The Best Damn Plumber -- A Tribute To My Father
On July 31 of this year, the best damn plumber, my father, passed away. He would have been 83 years old in August. He had a wonderful long life, but it sure seems like he died too early.
Some people get lucky in life -- I was one of them. I was born into privilege. Not the privilege of money or royalty; my privilege was being the son of two outstanding human beings, one being the greatest plumber I ever knew.
My parents were a product of the Great Depression. When the country needed his service, my father responded like the others in the Greatest Generation. He served in the Army in the Pacific Theater. He always told us that he was guarding the pineapples in Hawaii during the war. He came home to start a family, having 10 children (six boys and four girls). I was No. 3.
Shortly after the war, my father started to work as a plumber for my uncle. (We have traced family members in the plumbing profession back to the 1880s.) Within a few years, my father left my uncle's business and started Ballanco Plumbing and Heating in Montvale, N.J. From the very beginning, my father had a very simple motto: "If you are going to do something, do it right -- the best you can." That is how his plumbing installations were -- right and the best they could be.
He quickly developed a reputation as the best plumber in the area. To his dying day, if you asked any plumber in the area, or any wholesale house, "Who was the best plumber?" they would always respond, Ed Ballanco, my father.
Rep To ProtectBeing the son of the best damn plumber meant that all six boys had to live up to his reputation. So, he made sure we learned the plumbing business correctly. There were only two ways to do things: my father's way and the wrong way. He had a very loud voice that he wasn't afraid to use. And if you got something wrong, he certainly let you know it. You couldn't ask for a better teacher. He knew the business, was willing to teach you, and was not apprehensive to let you know when you screwed up.
You didn't need to wait for any accolades when you did the job correctly. My father wasn't into building your self-esteem; you had to do that on your own time. He wanted you to be the best you could be and to do the best you could do, because you owed it to society and your fellow man.
My brothers always like to tell stories about working on the sewer trenches. That was one of the few times we would all be working together. When my younger brother would lay out the pipe, he always attempted to install it as straight as possible. Although, he would question the need for exactness, since the pipe was going to be buried under 6 feet of dirt. When my father would arrive on the sewer trench, he would tell my younger brother, "You have an eye like an eagle. A dead one!" The pipe was always straightened to be perfectly in line.
My father told us that when you finished a job, you put your signature on it. So it better be the best it can be, because it was a reflection of who you were. Pride in workmanship was most important.
Long before flat-rate pricing, or the price war, or the debate on what a plumber should be paid, my father had all of the answers. He always told his customers that it would cost more to hire him. "If you want the best, you have to pay for it. But, there won't be any callbacks." And there never were.
I cannot tell you how many times I heard my father say, "If you would like a cheaper plumber, let me give you the names of a few of my competitors. I know that they will do the same job for a lower price." He never felt insulted. It was simple; you get what you pay for. More than enough people were willing to pay for the best.
When homebuilders started into the affordable housing pricing method of plumbing, my father wouldn't bid. He was asked a number of times by different builders. His response was simple, "If you want me, let me know and I will tell you the price." Two builders continued to use him and pay his price. They wanted the best and sold their homes for a much higher price.
A Man RememberedAt my father's wake, there were countless customers that attended. I was surprised, although I probably shouldn't have been. Many people approached me and said, "I was one of your father's customers. He was our plumber for the past 30 years. He was such a nice man, I had to come pay my respects."
Many commented that everyone still admires their boiler room to this day. When we were knee-high to a grasshopper, my father used to have us shine the copper and lacquer it to keep it shiny. All of the fittings (which were cast back then) were painted the proper color to designate what the system is. For example, light blue was cold water, yellow was gas, etc.
One elderly customer came to me and said, "I will never forget your father. One evening 30 years ago, a few days before Christmas, I called him at 11:30 at night and he came right over to fix the heat. We had no heat and it was a cold night." When she described the house, I remembered completely, because I had accompanied my father on that call.
Those late-night calls were not done because he felt it was a business obligation. They were done because he knew he could help someone in need. He had a sense of obligation to his fellow man.
As a World War II veteran, my father taught us the importance of volunteering. He was a member of the Montvale Fire Department for 50 years, serving as chief for six years. He also served on many civic boards, athletic activities, Scouts, church and service organizations. All 10 of his children have followed in his footsteps, serving in numerous civic activities.
While my father officially retired five years ago from the plumbing business, he still worked the numbers with my brother for Ballanco Plumbing and Heating. He knew numbers and pricing, never needing a calculator or computer. Whenever my brother needed a helping hand, my father was still there.
I am going to miss my father. You always forget how many times you pick up the phone and ask a simple question. I am sure he is straightening out the plumbing in heaven for the Lord.