Working on the Chain Gang – Tips for the First Timer

This morning, for the first time, I worked on a road clean-up crew with a local non-profit organization.  It was actually a lot of fun.  Being my first time though, I wasn’t completely certain what I was getting into, but I wanted to do something to support the local community and the environment.  My significant other and I headed down to the local coffee house to meet with the rest of the group.  I was glad I wasn’t alone as I was new to the group and only knew one person there.  Since it was a little awkward for me, I can see how this might be discouraging to some people.  So, I wanted to present some hints and tips to make the first time less nervous.

Your local group will provide you with most of the equipment (depending on where you live) including a hard hat, an orange safety vest, and trash bags. 

My opinion:  you should bring gloves – not the yellow cotton ones – some trash will stick to them like Velcro.  Leather would be good because you can get a better grip on the bag you are carrying.  If you are borrowing gloves from the group, you may want to bring your own latex or rubber ones for beneath.  You don’t know who wore those gloves before you.

I wish I had brought antiseptic wipes.  It didn’t occur to me that the vinyl padded thing in the hard hat would end up against my sweating forehead, like the person before me.  I really would have liked to wipe that down before it touched my skin!  If you have a bandanna, you may want to put that over your head before the hard hat.  Otherwise you may end up with sweat rolling down your neck and forehead.

Gum is good – water is better.  Bring a small water bottle that fits in your pocket.  Even though you’ll only be out there an hour or so you will get thirsty if it’s warm out.  Otherwise, leave it in your car so you can have something to drink when you’re done.

Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.  Boots are probably better than sneakers, because you may be walking through mud or high brush.  Depending on your area, you may want to consider spraying those boots with insect repellent because of ticks and other insects.  Repellent may not be a bad idea in general.

To recap, here’s a list of items you may want to bring/wear:

  • Gloves
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Bandana
  • Gum
  • Water
  • Boots
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Bug Repellent

The tips the group should give you (mine did) for your protection are to always walk against the traffic; don’t pick up anything dangerous like hypodermic needles or explosive devices (notify the group leader); and don’t pick up anything in the street itself if the traffic looks too dangerous. 

It took about thirty minutes to get the State Highway Administration papers filled out, the groups assigned and the supplies handed out.  After that, we spent about an hour picking up trash.  Once your bag is filled, it gets tied and left along the road for the Highway Department to pick up.

Groups usually go out twice a year to clean up their assigned portion of the road.  I will definitely volunteer again– it was a nice experience.  It’s great if you can bring someone with you, but if you can’t it’s a great opportunity to get to know the other people in your group. 

So, if you’d like to volunteer, find a group in your area and join.  Just check the signs as you’re driving along to see who has “adopted” that stretch of road.  If you can’t or don’t want to volunteer – give a honk and a thumbs up as you’re driving by the crews.  The acknowledgement is appreciated! 

Working on the Road Crew

Working on the Road Crew


About ksbrooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning writer and photographer, author of more than thirty titles, and administrator of the multi-national, multi-author, award-winning site Indies Unlimited. Brooks’ feature articles, poetry, and photography have appeared in magazines, newspapers, books, and other publications both in the U.S. and abroad. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit
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