Made in Eastern Iowa: Keeping the elements out and the elements from getting out

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RIVERSIDE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Ken Wilkinson is not shy about his knowledge of concrete.

Ken Wilkinson, owner of Wilkinson Precast Inc., of Riverside, says he is proud of the company's products, which go back to 1953 and cover septic tanks and storm shelters.

"I’m proud of my products," said the owner of Wilkinson Precast Inc., on the edge of Riverside.

Drivers looking south on Highway 22 may see the storm shelters, lined up at the entrance to Wilkinson Precast. That can lead to curiosity when thinking about the state's infamous tornadoes and whether one of these concrete products could fight the elements... and win.

"I haven’t heard back whether one of my storm shelters has gone through a tornado," said Wilkinson. "Nobody has ever contacted me but I would like to know."

He did point out a storm from nearly twenty years ago where Wilkinson delivered a storm shelter just in time.

"We delivered one at 2 o’clock and they were in it at 4 o’clock," said Wilkinson. "That was in 1999 but they were not in the line of the tornado but they were close. A month later, we had the inline winds and they were back (inside)."

The current construction boom also bolsters the bottom line. With new buildings -- homes or businesses -- also creates the demand for new septic tanks. One of Wilkinson's core businesses is the septic tanks -- to keep what is inside from ever leaking out.

"There’s an awful lot of steel rebar that goes into these," he pointed out while showing a septic tank that can handle a five-bedroom home. "I always build three-inch forms. My tanks are monolithically-poured, upside down. We pour everything here upside down. The partitions and the bottom at the same time as the walls so they don’t leak."

Ken's company only has five employees but he said he appreciates that most of them have been with him, in Riverside, for at least fifteen years. His decades in business have also led to an enhanced reputation with engineers all throughout the state.

"I can’t say if I’m the largest seller of septic tanks in all of Iowa," said Wilkinson. "I might be the largest. I sell an awful lot of septic tanks and I got DOT approved to sell the box culvert, the creeks that go underneath the highways. The septic tanks are built with all the same materials I would need to build a bridge for interstate highways so you’re getting a good deal for a septic tank."