It’s big, it’s loud and it can suck the gloves off city workers if they get too close.
“When I’m working, I keep my keys, my wallet, everything in my back pockets,” said Robert Ray, who’s been with the city for 18 years.
It’s a leaf vacuum, but to LaGrange Public Works employees and residents, it’s a lifesaver.
“Without it, our leaf season would be a lot harder,” Ray said.
The actual vacuum truck is a garbage truck that city workers converted into a vacuum, with a giant hose on the back. Since leaf season only lasts from October to March, the city couldn’t justify the expense of buying an official leaf vacuum truck, so the garage employees, along with public works, made their own.
Now they have three.
“We’ve had the leaf truck since I started working here,” Ray said.
The truck runs Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until late in the afternoon, waking up countless house pets around LaGrange and performing a priceless service for residents who rake their yards.
The residents only have to get their leaves to the right of way and the truck will come along and vacuum them up. No bags, no fuss, no muss.
Ray and his partner, James Reed, were tackling large piles of leaves along Bonaventure Drive early in January, putting the truck – and themselves – through their paces.
“If the leaves are wet, it’s a lot harder,” Ray said. “We don’t usually have to have the driver get out of the truck and help.”
The truck runs on the same schedule as the city’s boom trucks that collect larger yard waste. The leaf vacuum can’t handle limbs, just leaves. Ray and Reed have to stop frequently to remove large limbs from leaf piles before they get close to the vacuum.
Some parts of town are worse than others for tree-shedding leaves, and the crew may spend an extra day on a route if it’s necessary.
“Last year it got cold all of a sudden and it seemed like all the leaves fell at once,” Ray said. “We could not catch up for three weeks.”
The leaves are taken in the truck to the city landfill and used to help in the production of methane gas, which the city then sells as fuel to industries.
And what does the leaf crew do after collecting leaves four days a week for 10 hours a day? Well, they won’t be found in with a rake in their own yards. Ray says his lawnmower takes care of his leaves for him.
“My wife rakes my yard,” said Reed. “I don’t do it.”