The dump’s fading red embers were reflected above in the dusk settling over Morrisville. Sullen rats, emboldened by the quiet, scurried about amid the refuse searching for food scraps. Most townsfolk had completed their dump runs by lunchtime on Saturday except for a few stragglers. Late in the afternoon, a few boys on bikes with .22s or BB guns tied across their handlebars pumped up the long dirt hill that divided the Farr and Greaves farms to “pop a few rats” with Lyle’s permission and then squat down near his shack and overhear the goings-on inside the dump shack where Lyle sorted and disassembled the day’s haul, while the select few invited inside chatted and told stories.
As long as anyone could remember, Lyle Bohannon had ruled the dump. He took his work seriously, knowing there were those who coveted his office, not for its modest compensation, nor for the shabby hut from which he held court, but for the valuable franchise it conveyed.
Lyle’s dump reign predated the language of today in which his dump would become a “sanitary landfill,” death, a “passing,” animals would earn “rights,” a “C average” would become an “A average” and the Overseer of the Poor would become the “Secretary of Human Services.”
His dump lay off the southeast corner of Volney and Gladys Farr’s dairy farm. Lyle arrived at the dump at 6 a.m. Saturday mornings and stayed until well after dusk, depending on the day’s harvest and who showed up with hooch.
The hut itself was about 12’ by 24’ and 8’high at the beam. Its framing ran more or less 24” on center with lumber scavenged after the war from countless drop-offs. The shack was held together largely by the 4’ by 8’ plywood panels nailed to the frame. These were donated in a magnanimous gesture by the Atlas Plywood Mill on the other side of town after the old hut collapsed in a major snowfall. Discarded linoleum sealed the interior walls from drafts and provided a disorienting interior decor. The only door was an exterior half-glass door that Lyle had painted a pale blue. It hung limply in its jamb and scraped an arc in the dirt floor when opened or closed. A floral design was etched into the rim of the glass portion of the door and greasy handprints covered the rest, making it impossible for curious kids trespassing in the dump’s off-hours to ascertain what treasures were locked away inside. The door was secured by a rusty steel hasp that hung open on Saturdays.
Lyle was proprietary about his shack. No one entered without being invited in. The interior was lit only by a two rusting railroad lanterns. A homemade sheet metal woodstove sat in the far end. In another corner sat a small Mosler combination safe that Lyle had scrounged from the remains of Joslyn’s Jewelry, a victim of the Portland Street fire of 1948. Although the paint had been badly blistered in the fire and the Bakelite combination knob and opening handles were molten lumps, the safe mechanism worked well enough. No one knew what was inside, as only Lyle had the combination. Speculation ran high on this subject. Some said it contained choice liquor from Canada. Pete Trepanier started the rumor that Lyle had acquired Wyvis’s extensive collection of “scoot” pictures when Wyvis found God at the Calvary Band of God Bible Church in Eden Mills and somewhat reluctantly retired his renowned collection of dirty pictures. Still others whispered that it contained Lyle’s most prized dump pickings, although few could imagine anyone discarding anything of enough value to keep in a safe.
Lyle’s daughter Donna shared his modest trailer down by the Lamoille River. There she kept house for him, prepared meals, kept fires and, on her daily walks to school, gathered roadside butts with which to roll cigarettes for them both.
The dump opened at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and, in the summer, opened in the late afternoon for businesses. At least once during the summer, WDEV, the regional station from Waterbury, showed up for three hours with a specially outfitted delivery van to broadcast from the dump a show called “Music to Go to the Dump By.” They served free coffee and donuts and visitors were interviewed on a variety of subjects from prospects for deer season and the price of fluid milk to what goods and chattels they were discarding and why. These interviews were interspersed with bluegrass and old timey music and recent hits from Don Fields and the Pony Boys. Senator Fred Westphal from Elmore was once heard to comment on air that when WDEV broadcast from the Stowe dump, the show was renamed “Music to Which One Discards One’s Belongings.” The Stowe dump was renowned for the higher value of its refuse.
WDEV also offered an alternative to the dump for items that might fetch a price. Listeners would describe an item on a 3” by 5” card “in 24 words or less” and mail it, along with fifty cents to “The Trading Post” at WDEV. Everyone listened to the 6 a.m. broadcast with pencil and paper handy. The show was rife with descriptions like “little used,” “good milker,” “still some use in ’er,” “well cared for,” “barely wore,” “house-trained,” “some rust,” “needs work.” Lawn sales were decades away, as the notion of spreading one’s personal wares on the front lawn and hawking them from a folding chair on a weekend had yet to occur to anyone.
Back at the dump, Lyle had clear and unquestioned rights to “first pick.” He leaned on his three-pronged pitchfork, casually chatting with someone hurling garbage out of the back of his pickup or station wagon. Lyle’s casual banter belied his eagle eyes that tallied every item sailing toward the large crescent of refuse. As someone upended a galvanized trash can, Lyle was there by his side cataloguing the items falling to earth. There were no garbage bags to hide valuable salvage from Lyle’s inventory.
A vehicle showing up with an appliance or a burned-out power tool simply left the item by Lyle’s shed to save him the trouble of recovering it. Lyle stripped his findings, squirreling away parts in jars and cigar boxes for later use. The exterior of the shed was hung with hub caps, baby carriage and bicycle wheels. A randomly sized collection of smaller solid wheels hung from a loop of baling twine. To the left of the shed was a month’s supply of discarded car, truck, and tractor batteries waiting for the metal monger to buy the copper plates inside. Elsewhere lay random heaps defined by their metal, one of copper piping and flashing, another of bent tin roofing and sheet metals flattened from filing cabinets, fenders, and panels from refrigerators. Further back lay a hillock of cylinder blocks from small gas engines and compressors from dead refrigerators.
Lyle was a very private man and rarely gossiped or told stories, wholly content managing his burgeoning inventory. He assiduously catalogued parts and repaired broken tools, often making several broken items into one functioning one: lawn mowers, hand tools, baby carriages, wheelbarrows, starter motors, sump pumps and the like. Everything was for sale at modest prices, sometimes only a few cents. Lyle often gave parts to kids scrounging parts for various projects. His collection of wheels would be picked clean several months before the spring Soap Box Derby on the long hill at Peoples Academy. Early birds could count on having four matching wheels, while the “procrastorators,” as Minister Pease used to call them, were lucky to get two matching diameters for their front and back axles.
As daylight gave way faded to the flickering light of the storm lanterns inside, Lyle, Wyvis, Bettis, Charlie, Duke, Pete, and sometimes Jeeter would settle in with hooch to tell and hear again many of the stories that follow.