When the street sweeper hopper, which holds eight yards of debris, is full, Randy Schock drives out to the service center at East McAndrews Road and Columbus Avenue and dumps it.

Time to hit the road

Street-side basketball hoops are Randy Schock's nemeses. So are protruding mailboxes, landscaping, garbage cans and parked cars.

They're among the obstacles the 51-year-old must negotiate after climbing aboard a giant vacuum cleaner at 4 a.m. to tackle debris on city streets before the sun rises and drivers head to work.

Schock is one of three street sweeper operators at Medford Public Works. They begin their shifts between 2 and 4 a.m. and work four, 10-hour days per week, sucking up everything from gravel, dirt and broken glass to plastic doll parts, scrap wood, even packages of steak.

They start on the main streets, then move into residential neighborhoods after 7 a.m. when noise restrictions end.

Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said residents don't seem to mind paying for street sweeping, which is funded through the storm drain utility fee. He said residents regularly compliment the department on the city's tidy asphalt.

"We sweep a lot because we want to keep the stuff from going into the creek," he said.

Schock said the machine is essentially a giant vacuum cleaner.

"It's got a head on it that the air passes through. The air traveling under that head is at 200 miles per hour."

In the wintertime, when the operator can't spray water because it will freeze on the streets, sweeping stirs up a lot of debris.

"You end up with this huge dust cloud behind us," he said.

He covers about 30 miles of street in a 10-hour shift and sweeps his section of town completely every two or three weeks. The most dangerous street to work on, said Schock, is Crater Lake Highway because of traffic. Another challenge is Reddy Avenue between Crater Lake Avenue and Lindley Street because it's narrow and cars park on both sides.

The rock he was sweeping up one February morning was, ironically, the very rock he had spread on icy streets days before. He said he doesn't look forward to sanding because he knows he'll have to make numerous passes in his street sweeper for several weeks to remove it all.

There have been few crashes in his 10 years as street sweeper, he said. But one accident prompted him to suggest rear video cameras, which have since been installed on the sweepers.

"I was sweeping downtown and I had a guy come out of an alley," he said. Schock accidentally backed into the car, denting its hood. Small television monitors have since been mounted inside the sweepers and cameras have been installed on the back, so the operators can see anything that the side mirrors don't catch.

Another accident occurred when Schock was trying to turn around at a large intersection. An oncoming car didn't slow down and ran into the sweeper. He said the driver told him she misjudged how quickly he'd complete his turn.

Schock admits the sweepers can annoy some drivers who don't like to slow down.

"We're going to interfere with their travel and there's nothing we can do about it," he said. "We try to drive courteously as much as we can."

Not all the debris he comes upon is useless, Schock said.

"We find all kinds of things in the street: tools, phones, coffee cups," he said. "I've picked up and turned in a couple of cell phones and a couple wallets."

When the street sweeper hopper, which holds eight yards of debris, is full, the operators drive out to the service center at East McAndrews Road and Columbus Avenue and dump it. A giant sifter separates the junk from the dirt and rock, and the landfill accepts it for free as cover dirt.

Schock said the odd hours don't bother him as much as the solitude.

"I'm really a people person, so not having a person to interact with is hard," he said. But the job, which demands his full attention at all times, keeps him engaged.

"There's really so much to be aware of you really don't have a chance to be bored," he said.

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