This holiday, celebrate the pioneers who've improved the plumbing profession.

It's hard to believe we are already at the holiday time of the year. It seems like yesterday that everyone was concerned with Y2K. The end of this month, of course, ushers in the real next millennium. I'm a purist who agrees with 2MI. (If you can't figure that out, it is a takeoff on Y2K, using the number two with Roman numerals to indicate 2001.)

This year has been filled with many reasons to give thanks. We have a newly elected president; the era of Bill Clinton is about to end; the economy has been very strong; the code organizations are merging into one; and plumbing technology is gaining.

That last one is a subject that has always been near and dear to my heart. All of us have prospered by new advances in the plumbing industry. While we all tend to lament about the good ol' days when things were harder, we really enjoy the modern conveniences of our profession.

I don't care to return to the days of pounding white oakum into extra heavy cast-iron joints while breathing those wonderful lead fumes. We have come a long way.

Paving New Paths

This month, I would like to herald an unsung pioneer in the plumbing industry, John Engelberger, P.E. As you can see by his name, John is a registered professional engineer. If you are like most people in this industry, you have never heard of John Engelberger, P.E.

John is a good friend, but at the same time, he can be a pain in the butt. Being that pain in the butt is what has helped the plumbing industry. John visited the ISH show in Frankfurt, Germany, back in the early 1980s. You see, John was a visionary who knew that America didn't have all of the answers. He never minded checking out what was invented in other countries to see where technology was heading.

After the ISH show of 1981, John introduced a new product he thought would revolutionize the way we do plumbing. The product had been used in Europe for a number of years, with great success. John could not believe the ease of installation and the cost savings to the consumer. The product he introduced? The air admittance valve.

I know, the first thing many of you are saying is "Oh, he must be a part of Studor." No. In fact, John introduced air admittance valves to the United States five years before Studor stepped foot in the United States. John obtained the rights to distribute another air admittance valve: Durgo.

Don't get me wrong, you don't introduce new products in the United States with some noble idea that you are serving the industry; you do it to make money. John's intention was no different than many of ours. He wanted to make money from the sale of air admittance valves.

Any American, other than John, in the plumbing profession probably would have walked away from air admittance valves. But he saw the industry in a different light. Many of John's buzz words were, "Hey, I was in the Navy, I know when things work," or "I'm an engineer, I know how a system must be designed and how it must work." He always seemed to take the heat in saying, "Trust me." And many people did, and many plumbers have made out very well as a result.

Headstrong Hero

One of the fun aspects of dealing with John has been his passion for doing what he believes is right. I served on a couple of standards committees with John. One issue that always popped up with air admittance valves was bug protection. There has been a constant debate as to whether an air admittance valve needs a guard to protect the inside membrane from bugs. I'll have to say it was the first, and to date, the only time I have been involved in a major argument as to whether a piece of the plumbing system needs to be protected from bugs. (We normally ignore bugs.)

At the standard meetings, John always held the same opinion: "What do we need bug protection for?" He stood fast on his position, always endeavoring to prove that bugs are not a problem with air admittance valves. John viewed the bug issue as one manufacturer trying to gain an edge on the competition.

I remember one meeting when John brought photographs of a competitor's valve, which claimed to have bug protection, with bugs crawling all over the valve. He coated the inside of the valve with honey to attract the bugs. This outrageous demonstration killed the bug protection proposal for the standard.

When you pioneer a new concept, you have to withstand numerous attacks. John had his share. Not only was he attacked by those opposed to air admittance valves, John was often attacked by his competitors. But he always had the right demeanor. When opponents to air admittance valves yelled and screamed about how they were no good, I would hear John reply, "Well, you may have a point. However, let me review why the position is not technically supported." Nothing like being put down softly.

So this holiday season, give thanks for the many pioneers we have had in the plumbing profession - those nameless people who make a better life for all of us.

I would also ask you to say a special prayer for my good friend John Engelberger, P.E. As I write this column, John is in a fight for his life with a disease that has ravaged his body. I pray that John will live to celebrate the new millennium and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

To all of the readers, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and the most prosperous of new years. And Happy 2MI!