Garbage pickup as a private enterprise has only achieved considerable scale in our area in the last several decades, with only a few purveyors vying to provide service while “grabbing your can”, or offering “double your garbage back” satisfaction guarantees. We’d experienced the colorful and boisterous world of trash collection when we visited some city, particularly if our visit kept us overnight and the nocturnal inclinations of the “dustmen” were revealed in some wee hour; we saw the big compactor trucks when we went out of town, or when we turned on television shows set in urban climes. But until fairly recently, nearly every local household had a family designee or two who transported the garbage to “The Dump”.
“The Dump” as it was known to me has thankfully been replaced by the “transfer station”, a facility for gathering large amounts of waste in order to properly sort and efficiently move it into the proper “waste streams”. While the term “dump” seemed to be giving way at one point to the less abrupt “landfill”, the advent of the transfer station seems to have resulted in the transfer station being called the dump, with the landfill recognized as that ultimate destination for true garbage by those few who give any thought to garbage once it leaves their grip. The dump, as always, is where one parts with one’s garbage. The landfill is that scientifically designed, impenetrable vessel we are all assured will protect us from our garbage, and while you may detect a tone of doubt in my description of it, rest assured I recognize the landfill as a great improvement over it’s predecessor, improvement having been the only available course of change.
I realized early in my youth that in the era up until and possibly including the generation of my grandparents, nearly every household had its own dump. A young man with a shovel, practicing the art of excavation in this village, seldom dug a hole without discovering some fascinating artifact, a rusted pot, fragmented pottery, bones, or some heavy twist of iron, and I daresay never dug within ten yards of any older house without turning up a “cinder layer” of at least an inch in thickness. It was wood and coal that warmed the houses then, and this layer of residue speaks of desire for garden fertilizer (for yards were gardens then, not lawns), and probably unwillingness to transport buckets of such burden any distance through the snow. The dump, then, was some area around the house, most often throwing distance from the back door, and this arrangement seems just a continuation of centuries of practice, as the local archeologists are always pleased to find a “midden” left by some group of native Iroquois. The maintenance of private family dumps, in local rural areas, is still quite common.
I’m not sure when a more communal local dump gained popularity, but at some point a recognition of health and aesthetic considerations, along with better roads and vehicles, combined to inspire its establishment. I have heard that there was a dump on Classic St., but the first one I visited as a boy was north of the village, and due west of the intersection of Rte. 12B and Howard Rd. Still visible there is the entrance to the straight and tree lined driveway to the railroad tracks, the river, and the Sherburne dump. On my first visits I was not yet of an age to recognize apocalyptic horror; I was vaguely fascinated by the variety of sights and smells, the ever smoldering fires, the people dumping, and particularly, the “pickers”. I knew, deep in my little gut, that in that vast collection of what others didn’t want, there must be things I wanted, and would happily retrieve. I’m sure I saw particular temptations, though I can’t recall the items anymore. I flushed them pretty quickly from my memory, I suppose, as Dad (our family dumper) made it very clear to me, on any number of occasions, that dump picking was not for me, and I inferred that it was not for any member of our family, and that we were quite distinctly different from those people who were ever present and “over the line”, that line being the very irregular boundary between the sea of garbage and the “drive up” area. The pickers often carried sticks, for sorting, and seemed to constantly be turning up some treasure.
Perhaps the “land” was deemed “filled”, or perhaps dumping everything imaginable in such close proximity to the Chenango River, and enduring the stench of dump fires burning just outside the village limits, finally seemed a bad idea. The Earlville dump, just upstream, continued on the riverbank, but Sherburne’s moved uphill, and well away from town, to a site atop Granville Hill. This move onto a gravel substrate made for a much dryer dumping ground, (and proved a portent, as the successor to this site, The North Norwich landfill, would also be established in a pile of glacial sand and gravel, apparently with the intent that any liquid waste percolate as quickly as possible into the water table, and not form mud that might make dumping a messy chore) and here, atop the hill, I learned a sport that was allowed at dumps. Shooting rats.
The fires still burned constantly, and I never knew who started them. We dumped. We never burned. But we did shoot. My Dad, my friends, and many others came after dark, mostly with .22’s, but occasionally with shotguns, and using flashlights and car headlights to illuminate the scene, we hunted rats. They were not hard to find, and often their numbers were frightening. Occasionally we would see other shooters “cross the line” and actually walk through the garbage in search of rats, something I never had the least desire to do. I treasured that expanse of easily policed, garbage free land between myself and the sometimes swarming rats, and viewed the hunters crossing the line as fools at a target range. Daring in a baffling way, but worrisome from a safety standpoint.
In all, life seems more tidy in the present. Tomorrow is another day.