by Danny Eckardt
photography by Juan Garcia
Imagine rolling hills, clear blue skies and green cornfields as far as the eye can see. Now imagine a collection of towns slammed together at the base of a polluted mountain-side. For the 35-year old Tim Loughman, an independent plumber and resident of La Verne, the striking differences offer the same comforting feel of home that he experienced in Albay, Iowa as a youth.
“You can walk down the street here [La Verne] and say hello to someone or smile at someone, and they look at you and say hello,” says Loughman. “If I could be on a welcome wagon or a sales committee, I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world.”
As a native Iowan, Loughman fell in love with the hardy, high moral standard of the mid-west like he fell in love with the plumbing trade. Plumbing was not Loughman’s true desire while growing up in Iowa; it was sport-any sport.
“I wanted to be anything with sports, ” says Loughman. “We grew up as a real sports-oriented family, and we used to have mini-olympics in the summer with everyone on the block.”
Unfortunately, Loughman did not get to realize that dream, as he left home to attend the University of Missouri. Loughman quickly became “tired of the cold,” and promptly moved to Arizona with friends. That is where he experienced the realities of living on his own. Loughman recalls surviving on $10 a week and eating nothing but plain potatoes.
“We found work there [Arizona] in the trades and responsibility grabbed a hold,” says Loughman.
He soon left Arizona for Southern California’s sunny beaches to escape the dry heat. That’s where he made contact with his friend Perry Smith, who was a plumber in La Verne and needed help. Since Loughman became accustomed to the trades life, he had no problem lending a hand to his friend.
“I got started helping him out, and really started making more and more money,” says Loughman.
Five years later, at the age of 24, Loughman owned his own plumbing business, La Verne Plumbing, and married his wife Bettina.
“Life kind of grabs a hold of you and responsibilities kind of catch you and you don’t have the luxury of choosing what you want to be or do-you just keep going with what you know,” says Loughman.
Loughman and Bettina met through a mutual friend at a restaurant named Augustines in La Verne. Augustines no longer exists, but Bettina’s love for Loughman has never ceased.
“I feel really blessed by God for having a husband like that,” says Bettina. “He is loyal, hard working and kind.”
The two married in Las Vegas in July of 1989, but went to Dorsten, Germany, the town Bettina was born and raised in, for a German-style wedding. In fact, a small town newspaper in Dorsten wrote an article on the wedding that read, “Local girl goes out to Los Angeles and finds dream man.”
Starting the plumbing business was not easy as, Bettina recalls having very little money and a truck that caught on fire. On top of that, the Loughman’s did not advertise, which meant they came home with blisters on their hands from distributing flyers.
“I, myself, came home with blisters from taking out flyers, and just really sitting by the phone and praying it would ring,” says Bettina.
Six years later, the Loughmans had their first child, Tyler. Their daughter Shelby came four years later. Long-time neighbor May Nell Kirchnavy feels blessed to be like a “grandma and neighbor” to the Loughman family.
“They are the best neighbors. They are very dear to me,” says Kirchnavy. “Their kids call me grandma.” Kirchnavy is like family to Tim and Bettina, because their respective families live so far way.
Loughman’s sports-oriented past gave rise to his love for the plumbing industry. In fact, Loughman was named “Athlete of the Century” in his hometown of Albay, Iowa this year, for his all around excellence in sports as a youth.
“I like the physical work of it, and I like not being tied to an office,” he says. “I get to meet people and I am never in the same place all the time.”
A typical day’s work consists of eight to 10 hours in the field, and two or three at home doing paper work.
“I am a service plumber, so I pretty much do residential stuff,” says Loughman. “You can’t get up too early because people are using their plumbing obviously, and you can’t get out too late because they come home to use their plumbing.”
Plumbing does not come without its comedy, as Loughman recalls. “Just the other day I pulled a leather dog bone out of a toilet, and people were freaking out at their employees in a place of business,” says Loughman. “It was wrapped in dental floss, so we found it humorous that the dog had good hygiene when he was in the rest room.”
Loughman services the foothill communities, which include Claremont, La Verne, Pomona and San Dimas.
Sometimes work adds stress to his other commitments, as Loughman juggles being president of the Board of Trustees at United Methodist Men’s Club at Methodist Church in La Verne, and coach for his son Tyler’s 7-year-olds Mighty Might basketball team for a second year.
“It’s never ending,” says Loughman. “I have a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old, and you put a lot of hours in so you are torn between time with your family and obligations to your customers.”
Loughman’s customers give him another reason to keep plumbing, because they treat him “super-fair.”
“I have real good customers,” says Loughman. “It is a really fortunate scenario, because the one thing about being small and individualized is that the person who they talk to is the person that does the job – which is the person who ultimately gets paid.”
The kindness of his customers also hits home, as patrons spoil the Loughman family with sweets.
“I should weigh 200 pounds, because there are pies and oranges and cakes in the house from all these little old sweet ladies who say ‘Tim wouldn’t take our money,’ ” says Bettina.
Loughman’s caring heart does not stop him short of taking care of customers in need.
“If I see someone in need, a lot of times I help them,” says Loughman. “As far as older folks that are in need, a lot of the times I help them and try not to bill them if its five, 10 or 15 minutes of helping them.”
“He does a lot of things for people. It ain’t all money with him,” says friend John Richards. “We are really lucky in this town to have him.”
In his 16 years of experience in the foothill community, Loughman has worked for a few famous and noteworthy people. One of those persons was Barry Morrow, writer for the Oscar-winning movie “Rain Man.”
“I replumbed his back studio in Claremont,” says Loughman. “He wrote my mom a birthday note, because my mom is an aspiring writer.”
Some of the other noteworthy people he has worked for include Jack Lawler and Richards. Lawler helped build the metropolitan water works, as well as took pictures of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, according to Loughman. Richards was a fellow plumber and good friend of Loughman’s who worked 35 years in La Verne, and served as one of the youngest men in the Navy, at the age of 14, during World War II.
“I’ve adopted Tim as my own son,” says Richards. “I think the world of him. He’s a church-going righteous-thinking man. I couldn’t find a better friend if I tried.”
When Loughman first arrived in La Verne, Richards rented out one of his apartments to him. Even though he is a 71-year-old retired plumber, Richards still calls on Loughman’s honest and hard working services. In fact, Richards recalls working with Loughman in a mentoring-fashion when he was new to La Verne.
“I owned my own business [plumbing], but he has helped me out through the years-now he is my plumber. I would hire the best I could get, and he is the best you could get.”
Richards knows what it takes to be a plumber, but after meeting and working with Loughman he is sold on the fact that there are few who work harder. “He is one of the hardest workers I have ever met in my life,” says Richards.
There is nothing like good customers that keep him going, but Loughman’s true inspiration he says comes from his mother.
“My mother is probably one of the most incredible people I know, by far,” says Loughman. “She lived a very hard life, and you can’t find a nicer person. She’s a good friend.”
In addition to the regular plumbing grind, Loughman remodels and installs new items in commercial and residential districts. Some of the places he has served includes: the University of La Verne, La Verne Police Station, the Village Inn, Warehouse Pizza, Roxy’s and Café Allegro.
“We use Tim every two months,” says Brian Worley, director of facilities management at the University of La Verne. “We use him on emergency situations, or a situation when my regular plumber is on vacation or out for some reason.”
Loughman’s hard work and dedication is the reason Worley continues to call him in time of need.
“I think Tim approaches his work very professionally,” says Worley. “I think Tim has a positive outlook on things and I enjoy working with him.”
Even though Loughman may never admittedly become rich doing plumbing work, he has found all he could ever want in being humble and providing for his family.
“I am never going to get rich, but what do you really want-I am healthy, my kids are provided for, and I get time for my kids,” says Loughman. “Money buys you a lot of material things, but it doesn’t buy you time with your family. There are very few people, I would say, money-wise or lifestyle-wise, that live as good a lifestyle as I do.”
Don’t tell him to retire, because there is not end in sight for his career. “I don’t really think I will ever retire,” says Loughman. “I will always be helping people plumbing-wise, probably until I can’t do it.”
For this humble Iowan native, being the consummate gentleman and father means more than anything in the world — even plumbing.