NASSCO Standard Bearers

By Jack Doheny | July 2014, Vol. 69 No. 7
Jack Doheny

In 2016, NASSCO will celebrate its 40th year of setting standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As we look forward, we also look back to those who have made significant contributions and have impacted the continued acceptance and use of trenchless technologies. This month’s story features Jack Doheny, founder of the Jack Doheny Companies. It is the second installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders:

I was born in Marshfield, WI, in 1930. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and my dad, Earl J. Doheny, lost his job as a salesman for the H.J. Heinz Company. From the time I was two-years-old, we lived on a farm without electricity in the Minnesota River Valley, home of the Jolly Green Giant.

When I was 18, we left the farm and moved to Chicago where my dad became a salesman for O’Brien Manufacturing, which was owned by my aunt and Uncle. While there, my uncle invented the first power sewer cleaner that was ever built. The original design was operated by hand and used a spring similar to one you would see on a screen door. This tool was pushed down through the trap of a sink, so you could now clean a clogged sink with minimal disruption or damage.

Later, my uncle expanded his invention to include an electric drill, and this idea led to the sophisticated power sewer cleaners you see today. Just prior to World War II the government purchased thousands of these sewer cleaners for the military installations they were putting in around the United States and the world.

Landmark legislation

At this time, there was also a big rush by the government to cap sewers from running into rivers, lakes and streams. This led to legislation that required cities to put up bonds to build sewers. Bonding companies insisted there be a reserve fund to pay for these bonds, which led to sewer charges to pay for the bonds.

This new legislation meant that when there was a sewer blockage you could charge your city because they were responsible for hauling sewage away and the burden of proof was on the city. This led to regular sewer cleaning or preventive maintenance which occurred about once every three years. At the time, the cities were going through manholes and using wooden sticks to unplug the blockages. My uncle’s power sewer cleaners were revolutionary because they allowed maintenance workers to clean the system and stay out of the manhole. We sold the systems to the cities so they could do ongoing preventive maintenance mandated by the government to keep the sewers clean and avoid penalties.