CLINTON — Connor Galloway has never seen a rat in any of Clinton’s sewers. No, he is not an animal control officer. He serves as field foreman for a team of four men, including himself, that is responsible for maintaining the 180 miles of sewers that crisscross under Clinton streets.

It’s a big job and a lot of responsibility for four men, and even more so now because the team is two men short.

According to Eric Van Lancker, assistant superintendent of collection systems for the city, Galloway and his co-workers are responsible for all sewer systems, the maintenance of ponding areas/storm drainage and flood protection maintenance, which means taking care of the dike and retention ponds.

Galloway has been with the team seven years, serving as foreman for the last three. He starts his day at 7 a.m., meeting with Van Lancker.

“I need to see if he’s got something going on with work orders,” Galloway said. “If there isn’t anything then we pick up where we left off the day before.”

Van Lancker said city staff has to prioritize trouble calls.

“If there’s ever an instance when we don’t have priority projects to get to, then we do routine maintenance for which we take a ‘combo truck’ and do preventive maintenance on the lines,” he explained.

The combo truck is equipped to carry 1,500 gallons of water and pressure nozzles are used for “jetting” or flushing the sewer lines. It also has a vacuum that has so much power it can lift a manhole cover or a sandbag.

Galloway said the usual complaint from residents is sewage backup in their basements.

“We go out and jet the city line — run a high pressure nozzle up to back the material out,” he said.

But many times it’s the homeowner’s problem with such things as tree roots clogging the line on their property. Then Galloway has to tell them to call a plumber.

If residents have a sewage backup, Van Lancker wants them to call his office first because there is no charge if the blockage is in a city line.

Galloway said homeowners call if they smell odors in the house, usually coming from basement traps.

Galloway loves his job and finds it a challenge.

“You’re always out there and there is somebody you’re going to help before the day is over.”

Galloway navigates the cumbersome 60,000-pound Camel through the city streets with ease, but he has to have a commercial drivers’ license to do so.

Driving down South 14th Street he weaves through a lane of orange cone markers where Alliant Energy workers have a large hole dug in the street.

“See that?” he asked. “We found that one. The road started to sink. We got out the TV camera to see what was wrong.”

The problem turned out to be a gas main running through the sewer line.

Van Lancker said his department has a new state-of-the-art video camera. Workers now are able to photograph all of the sewers and save all the information on a computer instead of VCR tapes. The camera is equipped to go places men can’t get into.

Galloway doesn’t seem to mind spending half of his day with his head stuck down a manhole. He and his partner, Robert Fore Jr., spent a good part of a day cleaning out a sewer line on South 19th Street. The sewer was clogged with grease from a local restaurant.

Cars automatically got out of the way as Galloway parked the big truck. Even though the manholes were covered with weeds, he knew exactly where they were.

Once the men had the power nozzle down into the sewer, Fore stayed with the truck pumping water while Galloway hiked a quarter mile down the street to man the other end. They communicated with hand signals.

Van Lancker said looking down a manhole can get you a little surprise.

“Jet a line and the contents of the sewer can hit you in the face,” he said.

A surprise did get Galloway, but thankfully, this time, it was clean water.

Galloway said his job isn’t as bad as people think, although he occasionally finds himself standing in knee-high water. And he never takes the smell home.

“If you work around it you can stay clean all day,” Galloway said. “You work smarter, not harder.”

Van Lancker said staying clean is staying safe. The men take classes in working with sanitary sewage. They know they potentially could be dealing with parasites, fungus and hepatitis B.

“The sewer maintenance crew is offered the opportunity to get hepatitis B shots and they are trained to know what’s in there (sewers) and they know how to handle it,” Van Lancker explained.

As for his job, Galloway said it takes a lot of “hustle.” On the job he is 100 percent sewer maintenance.

“I’m 95 percent sewer maintenance at home,” he said. “I’m always ready.”

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