Living a Legacy

Feb. 25, 2019

Iowa dealership represents five generations & 132 years of water industry experience

About the author:

Michael Meyer is associate editor for WQP. Meyer can be reached at [email protected]

It is not terribly difficult to find a water quality dealership that is a family business, but finding a dealership run by a family that has been in the business since the year construction began on the Eiffel Tower is another matter entirely. The Morton family of Franklin County, Iowa, can make that claim. The Mortons are now in their fifth generation of offering high-quality water services to the residents of central Iowa, and since 1958, that business has been conducted via Mort’s Water Co., which now is located in Latimer, Iowa.

Through the Years

The Morton family began working in the water industry during the late 19th century, and the knowledge it has accumulated during that time is second to none.

“My great granddad started in 1887, so that’s, what, 132 years ago?” said Kent Morton, owner of Mort’s Water Co. “He started as a drilling contractor—had an old wooden-derrick spudder drill. He passed away in 1932. Then my granddad started from ’32, and he kind of got out of drilling and did more pump work and plumbing; he finished in ’62. My dad started in ’58 and retired in ’90, so he was third generation. I started full time in ’72, and I’m still going. I’m joined by my youngest son Brandon, who started four and a half years ago, and my oldest son [Justin] will be starting here this coming early summer.”

Kent’s father, E.J. “Mort” Morton, founded Mort’s Water Co. in Coulter, Iowa, in 1958. In the years since it was created, the company has grown to offer many different water services, including drilling, agricultural work, sewer work, pumping and water conditioning.

“We’ve done water conditioning since—well, in the ‘60s, I guess, my dad did, and my granddad maybe to a lesser degree,” Kent said. “This November will be our 40th year with Kinetico. Then we have Hellenbrand—we are between 25 and 30 years with Hellenbrand products. Most of our business is residential and [agricultural], as far as water conditioning, but we do commercial and some small municipal jobs as well.”

Today, Kent runs three Mort’s locations: Mort’s Water Co. in Latimer, which primarily provides water conditioning services; Mort’s Plumbing & Heating in Iowa Falls, Iowa, which primarily offers plumbing and heating services; and a second Mort’s Plumbing & Heating location in Allison, Iowa, which offers water conditioning services in addition to plumbing and heating.

Quality Concerns

Kent said that when he began working for his father, water hardness and iron essentially were their only concerns. However, today the area’s residents face a growing number of water quality issues. In addition to standard water quality problems, contaminants such as tannins and nitrates have become common in the raw water in central Iowa. In recent years, arsenic also has become a significant concern for the team at Mort’s, as testing has discovered that around a third of the wells in the area contain levels of the element that are near or above the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ maximum contaminant level.

As the water quality issues in the area have become more complex, Kent has turned to Mike Goodwin, the company’s water conditioning sales manager, to develop treatment solutions. Goodwin is a Water Quality Assn. (WQA) Master Water Specialist—one of only two in the state—and a Certified Water Treatment Representative.

“From my standpoint as an employer, I’ll just say we’re tickled to death to have somebody of Mike’s caliber here,” Kent said. “He deals exclusively with water, so he’s kind of our go-to person, and it’s comforting to me as a business owner to have somebody of that caliber working with our company. It takes a lot of worry off my plate.”

Goodwin has only been working in the water treatment industry for more than a decade, but he has learned a great deal in a short amount of time by striving for and attaining WQA certification.

“I just think that having the WQA certification adds credibility to what you’re doing,” Goodwin said. “The water treatment business is full of a lot of people who have a lot of great ideas who want to sell something, but it has very few people who can tell you why you need it. Like I said, it’s about credibility to me, and my credibility is worth so much more than anything else.”

Despite the time commitment of the certification process, Kent believes that having WQA-certified professionals in the field is a sound value.

“As an employer, I’ve found that whether it’s water conditioning or any other thing that we’re associated with, it’s usually much more economical to have somebody schooled and trained and educated in whatever we pursue,” Kent said. “I don’t have to go back and out and change equipment that was misapplied. We have things well figured out before we go out and put in equipment for the situations. I think the education is paramount. If you’re serious about being in the business, the first order of the business is to be well-educated in water and get certified.”

The Next Generation

In addition to Goodwin’s certifications, Kent’s son Brandon Morton is a WQA Certified Water Specialist and a WQA Certified Water Treatment Representative. Despite his apparent skill and the fact that he was born into the water business, Brandon started off on a different path.

“I was in teaching for nine or 10 years,” Brandon said. “I worked in the family business when I was in high school, during the summer months, and in college—during winter breaks and stuff like that. I was never pressured to be a part of it—they just tried to let me do what I needed to do to fulfill my career and go from there.”

Brandon’s teaching career took him from Iowa State University to Waukee, Iowa—approximately 90 minutes away from Latimer—but after moving back to Franklin County to work for the Hampton-Dumont Community School District, he returned to Mort’s Water Co.

“It’s actually worked out well,” Brandon said. “I was actually able to come back here and do something I wanted to do with teaching, to fulfill that part of my career, and it worked out well to not be too far away from the family business—I could slowly roll into it and be a part of it for the last four and a half years.”

Brandon enjoys working with his father and believes the Morton family’s legacy of water treatment helps to set them apart in a competitive industry.

“Not that we’re trying to showboat at all, but obviously a lot of people can’t say they have a fifth-generation company that’s in the water industry in some aspect for that long,” Brandon said. “I think that’s a good tradition that I like to be a part of. “

Brandon is a father of five, and he suspects that the sixth generation of the Morton water dynasty might reside in his house.

“I have younger boys, and not that they would ever be pressured into doing it, but they obviously see the equipment that we use, the stuff that we do,” Brandon said. “Maybe sometimes I come home not smelling the best, but they’re not afraid to say that they would enjoy doing that when they grow up too.” 

About the Author

Michael Meyer

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