Duane Webber (right) greets former R.A. Webber & Sons employee Walter Lucas during the business’s 60th anniversary party at Cook’s Lobster & Ale House, Bailey Island, June 24. (STEVE PHILLIPS/R.A. WEBBER & SONS PHOTO)
Ron Webber was working for the town of Brunswick in 1962, trying to support his wife and children on $38 a week in take-home pay.
At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to try making some extra money pumping septic tanks. He bought a small dump truck, outfitted it with a portable tank and began serving clients in Harpswell and neighboring towns. About a year later, he decided to make it a full-time venture.
Now, 60 years later, the company he founded, R.A. Webber & Sons Inc., is a local institution, providing septic and excavation work throughout the area.
“This community has supported us for 60 years. That’s a good feeling,” said Ron’s oldest son, Duane Webber, who now runs the company out of the home he grew up in on Cundy’s Harbor Road.
To mark the occasion, R.A. Webber hosted a big anniversary party in late June, inviting not only customers but everyone in town. Hundreds of people attended the event, held under a tent at Cook’s Lobster & Ale House on Bailey Island.
“It’s good to give back to the community that has given you a way of life,” Duane said. “We all benefit from the community support.”
Duane, 61, was too young to remember the early years of the business, but does recall when his father got his first real pumper truck in 1965. He also remembers occasionally skipping classes as a young boy and joining his father in the “honey wagon” as he traveled the region pumping septic tanks.
“We went everywhere, from Yarmouth to Boothbay,” Duane said. “That was an education.”
The pumper truck was followed by a dump truck, then more vehicles, backhoes and eventually excavators of all sizes as the company branched out from septic service to installation and all types of excavation work. Today, the company also digs foundations, installs driveways, removes ledge, stabilizes shorelines and performs other earth-moving work.
Ron and Mim Webber drive one of their old pumper trucks in a town parade. (R.A. WEBBER & SONS PHOTO)
For the past two years, R.A. Webber has plowed Harpswell’s public roads under contract with the town. Duane said a small but experienced team, including himself, does the plowing, which will continue through this coming winter.
Founded as a family business, the company has remained that way, with Ron and his wife, Mim, running the operation for decades. Duane and his younger brother, Mike, then ran the business together until three years ago, when Mike left to form his own company, Mike Webber Enterprises Inc.
“This is pretty much the only place I ever worked,” Duane said.
Ron Webber died at the age of 74 nine years ago. Mim now lives about a mile down the road from the former family home. The business moved from the house’s basement in the early years to the full building, since renovated into office space.
The company now has about 25 employees, including Duane’s son, Thomas, and a nephew, Kyle.
While much of the Webber crew is young, there are some longtime employees. Duane Webber said he grew up with many of the workers, including Cundy’s Harbor resident Walter Lucas. Since retired, Lucas began working for the company in the early 1970s and learned to drive on the company’s vehicles, even taking a truck for his driving test as a teenager, when he became the youngest person in Maine to hold a commercial driver’s license. He would then take the truck with him to school so he could get right to work after his classes ended, Duane said.
“We’ve got a bunch of really awesome guys — a really good crew,” Webber said.
He said many of the employees are from the community and much of the business is done in Harpswell, where the geography and the weather can present challenges.
“Harpswell is a unique place to work because it’s mostly unstable soil,” Webber said. “I wish I kept a journal of all the crazy stuff that happened.”
“It’s a wonderful town with so many wonderful people,” he said. “It’s rewarding to be part of this town.”
Ed Levine is a veteran reporter and editor at newspapers and websites in southern New England and the New York region. He now lives on Orr’s Island.