Rebecca Fee and Curtis Raymond are the couple behind Raymond Vacuum Service Ltd. of Estevan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

ESTEVAN – It’s always tough to launch a new business, but Raymond Vacuum Truck Services Ltd did so four years into an oil downturn that seemed to have no end, and then endured the economic collapse that came with COVID-19. Now, with oil prices coming up, things are getting busier.

Curtis Raymond and Rebecca Fee are the couple behind Raymond Vacuum Truck Services Ltd. The company is based on the east side of Estevan, where they have a shop on Sawyer Road South. The company provides vac truck, potable water hauling, mobile pressure washing and steaming services.

Raymond started working in the oilpatch at the age of 18, doing crew work and pipelining. “When I first started working in the oilfield, I was making eight bucks an hour. That’s what I made for a wage,” he said.

He was a labourer and pipelined for years and then got into the vac truck business with a local outfit, working there for 12 years. He’s spent the last three years on his own.

Raymond bought several units at the auction sale from his last employer. “My lifelong goal was always to work for myself. I did the work long enough to know the business, so I decided it was time to do it on my own. Oil crashed, and then COVID hit right after that, but we survived. We’re surviving,” he said.

Fee used to run a childcare day home and a cleaning business, and before that was a welder for six years. She worked as a TIG and MIG welder at a local fab shop before insulating for a couple years. Now she does the books, invoicing and works in the field for the company.

Raymond was born and raised in Estevan, whereas Fee grew up in Port Hardy, British Columbia and moved to Estevan 16 years ago.

Enduring the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit, Fee said it was “pretty quiet this summer, which was nice for the extra family time, but not so nice for the business. We are thankful we didn’t have a bunch of employees that we had to lay off during slower times.”

“It was just her and I,” Raymond said.

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They still had their regular customers, but volume was reduced. If a company had 15 employees, and they reduced their staff down to five, or even two, their services weren’t required as often. “At first it was just me,” Raymond said. “Then just the two of us. There’s times we’re busy enough where we need five or six employees, but we get the job done by ourselves.”

“Some days are long days. The last few months, we’ve stayed steady. In the last 18, 19 months, when COVID started, you’re busy a few days and dead for a week, then busy for a few days, so it’s been nice to get back to being steady.”

In November they brought on their first employee, and have been very grateful for the extra help.

Fee said they’re doing more advertising, through the radio, the paper, signage, and recently stepped up their social media game.

Diversity

They’ve got different trucks for different jobs, and are happy to be able to offer such a variety of services to their customers.

Fee will bring the steamer out and runs it as needed, while Raymond operates the rest of the fleet.

“Our work isn’t all oilfield. It’s all over – mining, oilfield, farming, residential,” Raymond said.

They have two vac trucks, a potable water unit that can haul up to 3,000 gallons, and the aforementioned pressure washer/steamer. That water truck sees a lot more use in the spring and summer, filling swimming pools. “We probably do 35, 40 pools or more a spring,” Raymond said. “Each pool takes anywhere from one load to ten loads of water.”

The water comes from the Estevan Water Treatment Plant.

“Beyond pool season, we also haul water to acreages, cisterns, dugouts, shops, hydro vacs, hot tubs, you name it,” he said. As 2021 was an incredibly dry year, water has been in demand. “We have a lot of customers nowadays that aren’t digging wells anymore. They’re putting tanks in or above the ground, and either they haul in their water, or we haul it. We have a big customer base, hauling water. We’re out to Lampman, Benson area, Frobisher, Bienfait, generally, we work within 80 kilometres of Estevan but will travel as far as needed.

“The coal mine work is important too. We are thankful for our local mines calling more frequently,” Fee said. “When oil crashed, and multiple businesses were affected. We are a diverse company, so we stayed afloat.”

In addition to water hauling, they clean out septic tanks and sumps for a lot of shops and farms in southeast Saskatchewan. They jet frozen and plugged lines, and use their mobile pressure washer to clean tanks, and equipment of any shape or size.

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On occasion, they’ll clean grease traps for local restaurants, using the steamer and vac truck.

“We go from one side of the spectrum to the other – from the oilfield to anything and everything in between,” he said.

In his prior job, Raymond did a lot more oilfield work, but back then, there was a lot more money flowing in the patch.

Oil prices are up, but…

With oil now around US$80 per barrel, are they seeing more activity?

“No extra oil activity yet,” Raymond said, noting that while prices are up, oil companies are still being conservative in spending, often delaying projects as long as they are able to.

“We made a name for ourselves. I know, from working for people throughout the years, I made a lot of friends in different industries, and nowadays, all you have is your reputation and your name, and we’ve worked hard for our name. I think one thing that affects us, especially our type of business, is when things were busy, people would just phone and say, ‘I need your service.’ Nowadays, people are pinching pennies, Everybody wants a quote and they want the lowest price. Whether it’s you, or the guy down the street, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

“We’ve always strived on providing the best service possible, with the lowest prices. That’s why it’s her and I that do it. We hope things continue to turn around and it keeps getting busier, and we keep growing.”

In late October, they put out an ad to hire someone, but initially didn’t get one application. They were able to bring someone on in November.

Broken bones

When they’re not running the trucks, they juggle three kids: Kolton, 7, Karissa, 10, and Madison, 13, with school, and sports as a blended family.

Raymond said, “We run all day and all night. Becca’s also our secretary and bookkeeper, so she does her invoices and everything else at home. After work hours, we take the kids to hockey, volleyball, dance, gymnastics, skidooing, quadding, fishing, camping, you name it. Our days never end.”

While they’ve known each other for 15 years, what brought them together was the kids. As the kids were playing together on a trampoline, Fee’s youngest ended up under the pile of kids, and broke his leg. Raymond kept calling to check in on Fee’s son, “And after a while, we ended up on a date,” she said.

They came together around the time the business was being launched.

“That’s our love story,” Raymond said. “Maybe one day we will thank the kids at our wedding for bringing us together.”

 

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