Sweeping changes

Hank Johnson ensures Yukon's streets are void of debris, dirt

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Yukon street sweeper driver Hank Johnson ensures the city is clean. (Photo by Tim Farley)

By Tim Farley

News Editor

Hank Johnson’s job is slow-paced, but he enjoys every minute of it.

Johnson is the primary city employee who drives the street sweeper and ensures the debris and dirt alongside the curbs is sucked into a vehicle that cost just under $200,000. The sweeper, when in high gear, travels about 5 miles hour as it collects the debris.

Johnson, who starts cleaning city streets at 4 a.m., is proud he can contribute to Yukon’s overall clean appearance.

“I feel good about what I do. I love it,” he said. “I’m proud to keep the city looking good. I’m helping keep our environment clean and that’s important.”

The city’s street sweeper was bought in 2012 and is a purchase Councilman John Alberts once referred to as one of the best investments Yukon has ever made.

“I think as our city has grown so has the amount of debris,” Alberts said. “After we widened Vandament and Cornwell, the traffic picked up and you began to see pieces of tires, nails, wood. It looked nasty so it was important for our community to look clean.”

As a result, the council authorized the purchase of the street sweeper for $186,000, said Public Works Director Arnold Adams.

After using the sweeper for the last five years, city officials are requesting bids for a new street sweeper, which could cost anywhere from $225,000 to $250,000.

Anytime from 4 a.m. until noon, Johnson can be seen driving the street sweeper along main thoroughfares like Garth Brooks Boulevard or in neighborhoods. There’s no special route for the sweeper, Johnson said.

“On Monday, I start on the west side of town and work my way east through the week,” he said. “That might change if there’s a special assignment or priority, but typically I hit the main streets first and then go into the neighborhoods.”

The street sweeper is unique because it allows Johnson to sit on either side of the vehicle and drive from one of the two steering wheels.

“It allows me look down the curb line I’m working on, which puts me on the right side of the vehicle most of the time,” he said.

Yukon’s street sweeper is invaluable during the summer and fall and after winter storms when sand and salt has been thrown onto streets.

“Summer can be bad when people mow and blow the loose grass onto the street. In the fall, especially when the leaves first start falling, it gets bad. During those times, I can get four loads of leaves packed into this seven (cubic) yard container,” Johnson said.

Johnson described the street sweeper as a “life saver” for the city.

“They used to use hand brooms, shovels and tractors. It (street sweeper) saves a lot of time and if you take care of it, it will last five to 10 years,” he said.

The street sweeper is responsible for clearing 14 to 21 cubic yards of debris off city streets Monday through Friday, Adams said.

“It takes potential material that might go into our streams and we’re able to clear it out,” the public works director said.

The impact of the street sweeper can also be heard.

“We have had people who haven’t been to town in a while and they go, ‘whoa’ when they see the appearance of the city. It makes the town more eye appealing,” Adams said.

Alberts said he noticed the change in the city’s appearance after the street sweeper was purchased.

“I was running all the time before we bought it and I would see firsthand all the stuff laying on the street. If you don’t sweep the streets it just accumulates and eventually it gets into the city sewer and then into our streams,” he said.