BOONE LIFE: Working through Centralia's trash

Friday, March 16, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:47 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 16, 2012

CENTRALIA — Cans that drip with remains of stale beer, soggy McDonald's french fries and the occasional stained mattress fill the bags, creating a unique stench.

Although the smell doesn't travel far, the sounds of the garbage truck can be heard blocks away in the town of Centralia. The ear-piercing screech of garbage being crushed cannot be mistaken for anything else.

As Centralia sanitation truck driver James Morris drives from house to house, Roger Farrens grips tightly to the back of the truck as it whips around corners. Together they tackle all the garbage put out in Centralia, five days a week for roughly eight hours a day.

If it rains, their job is automatically made more difficult as trash cans and bags without lids fill up with water. If it snows, Morris is forced to drive more carefully while they suffer through the often bone-chilling Missouri winters. It might slow down the pair, but they must continue, regardless of weather.

But it is not the repetition of house after house or street after street of garbage collecting that draws Morris and Farrens to meet up at 7 a.m. daily, sometimes even before the sun is up. It is what they can do for the town of Centralia that makes the strenuous work worth it.

"I never had anything specific I wanted to be," said Farrens, who has been working on the garbage truck for almost 15 years. "I wanted to go into the Army, but I didn't make it."

Farrens had hoped to follow in his dad's and uncle's footsteps by signing up for military duty, but his poor math skills kept him from pursuing that goal. His father encouraged him throughout the process.

"When I went down to the recruiter's office, he told me to just do my best," Farrens said. "When the recruiting office called me and told me I didn't make it, (my father) just told me there are other things out there I can do and I can be."

He did just that.

"I am 55 years old, and I am throwing trash," Farrens said. "I like my job. I like the town. I like the people I work with."

After Farrens motions to Morris with a few hand signals to help him position the truck, Morris steps down from the truck to help Farrens throw the trash in the back of the truck. Sometimes a single house can take both of their efforts because of the amount of refuse and the way residents of the house leave out the trash.

"They can just throw it out to the curb," said Morris, who has worked for the sanitation department for 29 years. "We can kind of tell the good and the bad, really. … Sometimes you never know what you are going to get into when you grab a bag or something."

They find that, in Centralia, most of the residents have a lot of respect for the sanitation workers. People often come out of their houses with their dogs by their side to greet the two men.

One day, Farrens said, they helped a woman get rid of a black snake behind her house.

"That's some of the advantages I like, when you get to help people out," Farrens said.

Both Farrens and Morris share a goal of trying to make things easier for the community. In return, the community makes a point to show its appreciation.

"Just meeting people," Farrens said, is something this job gives him the opportunity to do. "Sometimes around Christmas they come out, give us candy or cookies to show their appreciation for the work that we do."

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