MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (AP) — The average garbage truck uses about 300 horsepower, but one Vermont service is getting the job done the old-fashioned way: two horsepower.
Twice a week, draft horses haul a cart as they clip-clop through the neighborhoods of Middlebury, while Patrick Palmer and his two employees toss garbage bags and recycling left at the curbside onto the cart.
Garbage collection usually isn't a picture-worthy event. But this beast-of-burden service is a spectacle that draws children to the curbside to see the giant dappled Percherons, and passers-by to snap cellphone photos and video from their vehicles.
"The thing I enjoy the most is the little kids coming out to see the horses. And I've trained maybe 20 kids to drive horses," said Palmer, 68, who started the service in the neighboring village of Bristol 18 years ago. This spring, he expanded to Middlebury, a busier college town of more than 8,000, and he and his crew collect trash two days a week, alternating the two teams, named Jake and Jerry, and Pete and Paul.
He estimates he has about 220 customers in Bristol and 70 in Middlebury, but hopes to get more.
Whether residents just like the horses or a more environmentally sensitive service than fuel-guzzling and pollution-emitting garbage trucks, they pay $5 a bag, comparable in price to other services.
Amanda Kimel, who now uses a different service, is thinking of switching.
"We think it's a great idea. We like that it's earth-friendly, and we're animal lovers, so we just like to see the horses come down the road," said Kimel, standing on the roadside last week holding her 20-month-old son, who had never seen a horse before. "The first day we saw them at the end of the circle, I couldn't believe it."
JoAnne Gruber, who now takes her trash to a man who collects garbage in a truck on the weekends, also is interested — as long as they pick up the manure, which she said she spotted once but hasn't seen since.
"I like the idea. I think environmentally it's a sound idea. I like the back-to-the-way-things-used-to-be, when they were simpler," she said.
And, she said, it adds character to the neighborhood.
The Addison County Solid Waste District had some concerns about the horses being in the transfer station, which is often busy with trucks and noise, and about the team traveling there on busy Route 7 to unload the garbage and recycling.
"But having observed the horses, they seem to do a great job," said Teri Kuczynski, district manager. "They're very calm. It is pleasant to hear the clip-clopping on the road as they approach the transfer station gate."
Palmer also hitches up Jake and Jerry for sleigh rides, carriage rides for weddings and other special events, as well as to mow and rake hay and even pull moose that have been shot by hunters out of the forest.
Palmer plans eventually to turn over the reins of the Middlebury operation to a younger pair of drivers, Nick Hammond, 28, and Amanda Morse, 21, who now work with him. He expects to keep at it for another two years and in Bristol for another seven years.
"It's really a lot of fun," he said. "I wouldn't do it with a truck."