Dirty Jobs

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MECHANIC: Lake-Sumter Transmissions, Leesburg

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Inside the 10-bay garage of Lake-Sumter Transmissions, mechanic James Rowe carefully lays parts on a metal work bench as he disassembles a transmission.

“Thank God for improved soap,” says James, whose forearms, hands, and fingernails are covered in oil.

“One of the messiest parts of this job is dealing with a burnt-up transmission. When I’m disassembling the parts, fluid and sludge get on my skin. I smell like varnished, burnt transmission fluid for two days.”

Sweat drips down the face of Brian Humphreys, who is repairing an GMC van. “Four-wheel drive trucks can be difficult to work on because underneath they are caked with mud. When you pull out the transmission, mud gets on you and all over the floor.”

A shower in the garage allows mechanics to clean up before driving home. And each day, employees try to leave the garage as spotless as possible. “We sweep and put down a special product that contains antifreeze spills and absorbs oil,” says Roger Berry, who opened the company with Mike Hall 34 years ago. “Nothing is allowed to be washed outside the garage due to environmental concerns.”


PET GROOMER: Pet Spa and Lodge, Leesburg

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As soon as he’s off his leash, Rico, an energetic shih tzu, bolts toward the small dog play area at Pet Spa and Lodge in Leesburg. Potential playmates circle him with their tails wagging and give Rico a warm welcome.

Over in the play area for larger breeds, Raina, a German shepherd, chews a tennis ball while lying on a chair. Nearby, Rigby, a goldendoodle, and Beau, a yellow Labrador retriever, play happily with an assortment of rug toys.

Pet Lodge and Spa offers daycare, grooming, and boarding services. The 10,000-square-foot facility features two play areas for smaller breeds, two play areas for medium-sized breeds, and two play areas for larger breeds.

“We’re like a kindergarten for dogs,” says Sandy Metcalf, who opened the company two years ago with her husband, Bill.

And like most kindergartens, the “students” can be downright messy.

In the grooming room, fur flies everywhere as three dogs on hydraulic tables receive their annual summer cuts. A stainless steel vacuum designed to neutralize strong odors sucks up mounds of fur that have accumulated on the tile floor.

“Wet hair sticks together and rolls, while dry hair goes everywhere,” says Amy Hawkins, a grooming assistant. “I get sinus infections and deal with runny noses and itchy eyes. I’m always taking a medication for allergies. However, my passion for this job outweighs the messiness. The joy I derive from being around dogs and having the opportunity to love them makes it all worthwhile.”

When groomer JoAnne Shaut finishes grooming a Maltese named Springer, she uses a rotating sanding drum to trim his nails.

“When I am trimming nails I always get a little dust on myself and have to endure an odor that smells like burnt skin,” she says.

JoAnne passes off Springer to Amy, who is in charge of bathing, one of the messiest parts of dog grooming. Amy lifts Springer’s tail, places her fingers on the dog’s anal glands, and pinches, releasing a yellow fluid. The process helps prevent anal glands from becoming impacted, which can lead to difficult and painful bowel movements.

“The fluid smells horrible, and if you don’t scrub your hands quickly they will stink for hours,” Amy says. “I always remove any excess fluid or waste before the bath so dogs don’t get it on themselves afterward.”

Meanwhile, back in one of the play areas, a small dog has an accident. Employee Nicole Cohoon arrives quickly at the scene armed with a mop bucket and bag.

“We clean it up immediately because we don’t want the other dogs to get dirty. We strive to keep a clean facility,” Nicole says. “For me, the messiest part of the job is scrubbing the private kennels on my hands and knees. I try to be careful and not get residual poop and dog hair on myself.”

Several times a day, employees take the dogs on potty breaks to an enclosed, shaded outdoor area in the back of the building. They are allowed to “go” on blacktop or artificial grass. Afterward, the blacktop is mopped up with vinegar, which effectively deodorizes a dog’s urine. The artificial grass is soaked in a tub full of vinegar and bleach.

While dozens of dogs come through its doors on any given day, Pet Lodge and Spa maintains a clean, odor-free environment. The facility is equipped with hospital-grade UVC lights that kill viruses and bacteria in the air.

“One of the most frequent compliments we receive is how clean our facility smells,” Sandy says. “We certainly don’t want our dogs to go home dirty or with any illnesses.”


DISASTER RESTORATION SPECIALIST: Restoration Specialists, Leesburg

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They enter homes wearing white hooded suits, respirators, and gloves, but they are not hazmat workers trying to prevent exposure to dangerous materials. They’re the crew at Restoration Specialists, and they wear Tyvek® coveralls to protect themselves from mold.

Oftentimes, mold occurs in unoccupied homes that have not been air-conditioned. It festers on walls, floors, ceiling tile, and baseboards.

“Mold is harmful and can get into cuts and sores,” says Tom Smith, an estimator at Restoration Specialists, which has an office in Leesburg that services 18 Florida counties. “Exposure to mold can lead to allergic reactions and respiratory problems. For this reason, we do not work in mold-infested homes for more than two or three hours at a time. We also use air scrubbers to help eliminate mold spores, which are extremely small.”

The company also provides restoration services to homes that have been damaged by fire or flood. “With fires, odor is a big issue, and ashes are everywhere. I’ve done estimations for many fire-damaged homes and have walked out black. In flooded homes, we wear gloves and respirators because flood water is polluted with toxic bacteria. It gets into too many nooks and crannies, and we have to remove everything it touches. For instance, flood water will run under cabinets, and without taking the cabinet out, we would never get to it.”


HORSEBACK RIDING INSTRUCTOR: Cross Rails Riding Academy, Clermont

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It’s a hot April morning at Cross Rails Riding Academy, which overlooks Clermont’s beautiful rolling hills. With a piece of hay dangling from her mouth, Wilma, a registered Palomino horse, sticks her head over the stall door. As Nan Frese approaches, she nudges Nan with her nose, as if to say, “I’m excited to see you.”

Nan leads Wilma to a shower stall, crossties her, and begins hosing off her golden yellow coat. Wilma delights in the temporary relief from the sizzling heat, but for Nan, it’s a different story. Mist leaves her shoes and the bottom of her jeans soaked. She sneezes several times — perhaps from the hay in her brown hair.

“This job requires me to be outdoors, so I always wear sunscreen. Unfortunately, dirt, horse hair, and dander all stick to the sunscreen. I stay dirty,” she says.

Nan received her first pony at age 5 and has competed in hundreds of riding competitions throughout the years. She opened Cross Rails Riding Academy in 2002 to teach children and adults English riding styles such as dressage and equitation. An outdoor arena with jumping obstacles is located on her property.

Teaching is the fun part of her job. The messy part is keeping her 12-stall stable and horses clean. Nan enters the stall of Singapore, a 26-year-old retired show horse that is grazing in a nearby field. She uses a pitch fork to scoop a mound of waste into a wheel barrel. Then, she pours a 50-pound bag of horse shavings, or bedding, onto the stall floor. Shavings absorb excess urine and moisture.

She cleans each stall daily. “Fortunately, I am immune to the odor. But my boots live outside and never come into the house. The bad thing is I have bad allergies and I’m always sneezing. If I go into the barn to get a bale of hay, I start sneezing uncontrollably. Horses get things dirty, so for me it’s constant cleaning.”

After spending three hours cleaning every afternoon, Nan teaches riding students until 8p.m. Her husband cooks on most nights because dealing with children and manure leaves her exhausted by the end of the day.

“Each night, I get into the shower smelling like a horse and clean myself until the hot water runs out. Once I’m clean, it’s lights out.”

Still, Nan loves her demanding job, even if there’s little time for horseplay. “I guess I was born with a gene to be around horses. The messiness and long hours does not faze me at all. I love being dirty. If I didn’t, I suppose I’d get burned out.”


ROOFER: Scott Smith Roofing, Leesburg

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As Waylon Mitchell stands atop a home, the rays of mid-morning May sun beat down on him like a blast from a hot furnace. With a safety harness strapped around his white, sweat-stained shirt, he uses a shovel equipped with special “teeth” to remove nails and pry loose old shingles.

After tossing about a dozen cracked and worn shingles into a black trailer in the driveway below, he reaches for his Gatorade sitting on the roof’s edge. He takes a swig and makes his way down a ladder for a much-needed break.

Loosened granules from the shingles — as well as dirt and debris — have accumulated on his shirt and shorts. He pours water on his hands, which have become sticky from the exposed asphalt.

Roofing can be downright messy and hot, but Waylon realizes somebody has to do it.

“I know being a roofer is not for everybody, but for me, the rewarding part is completing a job and seeing a smile on the client’s face because he is satisfied. But I will admit when I’m finished each day I am thinking about a hot shower and cold drink.”

Waylon works for Scott Smith Roofing, which has offices in Ocala and Leesburg. The company started 28 years ago and today is owned by Wayne Smith and his nephew, Scott Smith. According to Scott, a typical roofing job requires a four-man crew and takes three days to complete.

“For each job, we have a trailer parked in the driveway for our crew to throw the old shingles in. They are taken to a landfill. This protects the landscape and helps keep small pieces that break off away from the house. We would never dump old roofing onto grass and pick it up later because we want the property to remain clean.”

Before the crew installs new shingles, they must apply roof cement. Scott says this is one of the messiest aspects of roofing.

“If the cement gets on you, it hardens. That means it’s scrub time. Pouring gasoline on the cement gets rid of it the fastest because the gasoline liquefies it. However, using gasoline is not necessarily the safest way. You can also use an orange citrus cleaner to help get the cement off.”


BUTCHER: Belleview Meats and Seafood, Belleview

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It’s Wednesday afternoon at Belleview Meats and Seafood, and customers continuously walk in to browse the glass display case featuring an assortment of freshly-cut sirloin and ribeye steaks, pork chops, and Italian sausages.

But the real action’s in the back of the store. On a white cutting board table lays the headless, hairless carcass of a 200-pound hog recently killed by a hunter. Jennifer Nice, a 32-year-old petite blonde who looks like she should be working in a boutique, runs the carcass through a bandsaw, splitting the hog down its backbone. The friction of the blade hitting the bone causes a burnt aroma. Minutes later, she carefully cuts pork chops, sausage, ribs, and whole ham to the hunter’s specifications..

With dried blood under her fingernails, a bloodstained apron, and shoes covered in small chunks of meat, Jennifer shreds the stereotype of burly male meat cutters to pieces. Dealing with blood and foul odors every day hardly fazes her. Cutting meat is how she brings home the bacon.

“I don’t have to see the faces of these animals, and if I did, things might be different. This is a fun and challenging job. It is never boring, and I really enjoy satisfying our customers. I formerly worked as a rock-climbing instructor, and I’ve also done electric work. So I’m used to getting dirty.”

By no means, though, is the odor of raw meat one of life’s pleasantries. “After work I pick up my children from school and immediately take a shower. I know my shoes must reek because my dog loves smelling them when I arrive home.”

Jennifer’s boyfriend, Clay Waldron, has owned Belleview Meats and Seafood for four years. A first-generation butcher, he, too, has no qualms getting his hands dirty. “Sometimes you get blood or chicken juice on your face,” he says. “And when you’re working with ground pork you are covered in meat up to your elbows. It can get pretty nasty in this business, no question.”

Hunting season is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year, and processing game meat can be downright filthy. “People bring hogs or deer to us in coolers,” Clay says. “The coolers leak bloody water onto the floor. We also have to reach into the animals and remove the shotgun pellets or bullet.”

Inside the cutting room are two walk-in freezers with shelves of neatly wrapped and labeled meat packages. It’s also where meat scraps are stored. “A garbage truck only comes here once a week, so we have to freeze the scraps before placing them in the dumpster,” Clay explains. “Otherwise, it would stink to high heaven.”

The crew sanitizes cutting boards throughout the day and uses bleach to mop the floor each night. They are also conscious about washing their hands before waiting on customers.


NOT SO DIRTY JOBS

GARBAGE COLLECTOR: Solid Waste Division, Lake County

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There was a time when garbage trucks required a three-man crew. One person drove, while the others slung overflowing trash bags stuffed with spoiled food and dirty diapers into the back of the vehicle.

Today, the job is a lot less trashier thanks to technology. In Leesburg, the Solid Waste Division uses one-man trucks equipped with a hydraulic arm that lifts and dumps 90-gallon garbage containers.

“While sitting in a cab, I use a joystick to control the arm to pick up the can, dump it, and put it back on the ground,” says Shawn Archie, a four-year Solid Waste Division employee. “I rarely leave the cab of the truck.”

In a given year, Leesburg Solid Waste crews collect 8,473 tons of trash from residential homes and 12,582 tons of trash from commercial sites. The 10-truck fleet covers a 34-square mile area each week. The solid waste is delivered to Covanta, a local energy plant, and converted into electricity to power thousands of homes.


MANURE MANUFACTURER: Black Gold Compost Company, Oxford

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At Black Gold Compost Company, numerous elevated cow manure mounds stretch as far as the eye can see. The only things missing are buzzing flies and a horrible stench. Odor-causing bacteria has been killed through a process called composting.

The company, which is based in Oxford, provides consumers with aerobically composted cow manure that moisturizes native soil and is ideal for vegetable gardens and flower beds.

Fortunately, working with cow manure does not make the job crappy for the 18 employees at the company packaging plant. Once the manure is composted, a state-of-the-art palletizer machine does much of the work. Yellow bags move along a conveyor belt and are electronically filled with manure. The 50-pound bags are then weighed, heat-sealed, and neatly stacked one by one on shipping pallets and covered with black wrap. Trucks deliver the product throughout the Southeast, as well as Texas and Oklahoma.

“Our technology and equipment eliminates the need to ever touch cow manure,” says Michael Lange, president of the company. “Nobody really gets too dirty here.”

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