Mar 25, 2017

Street Sweeper Truck: Keeping Our Roads Clean

Street Sweeper Truck: Keeping Our Roads Clean

We use the street sweeper truck to quickly and efficiently remove dirt and debris from our streets. But it’s only the latest in a long line of tools for keeping our roads clean. Believe it or not, Benjamin Franklin is not only a founding father of the U.S. He is also the father of modern street sweeping.

It all started while he lived in London, England. When the cobblestone streets were dry, few people took the initiative to sweep up the dust. So it just built up. Eventually it rained, and the streets turned into an impassable, muddy mess.

Only then would there be some organized effort to clean up the streets. And by that time it took a lot more work, since cleaning mud is harder than cleaning dust.

They raked the mud up, threw it on high carts, and drove it away.  And, as if walking through ankle-deep mud weren’t bad enough, as these carts jostled down the street they often spilled their load on pedestrians.

Enter Benjamin Franklin.

One morning he sees a small, sickly woman sweeping the pavement outside his front door. She sweeps on spec “before gentlefolkses doors, and hopes they will give me something.” At 9 AM Franklin offers her about $12 in today’s money to sweep the whole street. By noon, she comes for the money. Franklin can’t believe how fast she worked.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Figuring that a strong man could do the job twice as fast, he contracts the city’s watchmen to sweep the dust up in dry seasons, and rake any mud that accumulates. He furnishes their stands with brooms and other street cleaning tools, so they can employ the poor people in the sweeping. This provides consistent employment for the poor (read in our article on preventive maintenance how tracking PMs provides consistent business for a shop). It also prevents massive amounts of mud from building up.

Franklin also designs a new mud cart, the predecessor to our street sweeper truck. It has smaller wheels and runs closer to the ground. No more accidental spills on pedestrians.

The Modern Street Sweeper Truck

Fast forward to today. Most cities have Elgin, Tymco or NiteHawk street sweeper trucks keeping their roadways clean. We still use brooms, but instead of birch we make them with polypropylene or metal wire. In addition, some trucks have vacuums so powerful they could rip a man’s arm off.

Sweeper trucks go about their business with little fanfare. We hardly notice them unless they haven’t been through for a while, or they are ahead of us on the freeway. (In Arizona, we may just border on OCD about keeping our streets swept.)

Benjamin Franklin said it best in this ode to street sweeping:

Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho’ dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature.

Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

We at Fullbay salute the manufacturers, operators, and shops that maintain street sweeper trucks. Together you help produce “human felicity” for the masses.

Jacob Findlay