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Tim Arnold has made a living off other people’s trash.
In his role with the City of Bristol Tennessee, it’s politely referred to as “solid waste” and includes everything from household garbage to tree trimmings. He and his crew of 12 traverse city streets on a daily basis, emptying trash cans, picking up discarded items that have been thrown to the curb, and ridding lawns of grass clippings, broken limbs, and other yard debris.
He arrives early, generally by 5:30 a.m., to check customer requests for service – a trash can that wasn’t emptied the previous day or an old appliance that needs to be hauled away - and get his crew started. Once the side-arm garbage trucks and knuckle booms pull out of the City Garage, he jumps into a truck equipped with an assortment of wheels and lids, then goes about his task of repairing damaged trash cans. Some are repaired immediately and put back into service. Others are picked up and replaced with a brand-new can, he explained.
“It keeps me busy all day long, ” he said, noting that missing wheels are a common issue. “Sometimes we get complaints that a trash can is missing so I have to go out a look for it. Every can has a number so we can identify them that way.”
There’s nothing glamorous about working in the Division of Solid Waste, he chuckled, adding that customers aren’t accustomed to thanking the guy who hauls their trash away. Therefore, he makes an effort to lead by example, to show appreciation for those who work hard, and to be patient with those who are struggling to learn the ropes. Perhaps his understanding attitude stems back to his first day on the job in October 2003, when he was assigned to a leaf truck he’d never operated before. An experienced employee joined him, teaching him the route to follow and the proper way to collect mountains and mountains of fallen leaves.
Tim has lived in Bristol all his life and attended Sullivan East High School. It was there that he met Nancy, his wife of 47 years and his best friend for even longer. He uses words like “blessed” and “lucky” when he talks about her and the life they’ve built together, which now includes two daughters, five grandchildren, and a mini doodle dog.
He began his career at Davis Pipe in Blountville and began contemplating retirement after 18 years because of unsavory changes within the company. Before he could submit his retirement papers, however, he received a pink slip. Rather than be discouraged, he earned a CDL license and applied for a job with the City.
He drove the leaf truck, the knuckle-boom truck, and the side-arm garbage truck before being promoted to Solid Waste Crew Chief. Not only does he oversee the crew and repair trash cans, he’s also in charge of the City’s recycling bins. Some of the more environmentally conscious are careful to sort their recyclables according to the guidelines, but others haven’t quite mastered the art, he said. Let’s just leave it at that.
When he leaves his City job, usually about 4:30 p.m., he mows yards on the side. Not only does he earn a little extra money, he said, but he enjoys it – just a man and his mower at peace with the world.
He also enjoys deer hunting, most often with a bow, because it is far more challenging. He got his first bow as a child and has sharpened his skills over the years. He plans to join a “velvet hunt” in a few weeks, so named because the deer antlers are still covered in a velvety substance that won’t disappear until colder weather. On occasion, although not very often, he sneaks in a day of bass fishing.
After nearly 20 years on the job, Tim said he still enjoys coming to work because “I love being out and seeing different people. I love the people I work with. There are some really great people in the City.”
What’s on his bucket list?
“Winning the lottery,” he laughed. “If I could go back and start all over again, I don’t think I would. I would just leave things the way they are.”
Shout out to Tim Arnold, Solid Waste Crew Chief, who leads an entire team in performing a job that is often taken for granted but critical to the quality of life we enjoy in Bristol. He’s another great example of #bristolatwork.