April 2, 1963, by Keta Steebs
Having come from a short but nonetheless distinguished line of bona fide garbage collectors. I viewed the inception of the fledgling “Going Garbage Company”, with more than passing interest.
My two younger brothers (known by the family as Sanitation Engineers) were both in the garbage collecting business during their high school years and did quite well. They not only collected garbage but zealously emptied back porches of everything that wasn’t bolted down. Lawn chairs, diaper pails, washtubs, bowls of jello, family portraits, and Nesco roasters all found their ignominious way to the dump viz the Pearson Sanitation Van.
My mother once lost a clothes boiler, dust mop, and upside-down cake in one fell swoop. She got the boiler and dust mop back but the trip, unfortunately, turned the upside-down cake, down-side-up and inside out.
Mondays were devoted to hauling garbage and the rest of the week to bringing back the valuables. Needless to say, our phone rang constantly.
Father not only had to pay for the jello (and other losses) but it was his privilege also to buy the truck license ($90 a year), supply the gas, replace the tires, and if my brothers had football practice, drive the garbage truck himself with mother pressed into service as a most unwilling helper.
As a firm believer in free enterprise, he didn’t complain too much but the day he caught the boys using his shiny, Buick hardtop convertible to haul the overflow brought an abrupt end to what might have been a far-flung garbage empire.
Knowing the problems that beset such an undertaking, I couldn’t wait to interview Dorothea Johnson, the Going Garbage Company manager, and her brother, John Grasse, a garbage collection veteran from way back. John is the owner of the “Going Garbage Company” with headquarters in Seward Alaska, (See where we Pearson might have expanded if father hadn’t lost his temper?) and has been operating in the black for eight years. No pun intended.
Both Jack (he prefers the nickname) and Dorothea are likable, gregarious people. I wasn’t in the least surprised when he told me he was the proud recipient of two honorary titles bestowed by the people of Seward. One, the 1962 “Man of Stinction” award and the other the 1959 “Phew-litzer Prize” winner.
Like most self-made men, Jack started out the hard way. Bored with school, he quit at 16 and shortly after enlisted in the navy. Due to poor eyesight, his naval career lasted exactly 21 days and may have prolonged the war at least two years.
The big-hearted Merchant Marines weren’t nearly so fussy and accepted our rejected naval hero with an open gangplank. They neglected to tell him, in their haste to get him aboard, that they had stocked a two month’s food supply for a voyage that lasted eight months and twenty-three days.
Half starved, disgusted, and sick of the sea, Jack packed his duffel bag, bought a steerage class ticket for Alaska, and has lived off the fat of the land ever since.
Four hundred dollars, borrowed from a friend, financed his first, barely movable, “Going Garbage” truck and provided the grateful residents of Seward with a badly needed garbage service. It also provided Jack with a comfortable income, a thirty-thousand-dollar home, and a new wife and son.
He claims that every piece of furniture, including the carpeting, but excepting the television set, came off his garbage trucks. Seward’s transient population come and went so fast it was easier to abandon furniture than to move it. I decided if Alaskans were that extravagant, it must have been before they joined the Union. No federal taxpayer could afford it.
Sister Dorothea, in the meantime, was cooling her heels in Toledo, Ohio, while her husband, Percy, (he prefers “Stubby”) sailed nine months of the year. As she put it, the life of a sailor’s wife was “wearing might thin.” A good, stable, year-round business was their burning goal and a visit from Jack provided the spark which ignited it.
He mentioned that Northern Door County was a virgin territory (garbage collecting wise) and from the looks of the roads leading to our local dumps, could use a conscientious, sanitation engineer to good advantage. It was also home territory for Dorothea, Stubby, and Jack with relatives, friends, and the old family homestead anxiously awaiting their arrival. Jack will be returning to Alaska on the first of April and the Johnsons will be on their own. He’s leaving the business in good hands.
For a modest two-dollar-a-month fee, the “Going Garbage Company” will collect two garbage pails per family each week. An encouraging number of residents are taking advantage of this offer.
I’m considering it but I had to get a few things straightened out first.
“Jack,” I asked, “Are you fussy about what kind of garbage you haul? Does it have to be sorted, wrapped, packaged, tied with a stout cord, and neatly placed in a disposable container or can it be my kind of garbage?”
“What kind is that?” he asked suspiciously.
“Messy!” I replied. “With no contest, I undoubtedly have the messiest garbage in town. I specialize in coffee grounds, soggy tea bags, banana peelings, dried up meatloaf, soup bones, moldy cottage cheese, wilted tossed salads, curdled creamed peas, and gnawed teething biscuits.”
“That isn’t too unusual,” he said politely.
“I know, but that’s only one meal. I can carry home a tiny bag of groceries and end up with a packing box full of garbage for lunch alone.”
He paled visibly. “You know, we only pick up once a week. That sounds like almost a full load right there. Our limit is two garbage pails for each family.”
“If you said two garbage full, I’d be interested,” I answered. “How do you get forty-eight tin cans (my average for twenty-one meals), an empty Dash box (King sized), one Hilex bottle, six half-gallon milk cartons, and a seven days supply of newspapers in two measly garbage pails?”
“You can by flattening the tin cans, removing your garbage pail cover (we don’t mind a reasonable heap), and by burning your newspapers in the back yard. Don’t ever discard empty Hilex bottles, they can be used in many useful and decorative ways.”
“Like spittoon?”, I asked.
“That’s what my last useful and decorative Hilex bottle looked like after I got through with it.”
“Try using a boxed, powdered bleach.” Dorothea broke in. “It’s more effective, goes a long way and when empty is perfect for storing soggy tea bags and messy coffee grounds.”
Now, that girl made sense.
“Is that what you use?”, I asked respectfully.
“No,” she said, “But then I don’t have your problems.”
That got my dander up. If people in Alaska and Dorothea Johnson can get their garbage in two garbage cans, so can I. Not only that, I’m going to have the fanciest, most snobbish garbage in town. Herman doesn’t know it yet, but tomorrow, he’s bringing me half a watermelon and a cumquat or two.
If my two garbage cans have to sit alongside the road – headless and heaping, they are going to be the only two garbage cans in town proudly displaying hard-t0-get watermelon rinds tenderly encircling dried-up cumquats.