As the noisy parade moved slowly through a quiet Hillsboro neighborhood last week, residents watched out their windows, waving and giving thumbs-up signs of approval.
Most residents were happy to see the procession, despite it being comprised of just three city of Hillsboro vehicles.
A dump truck emblazoned with the city’s logo led the pack, while a Trackless leaf loader utility vehicle and a street sweeper followed directly behind. Together they formed one of the city’s leaf pickup teams, which help keep the city’s roadways clear of leaves and other debris left by winter wind and rain every year from Nov. 1 to Jan. 19.
“People expect someone to get out there to clear the road and cut the trees, and it feels good being able to do that for them — to provide that service,” said Josh Lillegard, a senior maintenance and operation technician for the city’s Public Works Department. “But I guess I just enjoy helping out my fellow humans. We’re all on the same team.”
Lillegard, 30, helps bring the city's leaf pickup program to life, along with fellow technicians Steven Sullivan, Jason Henderson and Ted Tetzlaff.
Aside from keeping streets clean, city officials say the program keeps roads safe for drivers and helps limit localized flooding by keeping leaves and other debris from clogging storm water drains.
According to Sanitary and Storm Water Utilities Manager Justin Jensen, between 4,500 and 4,700 cubic yards of leaf mulch per year are taken from Hillsboro’s neighborhoods — more than 1.8 million pounds.
To ensure the city does an efficient job of getting all the leaves it can, it schedules its pickup program into two parts. Part one runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 20, and part two from Dec. 21 to Jan. 19. In that time, the pickup crew will cover the city twice.
Additionally, the city offers a leaf drop-off service three times during the fall. Residents can bring their leaf piles to the Washington County Fairgrounds Sports Complex between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Dec. 3 and 17. The first drop-off day was held Nov. 5.
Lillegard said picking up leaves is more than just a seasonal headache, it’s an opportunity to show Hillsboro residents what their taxes buy.
“People see us just sitting in our trucks, but I don’t think they realize just what exactly we’re paying attention to,” Lillegard said, noting the complexities of maneuvering large industrial vehicles through sometimes narrow streets. “You’ve gotta have your head on a swivel to see everything.”
Lillegard and Tetzlaff drive the city dump trucks, alternating as each is filled with the leaf mulch Sullivan scoops and blasts from the Trackless into the trucks’ compartments.
Finessing the trucks down residential roads at a constant pace while dodging parked vehicles, garbage cans and mailboxes — as Sullivan navigates the Trackless through curb-lined piles of leaves at varying levels of saturation — requires a special degree of attention and awareness, Lillegard said. The wetter the leaf pile, the slower the Trackless moves.
As part of their experience, the men now listen for the Trackless’ RPMs to wind up and slow down as an indication of how quickly they each can move.
“We have to pay attention to what’s going on around us along with what’s happening behind us,” Lillegard said. “It takes a little while to get down. The most important thing with the Trackless is to get a good flow for the whole parade.”
Once a dump truck is filled, Lillegard or Tetzlaff takes it to West Union Gardens off Cornelius Pass Road in north Hillsboro, where owner Jeff Bowden turns its contents into fertilizer.
Henderson, 41, follows in the street sweeper as the last in line, cleaning up the leaf mulch slurry the Trackless has left behind — leaving a nice, clean street in his wake.
“Not a lot of people like to sweep ‘cause it’s boring, but I like what I do. It’s fun,” he said. Henderson inches along at 3 mph through Hillsboro’s residential neighborhoods for five to six hours per day. “The positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Before I had this job, I drove dump trucks and built logging roads in the woods for Stimson Lumber, so this isn’t boring to me.
“At least the scenery changes … and you get a lot of thinking done.”
By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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