Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018
Progress

Dave’s Plumbing and Heating

Dave Bowen worked at Robinson’s, then started own business
By Jon Gilrain, Ledger correspondent | Aug 03, 2018
Photo by: JON GILRAIN/Ledger photo Larry Hill and Dave Bowen of Dave’s Plumbing and Heating meet in the office.

Dave Bowen of Dave’s Plumbing and Heating in Fairfield looks back on a long career in business and an even longer one as a plumber.

Bowen, an Illinois native, came to Fairfield via North Dakota, where he also picked up plumbing and got married.

Bowen laughs a lot and jokes around as he gives The Ledger a tour of his workshop and business office. He’s been in his 4th Street location since about 1987 after having gone into business for himself just the year before. Prior to that, Bowen worked for Robinson’s Plumbing and Heating.

The Vermont, Illinois, native migrated to Ellendale, North Dakota, to be with his then girlfriend Ellen. While there, he attended the Plumbing, Heating and Refrigeration program at Quincy Tech, an area trade school. He also got married and started planning for what would come next.

While planning to return to Illinois, Quincy Tech alerted the young job seeker of a position in Fairfield with Robinson’s Plumbing and Heating. The young newlyweds decided to take the chance and make a new start when they arrived to town in 1979.

Dave went into business for himself when Robinson’s closed in 1986. One of Robinson’s customers asked Bowen to continue looking after the plumbing in their downtown apartments.

“It was scary. I was thinking, ‘Do I want to do this or not?’ Either I’ve got to start looking for a job or I don’t know. I was really worried. Am I gonna have to get some bones and make the soup? But I had enough savings to buy a truck, and the bank said they’d lend me the money to buy what was left of Robinson’s equipment,” exclaimed Bowen.

It turns out the young start-up didn’t have much to worry about. Bowen got regular work and before long customers were seeking out his services. A year later with the help again of First National Bank in Fairfield, he was able to purchase his current location.

Thirty-two years have passed and Bowen has no regrets. Plumbing turned out to be a business with constant demand and no lack of customers or work. When asked about his favorite part of the work of being a plumber, he doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“It’s never really the same thing over and over,” he said. “Every job is different in some way. You never quit learning. You always run into something you’ve never seen. I like the job, I really do.”

Dave’s Plumbing and Heating currently has two employees, office manager Larry Hill and fellow plumber Tim Atkinson. Bowen doesn’t like to have too many employees, but he’s thinking he needs one more to keep up with opportunities, but qualified plumbers are not common in southeast Iowa.

Bowen usually goes on service calls with Larry, but if things are too busy, they’ll split up the load. They average about six to eight service calls a day, plus they get occasional work with new construction. Of all the types of work they get and reasons for service calls, one stands out.

“Almost everything is pretty much about a leak. Something’s leaking under my sink or somewhere,” Bowen said laughing.

While serving Fairfield, Dave’s Plumbing and Heating also serves greater Jefferson County including Libertyville, Richland, Lockridge and more. They formerly serviced Keosauqua, but prefer not to go that far anymore.

When talking about the things that cause the most problems in his line of work, he points to hard water from the city’s new wells into the Jordan Aquifer. Minerals and other particulates build up in certain types of plumbing parts causing them to fail prematurely.

Bowen sees another source of problems for homeowners in the unexpected form of a beloved home appliance. Everyone takes a garbage disposal for granted, but apparently their misuse can cause problems requiring the attention of a plumber.

“One thing I wouldn’t have is a disposal,” he said. “We have more problems with disposals. Any time you’re putting food down the drain, you’re asking for trouble. Disposals are a plumber’s best friend in terms of drumming up business.”

Dave has had his share of requests for after-hours service. In case of emergencies, he obliges, but not every issue will get him out into the night.

“Some of the plumbing things I’ll say, ‘Well, that’s an inconvenience and I’ll get you in the morning,’” he said. “So some things I don’t call an emergency, but if your water pipe breaks or your heating goes out, I’ll be right there. If the toilet’s backed up, but you have another stool, then I’ll get you early in the morning. If your air is out in the heat of summer and you have a heart condition then I’ll come after hours.”

 

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