This man and his yellow truck signal the arrival of spring in Fairbanks

93-year-old Glenn Hackney, giving the thumbs down to a mattress he hauled off the side of the road in Fairbanks on April 30th, 2018. He starts picking up roadside trash as soon as the snow melts each year. (Ravenna Koenig/ Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Glenn Hackney of Fairbanks has been fighting the same battle for over 50 years. It starts every spring, and it’s won with plastic bags and a pickup truck.

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“This is the most famous pickup in Fairbanks,” Hackney said. “This little yellow pickup has been hauling trash around town for 25 years.”

Hackney’s big battle is garbage. In Fairbanks his name is synonymous with the annual springtime clean-up day, but for 93-year-old Hackney, any day there’s not snow on the ground is an opportunity for tidying up.

Most of what Hackney picks up off the side of the road is pretty ho-hum: paper cups, plastic bottles, kids toys. But he’s also encountered some stranger stuff, like a bowling ball, and a gilded rose packed in a box.

“I figured it was a jilted lover who tossed it out the window,” Hackney said, laughing.

In late April, Hackney took me on a Fairbanks trash tour in his custard-colored pickup. He jokingly refers to the dents in it as “parking lot kisses.”

Hackney moved to Alaska back in 1948. He spent most of his career working in concrete and construction, and served eight years in the state legislature.

Hackney started picking up trash his first spring in Fairbanks as one of the organizers of the community-wide clean-up day. And he’s been a booster for the cause ever since.

“It gets in your blood,” Hackney said. “I like to see a clean community. I’m frankly appalled at what visitors to Fairbanks would think about right now driving along this section of highway I’m going to show you in a few minutes.”

We got out along a stretch of road that Hackney says is one of the biggest eyesores in town. Cars whipped past us at 55 miles per hour. And yes, there was a lot of trash lying around. But Hackney was there for one item in particular. A soggy mattress that someone had lost, Hackney presumed off the back of their pickup.

Hackney hauled it into the back of his truck with just a little help. He’s 93 years old, but he’s always had exceptional grit when it comes to improving the street view in Fairbanks.

Back in 1992, Hackney actually got hit by a car while doing it. The car broke both his legs, and he had to have surgery. That might give the average person pause about continuing. Not Hackney.

“You know what they say,” Hackney said with a grin, “Camaros never strike twice in the same place!”

Hackney would like to be clear: his enthusiasm is for clean roads, not necessarily the activity of cleaning them. He says he’d prefer it if there was no trash to pick up in the first place.  

To that end, there are some change’s he’d like to see around town: more people covering the backs of their trucks so stuff doesn’t fly out. And people with mattresses in the back, driving just a bit slower.

“They simply drive too fast and the law of physics, which is immutable, takes over and they fly out the back of the pickup,” Hackney said.

Hackney’s parting words to the people of Alaska: “Always keep busy, never give up, and pick up your darn trash!”