June 20, 2019
Faces of Fauquier: Plumber likes problem-solving
Photo/Don Del Rosso
“I’ve always been interested in how things work, how you take them apart and put them together again,” says Robbie Shepard, a superintendent/plumber with L.J. Foley Plumbing & Heating in Warrenton since 1998.
The little ankle-biters — Chihuahuas — they’re the worst, because they come after you.
The Warrenton-based plumber likes everything about his work — except for sewer repairs.
“That’s the grossest part,” admitted Robbie Shepard, declining to elaborate. “The smell and nastiness of what you’re dealing with — plain and simple. Anybody wouldn’t want to mess with it.”
After a series of post-high school “odd jobs,” Mr. Shepard 21 years ago joined L.J. Foley Plumbing & Heating, where he learned and continues to practice the trade.
Eventually promoted to superintendent, the Catlett resident runs about 15 service calls and prepares about 10 project estimates per week.
Established in the mid-1930s, family-owned Foley Plumbing & Heating deploys three two-man teams — each with a plumber and a helper — that handle mostly residential work, along with some commercial jobs.
Repair and replacement calls range from “stopped-up sinks,” leaking faucets and broken utility lines to defective well pumps, thermostats and water heaters, explained Mr. Shepard, 42.
His workday starts at 6:15 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. The company charges $125 per hour, with the average call taking 90 minutes, Mr. Shepard said.
The work still the engages him for the same reasons he became a plumber more than two decades ago.
“I’ve always been interested in how things work, how you take them apart and put them together again,” Mr. Shepard said.
Perhaps more than problem-solving, he likes working with customers.
“You meet somebody different every day,” he said.
On the downside of the job, he and his colleagues occasionally deal with disagreeable creatures — domestic and wild — and enter unclean homes, Mr. Shepard said.
“One time a guy and I were in a crawl space and a groundhog was under there,” he said. “It went the other way in a tunnel.”
Depending on the time of the year, black snake encounters almost become common.
Though he dislikes and avoids them, the non-poisonous reptiles don’t really trouble him.
“They’re more scared of us than we are of them,” Mr. Shepard said.
Dogs, however, pose a different set of concerns.
One service call involved a Rottweiler that chased him across a lawn to his truck, where he remained until the owner subdued the animal.
“The little ankle-biters — Chihuahuas — they’re the worst, because they come after you,” said Mr. Shepard, laughing.
Preferring the power of “eye contact,” he doesn’t pack pepper spray or other products to hold aggressive pets at bay.
“Sometimes, they stand down or keep going on,” Mr. Shepard said. “As long as you keep contact with them, they won’t come after you — most of the time.
“You can tell if a dog’s going to bite or not. You can tell by their temperament.”
Nothing disturbs him quite as much as calls involving “dirty” homes.
“One had a lot of cats in it. It was unbearable being there. The stench was so bad, my truck — from where we got in it — stunk for like three days after, because of the cat odor.
“They ripped the wallpaper off the drywall, floors had been torn up. Probably 40 cats in the house.”
Superintendent/plumber, L.J. Foley Plumbing & Heating Inc., Warrenton, 1998-present.
• Why do you do the job?
When I was a kid, Foley came out and did work at our house. I always followed the guys around. It’s just something I wanted to do. I found it interesting — working on well pumps and water heaters, filter systems and stuff like that.
Wife, Amy; children, Brooke, 22, Shana, 19, and Cassie, 13.
Fauquier High School, 1995.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
• Why do you live here?
We like the small-town atmosphere. And, we’re close to family.
• How do you describe this county?
Peaceful, rural. The people are pleasant, friendly.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
I would probably put in a movie theater, a bowling alley or a skating rink so the teens would have something to do. There’s plenty of things for adults to do but not that much for kids to do.
• What do you do for fun?
My wife and I do everything together. We go to wineries. Just take countryside drives. Just hit a road and drive and see where it ends.
We have a fire by the creek at the house — sit there and have a cookout.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Old Town Warrenton.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
Different parts of the county will be more urban. You’ll see a little bit more growth for the rural parts. I was going to say it’ll look like Gainesville, but I don’t think all of Fauquier will get that big.
• Favorite TV show?
• Favorite movie?
• Favorite book?
No particular book. But, I like Richard Marcinko’s books — the “Rogue Warrior.” I actually had a chance to meet him through Foley, doing some work. You would think he’d be real mean — the way he looks and everything. But, he’s a nice guy.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
• Favorite food?
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
My grandmother. Do unto others as you want done unto you. What comes around, most times goes around. That’s why I always live by that. It’s always been instilled in my life just treat people right.
• Who’s your hero and why?
My parents. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. They instilled in me to be honest, work for what I want. Nothing’s impossible.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
Pay off all my debt, help my family and probably donate some to local charities.
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RGLJA · June 21, 2019 at 9:39 am
Thank God for plumbers. They do noble work, requiring talent and knowledge, but it's messy and challenging. It's a great career for smart young people who aren't sure they need to go to college, and who don't want to waste their time racking up debt to become yet another unemployed graduate with a useless degree. Plumbers generally do very well, because everybody needs their help occasionally.
Dcava34 · June 20, 2019 at 2:47 pm
Great interview cupcake. You did live in Culpeper also didn’t you. And least but not last I thought I was your hero
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