By Sydney Combs
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — For Charley Allen of East Bernstadt, being a garbage man has always meant more than simply collecting trash.
“I like being out... The people out here in Laurel County, most of them are like family to me. I’ve watched their kids grow up. I’ve watched their kids have kids have kids. I have two generations of kids I’ve watched grow up since I’ve been on these trucks,” Allen said. “A lot of people don’t realize how personal [this job] is.”
In 1978, Allen, 19 at the time, began collecting trash for Sherman Hanney, founder of Laurel County’s first garbage collection business, Laurel Garbage. Laurel Garbage later became known as Waste Connection. After 30 years working in the sanitation industry, Allen retired from Waste Connection as a site manager where he supervised routes, trucks, and drivers.
To Allen’s surprise, the love of his job and the community had Allen reentering the workforce after only four hours of retirement.
He took a nap and woke to a knocking at his door.
It was Gerald Poff of Poff Carting, offering him a job. Allen, remembering the customers he had met over the years, agreed to reenter the workforce on one condition: He would run a residential route instead of taking a managerial position.
He didn’t want to sit behind a desk anymore; he wanted to be out with the people again.
“People of Laurel County have always been good to me,” explained Allen. “If it’s a hot day, they bring me a bottle of cold water or a bottle of cold pop. A lot of the customers never forget their garbage man on Christmas - they always leave you a Christmas present. That’s how personal it is on a residential route. It’s totally different from supervising.”
While on his route, Allen receives ample opportunities to talk with his customers, often chatting with more than 200 people on any given day. “I say ‘Hi,’ or ‘How are you doing?’ or we talk about the weather. So every day is different. I like talking to people. My routes always grow because I always treat people the way I want to be treated,” said Allen.
This motto has served Allen well over the years. From personally bringing the elderly’s trash to the curb, to playing the guitar for customers, Allen has carved a place in many hearts in Laurel County.
“He’s a good, honest, hardworking guy. He’s truly one in a million,” agreed Nadean Elkins, a co-worker at Poff Carting.
According to Allen, the Laurel County community is the reason why he continues to work. “I’m going to go as long as I can go. It ain’t like a job to me. Everyone’s like family.”