On a drizzly, gray morning, a truck pulls a large noisy vacuum across piles of brown leaves from the edge of street on Wisconsin Street.
It’s leaf collection season and city street workers are gathering and disposing of the confetti in Delavan’s neighborhoods. The undertaking costs about $20,000 per year for equipment repairs, fuel and worker wages, City street foremen James Mohr said. It ties up nearly all of the Street Department’s 7 employees for nearly two months each year. Only equipment maintenance and street light repair are still performed during this period.
“It’s such a short season, it’s just a major operation,” Mohr said. “It just halts everything else.”
Street crews make multiple passes through the entire town. Usually they get it all done by Thanksgiving. A few years back was an exception, with snow in November and December delaying the work. Street workers were still picking up leaves in January.
This year has been better, though a bit on the dry side of late. One recent morning, however, offered cool temperatures and an intermittent drizzle, and workers were pleased. If it’s dry for too long, leaf collection is a dusty, dirty job, and workers wear goggles and masks.
If it gets too wet, the leaf loader — the gizmo that picks up the leaves and then shoots them into the bed of a truck — gets blocked up when the leaves ball up into a muddy mass, street worker Ron Sorenson said.
So workers were not complaining about laboring in the occasional light rain.
Once the leaves had been raked into a row extending about half a block, Sorenson began to stomp through the entire length. About halfway through, he stopped and reached into the heap, his arm disappearing up to the elbow. He pulled out a stick about two feet long and discarded it.
Logs, rocks, sticks and even skateboards in leaf piles are a major problem. Street Department workers repeatedly stressed that residents keep objects out of their leaf piles. They can plug up the leaf loader and break its brushes.
One of the city’s two leaf loaders needed $1,000 in repairs and was out of commission for three days last month because of damage from a tree branch, Mohr and Street department mechanic Russ Kitzman said.
Sorenson said he once found a 50-foot garden hose in a pile.
Once the leaf pile on Washington Street passed inspection, the leaf loader was put into action. Hooked like a trailer onto the back of a truck, the roaring machine was pulled along the street. The vacuum on the loader pulled in the leaves. They then were jetted upward in a blackish-brownish mushy stream into the bed of the dump truck.
Within the space of perhaps 10 minutes, the entire truck box — about 10 feet long, 10 feet tall and 7-8 feet wide — was filled.
The leaves then were taken to an area composting company, to be mixed with topsoil and ground up wood chips. Area farmers and residents will pick up the finished compost for use around their trees and in their gardens.