The Way It Was – Street sweepers


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

When kids are five or six years old, I think they often set their sights on what they want to be when they grow up. A girl might want to become a dancer or an ice skater. A boy might want to become a racecar driver.
When I was about that age, I had trouble deciding what I wanted to become. For quite sometime, I wanted to be a cowboy. I knew exactly what cowboys did, because I had seen them in the movies. But a few months later I might change my mind, and decide to become a policeman. Every few months, I changed my career path.
Of all those occupations that I considered, I think the one that I got the most excited about was a street sweeper. That’s right, a street sweeper. You see, during the 1930s they didn’t have those machines with a large rotating brush, like the ones they use today.
Instead, the street sweeping was done by hand. Each sweeper had a push broom. It was a lot like the one we had in our garage, except theirs were bigger, and they had stiffer bristles. They worked in pairs, with one guy sweeping one side of the street, while the other worked directly across from him. They always worked together. I think that was so they would have someone to talk with. Sweeping all day by yourself might get a little boring.
When each of the sweepers had swept enough stuff, he would leave it in a pile next to the curb. Then he would continue sweeping up enough for another pile. That left a pile of debris every 50 yards or so along the curb.
Then later that day, or maybe the next day, two more men came along to pick up the piles. One man drove a horse-drawn wagon, while the other used a wide shovel to pick up the sweepings and put them in the wagon.
I lived on West 5th St., in the first house west of where Dave’s Pharmacy stands today. If I looked up Fifth Street and saw the street sweepers coming, I would run to the garage and get our push broom. Then I would start sweeping our driveway down to the street. And I would leave a little pile of my sweepings at the curb for the street sweeper to add to his pile.
Then I would sit on the curb until he made it to our house. He would thank me for helping, and then we might talk for a bit. Those Marysville street sweepers were really nice guys, and I was certain I had made a wise career choice.
Having a clean curbside gutter in front of our house was pretty nice at certain times, like when we got a really heavy summer rain storm. The flash storms would fill the gutters with water, and we had just enough slant to the street so the gutters had a nice flow of water for maybe 20 minutes.
The steady flow of water was perfect for “boat” races. There was a kid in my first grade class who lived several houses west of us, in the big house just east of Buckeye Street. His name was Dee Weil, and we would have boat races in the gutter. Each of us would get a stick (the best was an old popsicle stick) and we would race them down Fifth Street.
The slope of Fifth Street was not all the same. The best part for boat racing started in front of the Hoopes house, just west of ours. That’s where our races started, and they ended at Maple Street. As soon as the race was over, we ran back to the starting point for another race. We tried to get in as many races as possible before the gutters dried up.
It’s nice to look back on those boat races on West 5th Street. I never race boats today. Our gutters are nice and clean, but we just don’t have enough slope to our street.
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