Pasco trenching company buys longtime septic tank business

C and E Trenching has been digging dirt for 25 years

Curtis Wray can be pretty self-effacing and humble.

When asked what he sees his company, C and E Trenching LLC and himself doing in five years, he said he doesn’t know how to do anything else.

His father, Everett Wray, bought the business in 1994 — then called Deano’s Trenching — from Dean and Pam Gilmore.

Curtis Wray
Curtis Wray

“I think he bought this trenching business to keep me out of trouble,” joked Curtis, now in his 40s. “He probably didn’t think I could do well in college.”

Curtis graduated from Pasco High in 1994, a month after the Wray family took over the company.

Since then, Curtis has become the major owner of a business that has grown at a pretty steady rate, including the recent acquisition of another Tri-City company. C and E also built a new 3,300-square-foot office at 3815 N. Glade Road in Pasco last year.

C and E offers three major services: industrial contracting, helping companies with a from-the-ground-up project or to make improvements on an existing plant or warehouse; commercial excavation services, such as developing raw land, building a new commercial building, or helping improve a parking lot; and agricultural trenching services, like working on a main irrigation line or system, ponds or stack yards.

Back when it started, the small-family operation had a few employees. They’d dig trenches for the agriculture industry around the Columbia Basin.

“I was part time up until 2000, then I went to full time,” Curtis said.

Today, “we have 30 to 35 employees,” depending on the time of the year.

Digging trenches has been in the family blood for years.

“My grandpa was a dairy farmer back in Kansas,” Curtis said. “In his 50s, he decided he wanted to start a backhoe business. Why? That’s not something you do in your 50s. My dad helped him some.”

By the early 1990s, Everett moved to Pasco with his family and began managing a dairy farm before buying the trenching company.

In 1997, C and E became licensed to install septic systems in Benton and Franklin counties.

Last month, C and E completed the purchase of Ray’s Twilight Septic Tank Co., changing the name to Ray’s Twilight Septic Service.

“Ray’s was an opportunity that popped up,” Curtis said. “Ray’s started in 1954. We heard in 1998 that he was selling and we offered to purchase the company. But another man bought the company and ran it until now.”

This time, C and E bought the small company, which has one employee and a single truck.

“But we get calls frequently for septic tank work,” Curtis said.

It’s another opportunity for Curtis to work on another business.

“I haven’t ever really started a business, but I really like refining them,” he said.

It’s about adapting and growing. Do the job and don’t worry so much about success.

“The key to our success is we have very slowly grown over the years, slow and steady,” Curtis said. “This area is great to do business in. We started working for the local farmers. As their needs grew, we grew. The majority of our work is government, roughly 60 percent. Agriculture is maybe 20 percent. The rest is commercial.”

The company recently finished work on the first phase of the Vista Field development project in Kennewick. Curtis said most people may not know what his company does for a project, but he and his employees get satisfaction as they drive by a job site knowing they played a role.

“It’s great when you take it from raw land and turn it into something,” Curtis said.

The work may not involve a lot of housing subdivisions for C and E, but it does involve streets and farmland, especially irrigation and main lines.

“But we really enjoy building ponds,” he said, explaining that ponds are the kind that hold thousands of gallons of irrigation water for farms. “We try to fit in where the customer needs us.”

Curtis’ job is to find those customers.

“Part of my job is to go out and get bids,” he said. “But three of our guys also do estimates. And we have three guys who are project managers.”

He trusts his people to get the job done.

“We have been blessed,” he said. “We’re not an overnight sensation. We have a great team. We have profit sharing. It’s the kind of philosophy we take in this business. Give a team a stake in the business by sharing the profits. That’s a huge thing. Because I want partners.”

He’s also expecting more partners down the road.

“If we hit normal percentages (of revenue), we’ll add a couple more employees this year,” he said.

And maybe Curtis didn’t spend much time in college, but he’s found a way to be creative. He writes stories on the company’s website under the title, “Latest Dirt.” They could be about an interaction he had with a person he just met or longtime residents. But whatever it is, it gives his company a more personal feel.

“This Basin has been good to our family,” Curtis said. “I still talk to some of the original pioneers, although there are not as many of them anymore.”

But in his way, Curtis feels he is providing a valuable service to those pioneers, many of whom are customers.

“It is fun to add value to people’s lives,” he said. “We’re not too proud to dig dirt. We have done it and we enjoy it.”

That’s why the company proudly states on its website: “Digging dirt since 1994 in Eastern Washington.”

C and E Trenching: 3813 N. Glade Road, Pasco; candetrenching.com; 509-545-6940; Facebook.

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