Brett Ellis paints the city of Ashland with the paint buggy. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Straight and Narrow

Brett Ellis admits it: He likes to paint the town.

He does it only once a year, but it takes him four months (all summer) and when he's done, by golly, Ashland stays painted all winter.

To paint street lines, it takes a sober mind and a steady eye. Ellis must align a guide rod that sticks out in front of a Daihatsu "paint buggy" with the existing center line on all of Ashland's main streets while spraying a new coat of white or yellow paint.

Because it's now water-based (more environmentally friendly), the paint fades faster than the old oil-based formula, so striping must be done all over again starting in the following spring.

Ellis and others on the Ashland street crew paint curbs, parking spots and, using a stencil, handicapped zones and logos. If it's the first time the line has ever been sprayed, Ellis runs out a string line and sprays it in five-foot sections.

The little vehicle, about the size of a tiny mail truck, is festooned with tubes, spray heads, paint tanks and an air pressurizer, all of which costs about $6,000 — twice what the vehicle costs, says Ellis.

If reflective stripes are needed, he mixes in teensy glass beads that make the paint light up when struck by headlights.

Laying down words, like "SLOW," is done with thermoplastic strips, which Ellis then melts into the pavement with a blow torch.

To avoid slowing down traffic on Ashland's busiest streets, Ellis and crew start "hitting the lines" at 4 a.m. One of them trots behind the paint buggy, setting up cones. In summer, especially on days with sun and wind, the paint can dry in five minutes, so cones are picked up fast and traffic continues unimpeded.

On a good day, the crew can paint up to 20,000 feet of line, which is about four miles.

It's demanding work that takes a constant sharp eye, lining the guide rod with the outside edge of the faded line already on the street.

Guys on the crew tend to be lovers of the outdoors who hunt, fish, four-wheel, dirt bike and raft a lot, Ellis says, and they like to share adventures and stories.

"We get along real good and have a lot of fun," Ellis says.

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