“True Grit (Removal)”: CWEA, Collection System Maintenance, and Hollywood

Collection Systems, History

You never know what you will find when researching CWEA’s history!  The following article describes how researching the development of CWEA’s Local Sections and collection systems maintenance training led to finding an unexpected classic Hollywood “A-List” connection to our Association.

A Certification Question

The CWEA History Committee elected to use the following old collection system maintenance certification question as the lead-in to this edition of “Our History”:

Wayne Ball – a spirally grooved, inflatable, semi-hard rubber ball designed for hydraulic cleaning of sewer pipes.  The purpose of the spiral grooves on the outside of a Wayne sewer cleaning ball is to:

a. Allow the ball’s weight to be closer to the ball’s center.
b. Avoid patent infringement that would apply if a non-ribbed ball were used.
Cause “jet action” to aid in the hydraulic flushing of the sewer pipeline.
Reinforce (strengthen) the ball.

This certification question contains a clue to the link between collection system maintenance and Hollywood making it the perfect set-up for our article’s topic (and the correct answer to the question is contained within the article).

Tom Watkins Holding a Wayne Sewer Ball

Tom Watkins, City of Stockton, Holding a Wayne Sewer Ball

Local Sections – the Growth Years

To begin our story, we must travel back to the years when our Association was transitioning from the California Sewage Works Association (CSWA) to the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association (CSIWA) – the period of 1947 through 1953.  These were the years that saw the founding of many of the core CWEA Local Sections. Starting with the reestablishment of CWEA’s first Local Section (the San Joaquin Section) in 1949, the number of CSIWA Local Sections rapidly increased to 11 by 1953.1

The rapid growth of Local Sections during the 1950’s was fueled by the post-war economic boom and the attendant construction of new and expanded wastewater treatment facilities, growth in Association membership, and the subsequent “demand for operator training and the interchange of ideas at the local level.”2 Interestingly, early Local Section formation also included the establishment of CSIWA Sections focused on specific vocations –  thus the Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance Section was founded in 1952.

“Sewer Maintenance No Longer Neglected” – The Sewer Maintenance Section

The genesis of the CSIWA Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance Section was described in a March 1953 Federation article written by CISWA’s Secretary Sam Weed.3  The following excerpts from the article describe the impetus for creating a Section or Sections devoted to collection system maintenance:



For many years the sewer maintenance men have been the “Forgotten Men” of sewage disposal.  Much thought has been given to design engineering and plant operation, but little attention has been paid to the upkeep of the collection systems and the personnel charged with this duty To meet this growing and critical demand for more adequate knowledge of the problem of sanitary sewers, a group of interested engineers, maintenance superintendents, and others have instituted Sewer Maintenance Sections within the California Sewage and Industrial Association…

These valuable and far-flung systems need intelligent maintenance, just the same as the fire engines or city streets. With this idea in mind, a small group of men brought the Sewer Maintenance Section into being with the full approval of the officers and directors of the CSIWA.

Since its inception a little over a year ago, interest and membership have shown a steady increase. At the 1952 Spring Meeting in Santa Cruz, Calif. the Sewer Maintenance Section had an even larger crowd than could be readily accommodated at the first Annual Breakfast…

This program has been so successful and such great benefit has been derived by all those participating, that it is earnestly suggested that other areas and affiliated associations seriously consider the institution of maintenance sections.

Requests for information of data pertinent to the forming or programming of such an endeavor should be directed to the State Chairman of Maintenance Sections, who is Sydney Preen, Superintendent of Sewer Maintenance (City of Long Beach) …


This Federation article and subsequent CSIWA and CWPCA newsletter articles describing the Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance Section activities sparked my interest in learning more about this Section, specifically because I was unaware of the history of the Sewer Maintenance Sections.  Also, the article referred to a “Sewer Maintenance Section” and “Sewer Maintenance Sections” and it appears that the intent was to expand Sewer Maintenance Sections across geographic regions of California to create better access to training (like the Local Sections).  However, later articles referred to the Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance Section and the establishment of a Los Angeles Operators Section – this mix of information required more investigation to figure out the history of the vocation specific Sections.

Sydney Preen – “Mr. Sewer Maintenance”

Sydney D. Preen

Sydney D. Preen, 1967

To find out more about the CSIWA Sewer Maintenance Sections, I started by looking up references to Sydney D. Preen, CSIWA State Chair for Maintenance Sections in 1952-53.   I had seen “Syd” Preen’s name in the CSIWA Newletters and, given his level of involvement in the CSIWA/CWPCA and collection system maintenance, it was fairly easy to see why he was named “Mr. Sewer Maintenance” in 1958.   

The following is a brief summary and illustrations of Sydney Preen’s career in collection system maintenance and CSIWA/CWPCA activities:

  • Hired by City of Long Beach in 1933 as a Foreman in the Pipelines and Sewage Disposal Division of the Public Service Department
  • Promoted in 1944 to the position of Assistant to the Chief Sanitary Engineer, City of Long Beach
  • Designed and constructed (along with two other City personnel) a fully equipped maintenance and repair tool truck for the City of Long Beach in 1949
  • Promoted to Superintendent of Sewer Maintenance in the City of Long Beach Sewage Disposal Division of the Public Service Department, August 1950
  • Joined the CSIWA in 1950
  • Appointed Chairman of the CSIWA Sewer Maintenance Section in 1952
  • Chairman of the 1959 CSIWA Annual Conference in Long Beach
  • President of the Los Angeles Basin Section
  • Served on the CSIWA Board of Directors, 1955-1959
  • Received the Arthur Sydney Bedell Award in 1960
  • Developed an “Unclaimed Treasures” conference exhibit of items recovered from sewers – it is displayed at the 1963 WPCF (WEF) Conference and several other conferences and it is used as a public awareness tool
  • Received his Grade I CWPCA Line Maintenance Certificate (now the Grade IV Collection System Maintenance) in 1965
  • Co-recipient of the first WPCF (WEF) Collection Systems Award in 1974 (co-recipient with CSIWA Past-President Alvin Appel)
  • Member of the Select Society of Sludge Shovelers (5-S)
Mr. Sewer Maintenance

“Mr. Sewer Maintenance for ‘58” – CSIWA Newsletter December 1958

Sydney Preen, 1959 CSIWA Annual Conference Chair

Sydney Preen, 1959 CSIWA Annual Conference Chair

City of Long Beach Tool Truck Body

City of Long Beach Tool Truck Body Designed by Sydney Preen with Charles Skidmore and Robert Kennedy – Long Beach Independent Press, 1949

Sydney Preen and the “Unclaimed Treasure”

Sydney Preen and the “Unclaimed Treasure” Display Long Beach Independent Press, 1964

“Syd and the Duke”

Mary Morrison

Mary Morrison (Mrs. Sydney Preen) with Photo of Her Son, John Wayne in 1952

While compiling the information on Sydney Preen and his CSIWA/CWPCA service, I came across a reference to his wife, Mary, being the mother of movie star John Wayne (“The Duke”).  At first, I thought I might be mistaken, but several articles verified that Sydney Preen, “Mr. Sewer Maintenance”, was indeed John Wayne’s step-father.  Per the record, Sydney married John Wayne’s mother Mary Morrison in 1930, after her first husband (John Wayne’s father) had passed away.

The story of Sydney Preen’s relationship to John Wayne was interesting, but my research turned up an even more interesting story about the movie star’s connection to collection system maintenance.

1951 – Los Angeles Times

1951 – Los Angeles Times

Sydney Preen was somewhat of an inventor as demonstrated by his involvement in developing a maintenance and repair tool-truck body for the City of Long Beach.  The following quote from an article by Steven Shepard shows that the tool truck wasn’t Sydney Preen’s only invention:

“The Wayne ball presents its own mystery. “It was named after its inventor,” says the supply company representative. “It was invented by a guy named Wayne.” But there’s a tone in his voice that inspires less than complete confidence, and an ensuing series of phone calls leads me higher and higher up the supply chain until I finally find myself on the phone with an executive of the Sidu Company, in Los Alamitos, California. Sidu is the maker and seller of Wayne balls; the company’s name, says the executive, is an amalgam of the words Sidney and Duke.

Sidney (Sydney) Preen, says my informant, was the inventor of the Wayne ball, which is a brand name for what is generically called a cleaning ball. Preen worked for the Long Beach sanitation department in the 1940s and he invented the cleaning ball out of necessity: Long Beach was so flat, and its sewer system had so little fall, that sediment would accumulate in the lines and the pipes would periodically become blocked. Preen sought to address the problem by developing a routine way of cleaning the sewer pipes. For this, he invented the cleaning ball, which can be pushed or pulled through a sewer pipe and carries before it any and all accumulated debris.”

“The Duke in Sidu’s name is none other than The Duke — John Wayne. Preen was Wayne’s stepfather and after Preen invented the cleaning ball, Wayne put up the money to get him started in business. In thanks, Preen named his ball after him. Which means John Wayne is most likely the only person ever to have been honored by the naming after him of both an airport and a device for cleaning sewers.”

(Diary of a Sewer Repair, Part II)4

Patent Illustration

Patent Illustration for Sydney D. Preen’s Sewer Cleaning Ball

Is this a true story?  In the interests of the accurate reporting of CWEA History, I checked the U.S. patents and found that Sydney D. Preen did invent what is known as the “Wayne Ball” in the 1940’s.  The records verify that Preen filed for a patent in 1947 (see patent illustration).

So, yes, Sydney D. Preen, past CSIWA/CWPCA officer, award winner, and leader in collection systems maintenance did invent the “Wayne Ball” and name it after his stepson John Wayne.

You Never Know What You’ll Find!

You never know what you’ll find when looking into CWEA’s history. I originally started down a path of investigating the formation of CWEA’s Local Sections and ended up documenting John Wayne’s link to collection system maintenance!  Along the way, I did learn that the Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance Section and the Los Angeles Operators Section merged into the Los Angeles Basin Section in 1962,5 and acquired additional information on CWEA Local Sections for future articles.

Speaking of learning, the answer to the lead-in certification question is “c” and here’s the explanation: The cleaning of a sewer line with a Wayne Ball takes place through the jet action of water flowing around the ball, scouring the pipe wall. Debris in the pipe is pushed ahead to be removed at the downstream manhole. The spiral grooves on the outside of the ball enhance the jet action and “The ball can remove grease, slime, rocks, eggshells, sand, and other debris, but where roots have intruded into the lines, it must be preceded by a rodding machine.”6

So, it’s true – by using a Wayne Ball, grit and debris can be removed from sewer lines (I couldn’t resist the pun).

John Wayne

John Wayne in “True Grit” (1969, Paramount Studios)

1.  Donovan, Mike. “The Sections”, CWEA Bulletin (Fall 1996) pp 77-78

2.  Donovan, p. 77

3.  Weed, Sam. “Sewer Maintenance No Longer Neglected”, Sewage and Industrial Wastes Vol. 25, No. 3 (March 1953), pp. 347-348

4.  Shepard, Steven. “Diary of a Sewer Repair Part II”, San Diego Reader, March 19, 1998

5.  Donovan, p. 78

6.  Nuncio, M.G. “Using the Sewer Ball in Sewer Maintenance”, Journal (Water Pollution Control Federation) Vol. 40, No. 10 (October 1968), pp. 1779-1785