A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2011


My very first paying job was as a sweeper for Waldron Public Schools.  Sweepers were high school guys who, every day after school, went over the hallowed halls of WHS with a dust mop.  It was a pretty good job; I worked from about 3:15 to around 5:00 each day, and made $50 per month. 

I come from a proud line of sweepers.  Two of my brothers, Gary and Phil, were both sweepers in their day, before graduating and going off to more glamourous pursuits.  In fact, my brother Phil helped me land the job.  Once when he was in on leave from the Navy, we came up to school and Phil talked to Sherman Oliver, the high school janitor, about me and I got hired soon after.  So, during my sophomore year, the 1971-1972 school year, I worked as a sweeper.

The job had it's moments.  We sweepers took a certain pride in our position, and should some incident occur during the school day in which some sort of cleanup was required, we proudly accessed the janitor's closet to get the needed provisions, something the mere nonsweepers would never even consider doing.  We also felt an added comeraderie with the teachers, since we were all employees of the Waldron School District.  Add to this the fact that we were free to go across the street to get a Coke at the candy store before we started working; something that I rarely did but just knowing that I could made me feel good. 

We also took pride in our individual technique.  I, along with Paul Frazier, swept the High School, and a couple of other guys swept the Junior High.  I had all the rooms on the south side of the building as well as half of the study hall/library.  Working slowly didn't pay off, because we worked until we were finished, so the faster you worked the sooner you got to go home.  So, we quickly learned how to sweep as rapidly as possible while still doing a quality job.  There was nothing more embarrassing than walking into a classroom some morning and seeing a pile of dust and trash that you overlooked the afternoon before.  Most of the classrooms had individual desk and chair combinations, and the speedy technique for working with those was to go down the aisle, pushing your broom with one hand and slinging the desks next to you into the adjoining aisle with the other hand, so that when you turned around to come back up your newly created space, you could hold the broom with one hand and pull the desks back into place with the other.  Then you were ready to repeat the process on the next row of desks.  This required a great deal of energy, so sometimes near the end of the day all you could do was go through and push a whole row of desks into the aisle and then sweep that space, and lay down your broom and go back and put them in the correct place.  This was not nearly as fast but much less effort.  I had both the science classrooms to do as well, and they were harder, since each lab station had a wooden stool which had to be moved.  First thing, I would go in and rapidly put all the stools on top of the lab tables, and then sweep the floor.  When that was done, I'd go as fast as I could putting the stools back on the floor.  Same as with the tables and chairs in study hall; go through first and put every chair on top of the tables, sweep the floor, and then replace all of the chairs. 

Our brooms were kept in the boiler room.  About once every couple of weeks, we would treat our dust mops with some kind of oily stuff that came in a gallon jug.  We had to be careful because too much of that stuff would leave muddy streaks on the tile.  I'm pretty sure that every single 12-inch tile in the building had a broom go over it each day.  We were diligent; we swept everywhere we could get our brooms to reach.  In addition, we often cleaned the blackboards in the classrooms.  We used water and sponges on them, which if you were careful could make them look almost like new, but if you were too hurried could make them look really bad and streaked. 

I can remember my first paycheck.  I walked down to The Bank of Waldron and opened up a savings account, depositing $40 and keeping $10 out for myself.  I can remember how wonderful that felt, walking home knowing I had money in the bank.  Each month, I'd deposit some of my check into that little savings account.  I don't remember how much I built it up to, but it came in handy when I was getting ready to go to college!

Sometime in the middle of that sophomore year of sweeping, there was a bit of labor unrest.  It seems the Junior High guys felt that they were not making enough, and staged some sort of a walkout.  It did not sit well with Mr. L.R. Sawyer, Superintendent of Waldron Public Schools.  Paul and I were not involved in this, but I remember being called over to Mr. Sawyer's office one morning.  There, along with Mr. Sawyer, was Gilbert Davis, High School Principal, and James Staggs, Junior High Principal.  I had no idea why I was being summoned, and felt somewhat nervous.  But, it turns out, all they wanted was to see if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a sweeping job.  I first thought of my best friend Randy Bottoms, but he had a job sacking groceries at Piggly Wiggly.  So, I suggested another close friend, Bruce Keener.  By the end of that day, Bruce was one of the new sweepers in Junior High.

Perhaps I could have continued on throughout my High School career as a sweeper, but fate intervened.  Bill Black, the owner of B&B Drug, was looking for a student to work as janitor/delivery boy for the drug store, replacing Nathan Pearson who was quitting.  So, he contacted the high school office to see if they could suggest someone, and due undoubtedly to my exemplary performance as a sweeper, my name was proffered.  So, Bill called me and I became the B&B janitor, some of my advertures at which you can read about here.

But I was not finished with the janitorial arts.  I worked as a janitor during my first two years in college, and even had a janitorial contract for a year or two after I started teaching.  And so, to my first mentor, Sherman Oliver, I say a big thank you.

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