Area residents who call Townsend Enterprises for a plumber may be surprised to see Rachael Townsend at their door. In her mid-30s, Townsend, of Boothbay Harbor, is one of Maine’s very few women Master Plumbers and a full partner in the business.
The 2002 Boothbay Region High School graduate’s experience began as a “little kid” of about 8 or 9. She would accompany her father, Jeff Townsend, as he worked. “I would hand him the tools so I learned what they were and how to turn on water valves.” During her school years, she worked in the field with her father, who has been in business as a plumber since 1979.
Wanting to explore other fields, Rachael Townsend headed to University of Maine at Augusta to study computer science and architectural engineering. She worked on weekends with her father and received her Trainee Plumber license in 2006 and associate’s degree from UMA in 2009.
“It was during the housing crisis and I couldn’t find work in my new field, so I came back and went to work for my Dad,” she said. It was, as she remembered, a smooth transition because they were used to working together.
From 2009 on, she averaged 30 hours a week, or about 10,000 hours in the field, while juggling cleaning and other businesses. With her extensive experience, she bypassed the Journeyman Plumber license and instead, last Jan. 20, was licensed as a Master Plumber in Maine.
While the state doesn’t record licensees as male or female, women Master Plumbers are few in Maine. Jeff Townsend said he has only met one about 20 years ago and Rachael has never met another woman Master Plumber. Career website Zippia says women make up around 5% of all plumbers.
Applying for her Master Plumber license wasn’t her original plan, but a discussion with their lawyer about her father’s eventual retirement made her reconsider. “If I didn’t get the license all my work would have been a waste of time because I couldn’t take over the business,” she said. So at the end of last summer after being encouraged by many people, she became serious about applying.
In addition to working in the field, she handles accounting, payroll, ordering, billing, inventory and the other office-based responsibilities of an owner.
Asked why there aren’t more women plumbers, she admitted the field could be “...intimidating for women. If my father didn’t have a plumbing business, I wouldn’t be a plumber. You have to have someone who is willing to let you work with them.”
She also pointed to the way they work as a team. “Almost right off the bat we worked well with each other.” By watching and learning from her father, she learned what he needed her to do and now each helps the other. “We can work together without talking, we just know and that’s a rare thing.”
“All along she’s gone out in the field with me but I never had a thought that she would go all the way with it,” Jeff said.
It wasn’t always easy and Rachael said her father was a tough teacher. “It took a while before I could lift and set a toilet or put in a water heater by myself. I had to show him that I could perform the job. He always told me that ‘try’ is a failure word.”
As for mentoring other women, she is open to the idea. “In general, customers like having a woman on the job because they are more detailed than men,” she said.
And will her son Carter, 10, follow in the family tradition? For now, he is doing what his mother did – accompanying them in the field and learning how to turn on water valves. She teaches him and he has shown an interest but she is not sure if he will become a plumber.
And what words of wisdom did her father give her? She answered, “There are no problems, just solutions.”