At Truckapalooza, Lexington honors waste collectors and shows off garbage trucks

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJune 21, 2014 

When Dion Henry's father, Ronald Henry, worked for the city of Lexington collecting garbage in the 1960s, he carried bins on his head.

Henry followed in his father's footsteps at the Fayette County division of waste management. However, technological advancements make his job far different than his father's, Henry said Saturday.

Today's garbage trucks are equipped with automatic arms, computers, GPS units and cameras. Henry drives a front loader truck and empties dumpsters. "It's like night and day" from his dad's time, he said.

"My mom used to wrap a pad around his head in the morning, and he put this tub on top of his head and walked down the street and climbed the fence to get the garbage out ... fight the dogs, put the tub back over the fence."

Henry's modern truck has an arm that lifts containers. Instead of four men to a truck, "we can clean up a neighborhood with one man," he said. Another difference, Henry said, is that "training has stepped up 100 percent."

Henry told his story during the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's Truckapalooza event, held to show off the city's garbage trucks and recruit workers.

At the event outside the Waste Management Administration Building, on a road off Old Frankfort Pike, people met waste collectors and climbed into the trucks the division of waste management uses. Also, they learned about the technology that allows drivers to work more efficiently.

The city has 126 trucks, some of which cost about $375,000 each and can carry 12 to 18 tons of waste, said Tracey Thurman, director of the waste management division.

The trucks include the Python, with a powerful robotic arm on the side that empties the containers the city nicknamed Herbie, Rosie and Lenny, and the "split body" truck, which can collect both recyclable and non-recyclable waste at the same time.

The trucks travel to more than 96,000 Lexington homes and 3,000 businesses every week. In the next few weeks, the city will begin using 11 new vehicles that run on compressed natural gas instead of diesel fuel, which means the fuel will be cheaper and the vehicles will be quieter, Thurman said.

The division has 187 employees. On Saturday, Theresa Sanders, a senior equipment operator, showed people her side loader truck that picks up the city's Herbie containers. She pointed out a computer that allows workers to see exactly which address they are servicing and lets the city track which homes have been serviced. Cameras in the trucks help her see where she's going.

"Your eyes have to be wide open at all times," Sanders said.

In addition to Saturday's event, the division's website is highlighting workers and their trucks. For example, Kenneth Johnson Sr. is a senior equipment operator who starts his day at 5:40 a.m., covers 1,700 homes in a day and gathers 22,140 pounds of waste.

Those who wanted to talk to the collection employees and see their trucks on Saturday included 2- and 3-year-old boys and their parents.

Jennifer Bailey said her 2-year-old son Beck Bailey knows that garbage collection day is on Monday. If he's eating breakfast and the garbage truck comes, he wants to leave the table and go outside.

"He'll go and stand on the driveway, and he waves, and the garbage collector always waves back and usually honks," Bailey said. "He loves it."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears .

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