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, September 26, 2011

My Brief Career on the County Garbage Truck

The summer of 1974, between my graduation from high school and my freshman year at Westark, I needed to make some money.  I had a part-time job at B&B Drug Store, but I needed to work full-time, so I quit and, through some kind of partially government funded thing, got a job working for the Scott County Road Department.  There, I would be bringing in the princely sum of $1.75 per hour, a veritable gold mine.

My first job assignment was driving a service truck.  A service truck was a pickup that followed along behind a road grader.  My job was to fuel the graders each morning, clean the glass around the grader's cab, and then follow along as it graded the road, stopping to clean out ditches whenever the grader piled dirt over the end of a culvert.  I had a little problem with this, because I would often stop and clean out a culvert, only to see it covered up again when the grader made it's second run along the same stretch. I was given a pickup to drive that had one minor problem - it could not be started with a key.  This was no problem, I was assured.  I was to make sure that I always stopped at the top of a hill.  I would kill the truck with the key, and then start again by letting off the clutch, sticking my foot out and giving myself a little push to start rolling downward.  Once I picked up a little speed, I would turn the key on, let off the clutch, and the engine would spring to life.  If that didn't work, I could get the road grader driver to extend his blade out and give me a push as we both drove down the road.  Overall, it worked surprisingly well.

I never quite figured out the driver's technique, I guess, because sometimes I would wait to clean out the culvert, thinking there would be another pass through, when in fact there would not.  So, after a few weeks, it became obvious to the road foreman that I was, perhaps, not the sharpest crayon in the box.

So, I was moved to the crew working the trash truck.  Scott County had only been in the trash business for a couple of years, but a system was in place in which the entire county was covered in nine days, and on the tenth day, the trash truck was taken to Northside Gulf, where it was serviced and the oil was changed.  The truck visited a different part of the county each day.

This was an excellent opportunity to see all the back roads of Scott County.  However, being severely directionally impaired, for most of the summer I had absolutely no idea where I was.  The truck was driven by Don Hale, and Tom Scott was also on the crew.  I, and occasionally another summer worker, completed the team. 

On most days, there was a lot of driving between stops.  This afforded an excellent opportunity for relaxation, driving through the lush countryside of Scott County.  When we arrived at someone's house, we would hop out and quickly dispatch the trash into the back of the truck.  Most people didn't bag their trash, they just dumped it into a metal can.  So, as the summer wore on, I got better and better at lifting the heavy cans and dumping them.  On some routes, we could go all day before we had to visit the landfill; others required a mid-day visit and then a return at the end of the day.

That was when Waldron's landfill was still in operation.  It was a busy place; there were almost always people there waiting to go through the newly dumped trash.  Of course, we had already been through it ourselves.  If we found something interesting, there was a place in front of the trash compactor where we could safely store our treasures.  Of course, being the low man on the Trash Totem Pole, I never got any treasures to take home. 

At some point during that summer, my sister Janet was awarded a $200 scholarship by the Waldron Business and Professional Women's organization.  The Waldron News had requested a picture of her for their story, and the only one she could find was a large 5 x 7 school picture, but the Waldron News people said they could make it smaller.  But for some reason they didn't, and Janet's picture was on the front page of that week's edition, taking up a large portion of the area above the fold.  The following week, as I went about my trash collecting, it seems that every time I opened the lid on a trash can, there was Janet staring back at me.

I always looked forward to stopping for lunch.  Working in the garbage industry, you get over your issues of cleanliness and germs pretty quickly.  Every morning before I left for work, Mama would fix me a lunch consisting of a bologna and cheese sandwich, a can of Vienna sausages, a little can of butterscotch pudding with some vanilla wafers in a little baggie, a small container of pears, and a thermos of iced tea.  Then, when lunch time rolled around, we would find a shady spot beside the road somewhere and, sitting strategically upwind from the garbage truck, would enjoy our lunches.  This was when I learned that before you eat your can of Vienna sausages, you tip the can up and drink all the salty liquid out first.

Sometimes, on those tenth days when the truck was being serviced, we would hang around Northside Gulf for most of the day.  Other times, we would go out on various jobs.  Once, when Don was off work, the truck got finished early and Tom and I, along with another high school kid a couple of years younger than me, loaded up some 4 x 4's in the back of the garbage truck and went down to Bates to replace some beams in an old steel bridge.  Driving a spike through a 4 x 4 with a sledge hammer is not an easy task, but we worked hard and were just about through when we saw that we needed a few more 4 x 4's down at the far end of the bridge.  The other guy on our crew begged Tom to let him back the trash truck up to our location, and Tom reluctantly agreed.  So, the kid got in and carefully backed up, looking behind him the whole way.  Unfortunately, he got closer to the steel beams on the bridge than he thought, and the side mirror caught one and just crumpled the top of the drivers side door.  Now this kid didn't work with us often, so Tom didn't really know his name, so when we got back to the county barn and the other guys asked what happened, Tom just said, "That kid backed into the side of the bridge."  I, being the kid who worked on the trash truck, generally got blamed for that one.

The next summer, I returned to the county road department, but this time I was again a service truck driver.  I was placed with two road grader operators, Roger Boggs and Dub Handshaw.  Roger and Dub were both great to work with, and treated me like a real coworker.  The road foreman had been given a new truck, so we inherited his old one, an early 70s model Ford with an AM radio.  Nobody else had a truck with a radio, so we felt that we were in tall cotton.  We would listen to KFSA radio out of Fort Smith as we drove to our work site, and at that time KFSA played mostly adult contemporary and pop hits, so Roger, who was just a few years older than me, and I really enjoyed it.  When we ate our lunch each day, we would leave the radio on so we could listen to Paul Harvey give his news report. 

I sure enjoyed working with those guys.  Dub had a particular expression he would use when he felt he had done exceptionally well at navigating our truck to our work site.  "That," he would say," is some decision driving."  I think he probably meant "precision," but heck, we knew what he was trying to say.  And Roger would comment, after a particularly good job of grading a road, that he had observed a Greyhound bus passing his grader, a bus that had obviously confused the smooth dirt surface he had created with 71 Highway. 

Dub and Roger, both gone now, but both good men.  It was a pleasure working with them.  I did, however, suffer one side effect from my garbage truck days.  For at least two years afterward, while I was driving down the highway, I had to fight the urge to stop every time I passed someone's garbage piled at the end of their driveway.

1 comment:

  1. My town's garbage collector is one of the most-loved persons in the community. He's a household name around my place. Your post reminds me that we should always be grateful to everyone around us, and everyone's an important part of the community. =)