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Riding the street sweeper

As a reporter, I get to do something new every day, whether it is covering the news in court, being at a political event, touring a new power plant being built or covering a fire. July 22, I did something extraordinarily different.

As a reporter, I get to do something new every day, whether it is covering the news in court, being at a political event, touring a new power plant being built or covering a fire.

July 22, I did something extraordinarily different. I rode the street sweeper in North Battleford.

That's right. Yours truly was seeing the city get cleaned up - up close and personal.

There's a long story behind my ride the street sweeper. The idea came to my attention in December when we did a tour of the city's public works facilities. The News-Optimist was able to tag along for that tour, during which new city councillors Ron Crush and Trent Houk and re-elected Grace Lang were taken to the public works warehouse to look at all the equipment the city had in storage.

One of the items in winter storage area was the newly-acquired mechanical broom sweeper called the Elgin Eagle Street Sweeper. The city was proud to have obtained it just weeks before from Fer-Marc Equipment Ltd., for a price of $250,964.40.

The purchase was approved at the Aug. 24 , 2009 council meeting. The councillors had to choose between the Elgin Eagle and another model from Allianz Johnston, but administration wasn't impressed with the alternative. According to the council memo, it couldn't pick up leaves and light materials easily and it also showed signs of wearing out quickly. So they recommended choosing the Elgin Eagle.

The features of the new sweeper include a 230 horsepower chassis that meets environmental requirements, as well as a 49 horsepower John Deere auxiliary engine to provide power to the sweep. It has a 4.5 cubic yard pickup capacity.

This sweeper also has water capability - about two hours worth. Some of the other Elgin Eagle models don't use water at all.

During our tour of the public works facility in December, I was able to climb into the unit to check it out from the inside. It wasn't simple, as it is a steep climb into the cab area.

As Stewart Schafer, the public works director, said to me, the first job qualification to ride and pilot the street sweeper is to be able to get into it in the first place.

One of the features I noticed during that tour was the camera placed on the back of the sweeper. As sweeper operator John Reddekopp later told me, operators sometimes run into problems with kids hanging on to the back, so this was a way to monitor what's going on behind the machine.

It's one thing to see the sweeper in a storage area - still another to see it working in action. We were hoping to set up a ride where I would ride shotgun sometime during the spring or summer months. Alas, my own schedule kept getting in the way.

Finally, we were able to set Thursday, July 22, for a trip in the sweeper. There was only one downside for me. It was set for 6 a.m.

People who know me realize I am the night owl of the newsroom, known to attend all kinds of evening meetings. I was also at a meeting the previous night, which meant I didn't get a full night's sleep. I am at my sharpest during the latter part of the day, not during the mornings. In fact, I am usually pretty slow-witted until about noon on most days, because I am not a morning person. If there is one thing I hate, it's getting up early.

Stewart Schafer never told me about this second qualification for the street sweeper job: rising early.

Anyway, I took one for the team. They needed copy and some pictures for the paper, and so a very groggy News-Optimist reporter made his way to the public works building on 6th Avenue for the morning adventure.

The staff turned out to be as much in need of morning coffee as I was. Reddekopp later told me his usual street sweeping routine lasts from 3 a.m. to about noon..

I was outfitted in my orange safety vest and joined Reddekopp in the sweeper. The first order of business was to unload the dirt that had already been picked that morning. The dirt will stay on site for a time before it will ultimately be transferred to the landfill.

Then it was off to do cleanup on Diefenbaker Drive. I sat in what normal people would consider the drivers' side, but in fact the drivers' area for Reddekopp was the right-hand seat closest to the curb, giving him a better view of the area he has to clean.

What was interesting was how slow and steady the Elgin Eagle worked. Reddekopp said people walking by would go faster than the sweeper while it was at work.

There was considerable dirt to pick up and also a lot of man made litter including pop bottles, plastic coffee cups and the like. While going down the street we literally scooped a Big Gulp cup off the street with the sweeper brooms turning down below.

Despite the sweeper's work, there was still some litter located in the middle of the road that the sweeper would normally not be able to get to on its rounds. Reddekopp told me I wouldn't believe the amount of man made litter the machine can pick up.

I was amazed at the number of plastic cups we were seeing. Honestly, the folks riding the sweepers really could use some assistance from the public. Not enough people are throwing coffee holders and soft drink cups into garbage cans where they belong.

Other than sweeping the streets, riding the sweeper was pretty much similar to riding in a truck or in a bus.

Finally, after about an hour we made it back to the public works building where we dumped off the latest pile of dirt and debris collected. At that point, I climbed out of the vehicle and Reddekopp continued his rounds.

Riding the Elgin Eagle street sweeper was an interesting experience. It isn't often you see what the people who clean up the city do on a regular basis and you can chalk it up as another one of my adventures into the unknown.

I thought this was going to be the end of the story, but there was a postscript.

As you know, I went on the street sweeper ride on the morning of July 22. Then came the afternoon.

That afternoon resulted in the biggest hailstorm I have ever experienced. The whole street outside the News-Optimist was turned into a river. The whole parking lot was covered in white hailstones. A state emergency had to be declared because of all the flooding across the city.

When I went out later to survey the damage there were broken branches and leaves everywhere, and many flooded intersections.

So much for the efforts of the Elgin Eagle - all that work for nothing.

You needed much more than a street sweeper to clean the city up from this latest mess - a lot more.