The History of Pressure Washing: Evolution of an Industry: Part Two

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The History of Pressure Washing: Evolution of an Industry: Part Two: Gas Engines and New Accessories

By Terri Perrin / Published April 2014



Editor’s Note: This article is the second of a multi-part series that will trace the history of the pressure washing industry from the late-1970s to present day. An 18-part series, that covered the early history, was first published in Cleaner Times beginning in February 1996 and reprinted beginning in March 2007. Those interested in reading the early industry history may view it online at http://cleanertimes.com/artgrp.cfm?fpid=82.

As a direct result of the adoption of ceramic plunger pumps in the early 1980s, which was covered in Part I of this series in the March 2014 issue of Cleaner Times | IWA, there was a significant expansion of applications for pressure washers and industry demand for them to become more portable and safer.

The ceramic plunger pump operated at much higher speeds and could be direct driven off of either an electric motor or gas engine. Significantly in-creased operating capacity proved to be the biggest advantage of the gas-driven engines. With a standard 15-amp household circuit electrical motor, for example, you would have been lucky to generate water flow of two gpm at about 1000 psi, which limited cleaning applications and efficiency. With the added horsepower from a gas-driven engine, volume increased to four gpm and 3000-plus psi.

Jack and Betty Simpson of Florida-based Simpson Pressure Washers were credited with being one of the leading innovators in the development of gas-driven engine pressure washing equipment. “Jack Simpson was an inventor who, in the 1960s, had initially taken an engine from a peanut harvester to build a pressure washer. His main focus, at the time, being paint contractors,” explains Bill Fischer, Vice President of industrial sales for FNA, manufacturer of Simpson and Delco Pressure Washers.

Unfortunately, Mr. Simpson has passed away. Despite our best efforts to connect with someone who could speak about his contributions to the industry, Cleaner Times | IWA was not able to locate anyone who was able to recall this segment of the pressure washing industry’s history. If you, or someone you know, have had a past connection to Simpson Pumps, we would love to hear from you!

Operational efficiency aside, the adoption of gas engines also helped make worksites safer for pressure wash technicians. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that with water and electricity in the same place as people, you have a recipe for a very dangerous situation,” recalls Bruce Bode, sales representative with Pentair/Hypro. “When sparks fly, people could die! And they did!”

In 1984, the installation of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) plugs on all electricity-powered cord and plug portable high-pressure spray washers was mandated by the National Fire Protection Association, making it part of the new National Electrical Code® (NEC) in the United States.

Article 422-8 (d) (3), (Branch Circuit Requirements) of the National Electric Code® 1987 reads:

The supply conductors and internal wiring of portable high-pressure spray washing machines shall have ground fault circuit interrupter protection of personnel. The ground fault circuit interrupter shall be identified for use with portable equipment and permitted as an integral part of the attachment plug.

“As a result of the legislation, many of the companies that sold U.S.-made pressure washers under their own brand names, like Sears Roebuck, John Deere, and WW Granger, mandated that if they were electric powered, they had to have GFCI switches,” explains Bode. “Adding a 25-ft electrical cord and an automatic breaker switch to every single pressure washing unit wasn’t financially viable. Changing to gas engines just made more sense, from both an economical and safety point-of-view.”

The fact that pressure washers with gas engines were becoming increasingly powerful, lighter weight, and more compact also spurred an innovation revolution relating to pressure washing accessories. Most equipment manufacturers focused efforts on growing their accessory lines to meet the ever-expanding industry penetration that expanded from car washes and the agricultural sector to everything from hydrostatic testing, to sewer cleaning, jet cutting, and water hydraulic applications. Product innovations extended to sand blasters, flow sensitive pressure unloaders, chemical injectors, custom guns, thermo values, pop off values, strainers, accumulators, and 5000 psi guns, to name just a few.

Many of these new accessories addressed the need for not only better cleaning capacity and operational efficiency, but also focused on safety and environmental hazards. Roy Chappell, of Oklahoma City’s Chappell Supply and Equipment, recalls what it was like before trigger guns, for example, were introduced:

“When I first started in the pressure washing industry in 1980, most of the pressure washers didn’t have trigger guns,” explains Chappell. “When you turned one on, you had to be sure you were holding tightly on the hose, or it would be like trying to wrangle an angry snake! It was a huge safety risk and very dangerous. The industry really started to pay attention to this in the late 80s, and by the mid-1990s, ‘Dead-Man Trigger Controls’ were an industry requirement.

“Initially, the majority of accessories were purchased direct from the manufacturer and were quite expensive,” adds Chappell. “Over time, with advanced communications, such as Internet ordering, better distribution through supply companies, reduced shipping costs, and the ability to buy at trade shows, costs were reduced.”

In 1986, Cat Pumps delivered a most unique accessory to their line to help minimize problems associated with in-let pressure fluctuations. The C.A.T. (Captive Acceleration Tube) installed at the inlet of the pump stabilized pressure fluctuations caused by long feed lines, booster pumps, or pressure spikes from regulating valves. It proved especially helpful in prolonging the life and performance of reverse osmosis pumps.

Another significant innovation by Cat Pumps was the introduction of a unique new accessory designed to throttle down your engine when your trigger gun was released. The patented Throttle Controller prolonged engine life and reduced fuel consumption.

Although first introduced as cleaning pumps, Cat Pumps outstanding performance reputation soon had it specified in many specialized industrial applications. And Cat Pumps began custom designing and modifying pumps such as their Model 551, which supplied power to robots in the nuclear industry to strip fuel rods. Pressure washing had certainly ‘come of age!’

There is no doubt that the adoption of gas-powered engines, combined with a myriad of innovations and advances in technology, manufacturing, and accessories, was making the pressure washing industry safer for both operators and the environment.

Next month: All wound up! Replace-ment coils and other parts and service innovations.

Do you have any pressure washing stories, memories, or photos from 1980 through 2014 that you would like to share with Cleaner Times|IWA readers? Please e-mail terri@terriPERRINink.com to learn how you could be a part of this series.