Some old-fashioned trash talk


Someone once said you can tell a lot about a people just by seeing what they choose to collect and what they choose to dispose of in their dumps. A selectman back home used to say, “If it weren’t for our town dump we’d have nothing to argue about except the schools.”

But even though everyone still calls them dumps, their name has gone from “the dump,” to “Transfer Facility” to “Intermodal Transfer Facility and Recycling Center.” But everyone in town still just calls them dumps, and most of them are still located on what will always be the town’s Dump Road.

Here in Maine, the cost of disposing of our rubbish and our no-longer-wanted objects keeps getting higher and higher. And it didn’t used to be like that. Maine people have always improvised and stored lots of good stuff, which today might be considered “dump worthy,” in sprawling farmhouses and large empty barns and, of course, double-wide trailers. People with such facilities seldom needed more living space. What they needed was more storage space. I don’t have to know the particulars to know that cluttered porches and dooryards were developed by an inspired Down Easter who just needed more places to store his stuff.

Long before bureaucrats came up with transfer stations – where local trash is sorted and assembled before it’s “transferred” to giant, centrally located, federally funded incinerators – we had other more useful options, the most popular being the town dump.

And whenever I think of dumps, I’m often reminded of my friend Tink Billings. Tink would load up his pickup with a week’s worth of trash stuff and haul it off to the dump. Once he threw everything out of his truck and over the bank, Tink would jump down off his truck and start surveying the dump’s unique and ever-changing contents.

On a good day he’d eventually spot something like an old washing machine or an outboard motor carelessly thrown on the pile. He figured all they needed was a little “tinkering,” so he’d throw those treasures into the back of his pickup. Then he might see a nice outside door and realize it would be perfect for that shed he planned to build someday.

He’d go on like that for most of the morning with one useful item after another, until he’d eventually have a lot more in his pickup than he’d hauled to the dump in the first place. Once his truck was filled to overflowing, he’d go home and “transfer” all his new treasures to his dooryard. That was the Golden Age of Dump Picking.

It occurred to me that back home we didn’t start having rumblings in the town’s rubbish circles until our selectmen returned from a national rubbish symposium in Boston. They say all the big names in rubbish were there making speeches about new trends in modern rubbish handling.

When our starry-eyed selectmen returned home – their heads now filled with rubbish – they couldn’t wait to start passing ordinances against such revered Maine customs as dump picking and other traditions.

When the “No Dump Picking” sign went up, it was all downhill for dump folks.

John McDonald is the author of six books on Maine, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at