It all started in 1941 in a small garage in Courtland Avenue in Park Ridge, Illinois. A simple idea that gave birth to a product line that’s been growing and evolving for over 75 years. H.T. O’Brien, founder and a pioneer in the sewer cleaning industry, was tinkering in his garage and he connected a two foot piece of flexible cable to a hand drill. He quickly discovered this simple tool could safely and effectively open his clogged kitchen sink, better than anything he had used in the past. He built a few dozen of these tools, put them in the trunk of his car, and drove into Chicagoland to call on plumbers, hospitals, restaurants, and hotels. From this, a company was born. He continued to launch innovative products such as cable machines, bucking machines, jet machines, and the world famous hydraulic root cutter before he retired from the industry in 1970. Following his retirement, Sewer Equipment was moved from Chicago to Maquoketa, Iowa in 1972 where we produced the same equipment that we still assemble in our current facility. We also started utilizing a dealer network in 1980 at the Maquoketa facility. Then, due to a fire in 1991, the business was moved to Chadwick, Illinois.
Throughout his career, he maintained a philosophy that the simplicity of the product was critical. A simpler machine was safer, easier to operate, easier to maintain, and thus more productive and cost effective. In the 1970s, his son, Jim O’Brien Sr., continued developing and manufacturing sewer cleaning machines and he continued the theme of simplicity. For over 20 years in the rural town of Chadwick, Jim created several unique machines that helped solve the problems of everyday pipe cleaning faced by municipalities, contractors, and plumbers.
Our current factory today is located in Dixon, Illinois after the move from Chadwick in 2012. You may recall that Dixon is the boyhood hometown of Ronald Reagan, a great president and a friend of American businessmen and women, but many of you probably do not know that Dixon is also the birthplace of one of the most simple, yet most important, product innovations in US history. A product that revolutionized the agricultural industry. A Dixon blacksmith by the name of John Deere invented the scoured steel plow in 1837, just across town from our current facility. This tool replaced the cast iron plow, which was limited in its productivity by the sticky Midwestern soil. This simple John Deere plow has been described as the tool that revolutionized farming and helped usher in the migration of early settlers throughout the central Midwest and the western United States. John Deere and H.T. O’Brien produced simple products which generated such magnificent results.
The industry today, the manufacturers in particular, have gone out of their way to make equipment more complex. All this complexity unfortunately is done at the expense of the operators and the mechanics in the interest of making a specification that is more difficult for competitors to meet or adding eye candy and glitz that catches people’s eye. When you rotate many operators in the equipment and if it’s difficult to operate, there’s a long training cycle that’s associated with that. Our equipment doesn’t have that, it’s very simple to operate and likewise simpler for the mechanics. The mechanics don’t have to go to school for six weeks to figure out how to maintain the equipment, let alone to troubleshoot it. Its standard shop tools that are utilized. Simple things. Simple to operate, simple to maintain.