Jimmy O’Neal Q&A

A longtime Johnson County utility employee who has witnessed firsthand the development boom retired this month.

James “Jimmy” O’Neal, a Greenwood resident, worked for Indiana American Water for 41 years. He started working for the company Nov. 19, 1973. He talked with the Daily Journal about his work and what he’s looking forward to in retirement.

What jobs have you had with American Water?

I started as a meter reader. I have been a fitter, local rep and, of course, field service representative — that’s basically my career in a nutshell.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in your work at the water company?

Here in Greenwood, we have one meter reader. We used to have four. Now, meters are read by radio frequency, but you still need people to read them manually. When I started reading meters, you had a book, a couple of pencils, a good screwdriver, a hammer and sometimes a viewing glass since we had to read through water. It was maybe 10 years after that we started using computers.

How has your customer base grown since you started working?

During one housing boom, I was setting 10 meters a day. I remember setting the 5,000th meter for Greenwood. Now, we’ve got 30,000 customers in Franklin, New Whiteland and Greenwood.

What’s something you dislike about your job?

The worst thing is shutting off customers’ water for nonpayment. That was never one of my favorite jobs.

What are some of your daily tasks at work?

Water plants are mechanized and computerized now, but we check that our plant is operating properly and that readings for chemicals and pumping are working well. I shut off water for nonpayment, take customer complaints for taste and odor or low pressure, set new meters and repair and replace meter sensors. If we have main breaks or anything like that, I’m usually the first to check that out.

What are examples of some of your more memorable customer calls?

Customers have called to say they don’t have any water, and you find out that the kids shut off the main shut-off valve. One guy was hearing water and had a high bill and we found out that his dog had dug up a line in the yard. People will call and say they don’t have any hot water, and we tell them that we don’t sell hot water. Sometimes people call to say they have no water pressure, but it’s because they have a water softener problem.

What will you miss the most about work?

I’m going to miss my buddies. I’ll miss emergency calls like when there’s a broken water main. It’s a rush. It gets your adrenaline pumping. I’ll also miss dealing with customers.

What are your retirement plans?

I haven’t been fishing in a long time, and I’m going to plant a garden.

Who will you spend your time with?

Nancy, my wife of 45 years. (The couple has two children and four grandchildren.)

Any last thoughts or advice to those who’ll take over for you?

It’s always a sense of accomplishment to get a job done. When I was young, my uncle or my dad had a saying: ‘If you were paying yourself to do the work, would you be getting your money’s worth?’

— Compiled by staff writer Anna K. Herkamp

Anna Herkamp is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at aherkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2712.