A Horse-Drawn Wagon Turned Sanitary Service

Learn how a sanitary service manager eager to cut fuel costs replaces his garbage truck with a horse-drawn wagon.

| September/October 1981

  • Horse-Drawn Sanitary Service
    Mandy and Dolly, Mike Johnson's fine team of palomino Belgian mares, stand calmly next to the horse-drawn wagon. Tethered to his mother's harness, Si takes in the process.
  • Mike Gives Horse a Drink
    A grateful Dolly buries her nose in cool water as Mike holds the bucket.
  • Horses with happy onlooker
    Si nuzzles Dolly's face while a delighted child claps and smiles.

  • Horse-Drawn Sanitary Service
  • Mike Gives Horse a Drink
  • Horses with happy onlooker

Every Thursday morning in Florence, Ore. — a seacoast tourist community of 10,000 — parents line up along the street with their wide-eyed, breathless children in tow. The townsfolk listen intently until they hear the sound of horses' hoofs clipclopping on the pavement ... because that sound announces the approach of Mike Johnson and his team of glossy Belgian mares. And his horse-drawn wagon — which is pretty enough to be a child's toy — bears the inscription: SIUSLAW SANITARY SERVICE.

That's right, folks. A modified wagon and two docile dobbins — Mandy and Dolly — are garbageman Mike Johnson's answer to the high cost of gas!

The idea of converting his sanitation service from a motorized to a horse-drawn business came to Mike in the summer of 1979, at the height of that year's gasoline shortage. He sat down with pencil and paper to figure out a way to pull the reins on his burgeoning expenses. A new truck would cost $30,000, but — and the realization must have come in a moment of inspiration — a wagon and a team of horses would cost only half that amount!

Johnson admits that Florence's city officials weren't exactly thrilled by the idea of a horse-drawn garbage service:

"How will horses behave in traffic?"

"What will our citizens think about having manure on the streets?"

Eva Hughes
12/2/2011 11:18:57 PM

Ah, OK, I see -- since these urban horses are involved in an endeavor perceived by Mother Earth News to be worthy, they are called "docile dobbins", and the enterprise is given a positive spin in the article. Yet when the topic of commercial carriage horses comes up in these pages, the horses are "abused" and "out of place" in an urban area. Absurd. Horses can and should play many parts in an urban landscape, not just those which happen to fit a narrowly defined agenda. A little critical thinking and throughline of principle would behoove Mother Earth News. -- Eva Hughes VP NY Horse & Carriage Assoc

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