November 13, 2003


Rumpke waste collector Kenny Vaughn on his route Tuesday


Collecting the trash with a smile

Once a week local villagers stash their trash into cans and lug those cans out to the curb where, the next morning, they find the cans empty again. It’s like magic.

But it’s not magic, of course. Or if it is, the magic belongs to Kenny Vaughn, the Rumpke waste collector who has been hauling away trash in Yellow Springs for the past seven years.

On a misty morning this week, Vaughn could be spotted on Allen Street, leaping out of his truck and jogging up to a can, which he picked up and dumped in the back of the truck. Sometimes the task wasn’t too hard — aside from lifting 30- to 40-pound cans — if the trash had been packed in neat bags. But sometimes the job looked decidedly messy, and at least once it involved stooping over to retrieve soiled diapers. Always, the trash smelled like, well, trash.

Vaughn is forgiving to his Yellow Springs garbage-making clientele, and he cheerfully picked up an extra bag or two that lay beside two cans already stuffed full. He said that he doesn’t mind hauling away extra bags as long as people don’t make it a habit. And when a car pulled up and the driver inquired if Vaughn would haul away her old mattress, he nodded yes.

Several passersby waved and called out to Vaughn, who waved back. And at least one stopped to offer words of admiration. “I give him all the credit in the world,” Yellow Springs Police Sergeant Dennis Nipper said, pulling up in his cruiser. “He’s the hardest worker in town.”

Indeed, Vaughn certainly looked to be working hard, leaping out of the truck, hauling and dumping cans, then bounding back to start over again. A former high school football player and wrestler, Vaughn used to lift weights to keep in shape, but now he only needs to lift trash cans all day to keep his biceps firm.

Keeping physically fit is one of the rewards of his job, said Vaughn, who’s 39, and he pushes himself to jog rather than walk to the cans and back. He often encounters joggers on his morning rounds, and in his mind he tries to keep up with them, but, he said, “they always get away from me.”

Vaughn likes to sing along to an oldies station as he drives, and sometimes he moves fast so he can get back into the truck before the song’s over.

Vaughn also takes pride in his work. “I keep the town clean,” he said. “If not for me, there would be trash everywhere.”

Especially rewarding, said Vaughn, who lives in west Dayton, is how appreciated he feels in Yellow Springs. “People are waving all the time. It’s like they be knowing me their whole life,” he said.

They express their appreciation in other ways as well. On hot summer days he sometimes finds cold cans of pop next to the trash, and at Christmastime some villagers leave gifts, and he often gets Christmas cards. He said that he especially likes the cards for their messages of thanks, which he reads to his mother.

Of course, being a trash man has its downside, and to Vaughn that means getting splashed by sour milk or other liquid when it’s loose in the trash. He also has to be careful about the motor oil and antifreeze that people sometimes dump, since antifreeze, if it gets in his eyes, is quite painful. And while he’s never been seriously hurt, he’s come close to getting cut by broken glass in the trash, and he appreciates it when people who throw away glass alert him.

And while he’s out in all kinds of weather, Vaughn said that rainy weather’s the worst, because his rain suit is hot and slows him down, and he often spends the day with wet feet and hands.

But overall, he doesn’t have too many complaints. “I stay pretty happy out here,” he said. “It’s like I’m being my own boss.”

Vaughn does all of Rumpke’s garbage collection in Yellow Springs, and he’s here several mornings a week, starting some days at 6. When he’s not working, he might be helping care for his four children, who

are 16, 11, 3 and 2. Other than that, he said, “I shower, eat and sleep.”

Although he told his boss he’ll quit by the time he’s 40 — one more year — Vaughn hasn’t ruled out spending up to five more years on the job.

“This can put wear and tear on your body,” he said, although, he added, some of his colleagues, in their 50s, are still in good shape.

Kenny Vaughn will likely be one of them, if he keeps jogging and lifting and cheerfully hauling away Yellow Springs trash.

—Diane Chiddister