them cookies and chocolates! George Bush came down with his dog and took photos, and then sent them all later on -- autographed photos, signed by Mr. Bush and the dog, with a pawprint! Any new employees we getm that’s the absolute first story they’re told!”
Ameri-can was back at the White House to create both a restroom and shower trailer for the Barack Obama inauguration in 2009. This time, however, Harling said the company was asked to keep mum on what it was doing, a request they couldn’t resist ignoring.
“We told everybody we knew,” he laughed. “We had Fox News and everybody come to Argos. We had the best time with the news crews coming in and people taking pictures of themselves sitting on ‘the presidential throne!’”
Speaking of thrones, the company received a call for the Queen of England’s Jubilee celebration in 2002.
“We got a call that the Queen would need an outdoor toilet, but it had to be brand new -- it can never have been used by a mere mortal human being!
“Our tip-top grade is called ‘The Royale,’ so it went to the Queen’s Jubilee. Going into the White House was a breeze compared to (this). As we get it set up, it’s ready to be used, and here comes a man in a suit with a box with a cushion. He wanted pliers to remove the seat and place the Queen’s personal, private toilet seat there, which we weren’t even allowed to see.”
To add to the “royal” element of the business, Harling said he received a call more recently from the granddaughter of the founder of the Andy Gump company, which provides portable sanitation for Hollywood events.
“She said, ‘You’ll never believe who used your restroom trailer last week: Prince William and Kate were at a polo match in Santa Barbara, and we have pictures of them going in and coming out (of the Ameri-can trailer)!’ I asked if anyone came in with a special toilet seat, and she said, ‘No.’ That (use of the trailer by the royal couple) apparently made the news, so there are lots of Youtube snippets of the Prince and future Queen of England using our restrooms in Santa Barbara, California.”
Access to the largest of the company’s trailers, he noted, is “not cheap.” A mere $158,000 was the price tag on the “Big Apple” circus outfit complete with tents, 18 toilets, and a 53-foot semi trailer (the average is a 20 foot trailer with usage for nine people, at $35,000). The smallest trailer rents for $850 per weekend, and the largest for $2,500 to $4,500 per week, “but our top trailers are nicer than what you see in a fine hotel.”
The company also builds to Canadian specifications and provides trailers for the “huge movie industry” in Quebec as well as the agricultural industry there.
Ameri-can produces around 200 trailers per year in “good times,” Harling explained, though in the more recently sluggish economy, between 125 and 145.
People who purchase the trailers have to be licensed for waste disposal, and use a vaccuum truck to pump from Ameri-can trailers’ 1,000 gallon tanks.
“It’s very clean,” he added. “There’s never any odor or leakage.”
He also noted the company has had trailers in Europe, Asia, and on the overseas sets of films ranging from James Bond to Harry Potter.
“And we do everything in Argos,” he noted, adding the first trailers, built in 1988, are still in use through a company in Chicago.
Harling told the Kiwanis audience he thoroughly enjoys living in Culver.
“When I first came over (here, after returning from England), my daughter was in the Culver Boys & Girls Club, and she loved that program,” he said.
Kiwanian and audience member Latham Lawson told Harling he’d been to years’ worth of club meetings, but never one as memorable as Harling’s.
“Congratulations on supplying a very interesting program,” he concluded.