Column: Tales of the Dump

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoBob Potts of Rockport throws away his trash at Rockport Transfer Station.

The official name of the facility is the Rockport Transfer Station and Recycling Center but most locals headed there simply say “I’m goin’ to the dump.” The nickname is a throwback to the pre-1970 era when residents showed up and dumped everything they had to dispose of on the ground to be burned on site. No wonder one of the early attendants was know as “Smoke” Clark.

Fast forward to the 1990-2015 years when I was assigned to work as the supervisor at the DPW Transfer Station. Transfer meant all material coming in was somehow processed and transferred out for incineration at a waste to energy plant in Saugus, or sent out for recycling. It’s as good a time as any to reminisce about the crazy and humorous things that occurred as well as fortuitous recoveries I didn’t see coming. True tales of the dump, if you will. No look back at the dump would be complete without a nod to the late Grant Newman. A good friend, hard worker and avid recycler, especially if the item was an auto part or non-ferrous metal.

To say the pre-1997 layout was primitive is an understatement. The Swap Shop was a donated truck box and the rectangular metal container that served as an office. It had no windows, no heat and a flat, leaking roof. The phone was toward the rear and one day I couldn’t use it because it was encased in a block of ice.

The Swap Shop is very popular with residents. “The store where everything is free” once produced a loaded gun at the bottom of a dropped-off box. Not exactly what recycling godmother and swap shop originator, Ann Fisk, had in mind.

Driving anomalies produced their share of excitement. A rack body truck driver accelerated in reverse after unloading and ended up at a 45-degree angle in the trash trailer. Another vehicle rolled backward off the ramp and bounced harmlessly off the brush pile 150 feet to the rear. Another time, on a foolish impulse, I ran after a can slowly rolling backward with no one in it. I caught up, opened the door and jumped in, hitting the brake. Don’t try this at home.

Animals aren’t usually a problem as long as you’re not under the strafing seagulls. However, more than once, squirrels have knocked out our power by scampering across the top of a nearby utility pole and tripping a breaker. Another time my walk to a rear area behind the office resulted in the discovery of an unstickered intruder. A rather large snapping turtle had invaded the 4-foot-by-60-foot area. I was thankful I saw it before it saw me. I never knew I could jump that high.

To paraphrase the Humphrey Bogart line from the movie classic “Casablanca,” “Of all the dumps in all the world why’d you have to come into mine?” Sightings included former Celtic “Jungle” Jim Loscutoff, movie stars Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Selleck and Sandra Bullock, the Channel 5 Chronicle crew and U.S. Congressman Peter Torkildsen. The politician lost my vote when, attempting to help a resident, he threw cans into the paper bin. An overzealous selectman’s candidate didn’t help himself when he tossed a woman’s groceries away instead of her trash.

Luckily I glanced into the co-mingled compactor before hitting the power button because there was a man in it bent over collecting newspapers he had accidentally dropped in. Too close a call for both of us.

A Swap Shop user got back the two $100 bills she had left behind and twice residents got back Christmas presents inadvertently disposed of in the trash and plastic recycling.

Nothing compares, though, to the day my wife Chris, a local postal supervisor, tracked me down on my day off. She breathlessly explained that a 10-inch bundle of first class mail wrapped in multiple elastics had ended up in the compactor truck of a private trash collector on Bearskin Neck and we needed to get it back. Sure hon’, I replied, both wanting to help but not wanting to be the bearer of bad news. She’d arranged to have the driver meet us at the closed dump to unload so off we went to the tune of Mission Impossible. We held our collective noses as Phil slowly regurgitated the load into the trailer and miraculously about 20 minutes into the process the mail appeared. Grimy but undamaged. Postal workers cleaned, resorted and delivered this mail that had taken such a bizarre detour. Sanctity of the mail is both their ideal and a practical matter.

The dump is a social hub of the town and but one of the reasons Rockport is a great place to live. Aren’t we lucky?

Mel George is the former supervisor of the Rockport Transfer Station, better known as The Dump.

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