Department of Public Works – America’s Solution Centers: Michael Collins is the Commissioner of Public Works (DPW) in Beverly, Massachusetts. Collins operates a solution center for America’s infrastructure. Underfunded, as all DPWs seem to be, he and his crews repair, rebuild and innovate in order to keep Beverly’s infrastructure from falling apart – some of it built when President George Washington was roaming the area on his horse. They also maintain the tools of their craft in order to keep Beverley’s trucks, snowplows and emergency vehicles rolling.
Pulling into Beverly’s DPW garage for a visit in the 1949 lead-sled with Dr. Per Christiansen (my pit crew) Collins’s reaction was, “You’re out of your mind. Are you seriously planning to drive across America in this?” Then Collins was blinded by the flash of the obvious. “This is awesome. This is dynamite.” Adding, “Dual horns, no waiting. And vacuum wipers. Reminds me of the days when the old Chevy pick-up I drove needed a rope to keep the wipers going.”
The message hit its target: our nation’s infrastructure is as old, rusty and energy deficient as the 1949 lead sled before him. Collins radioed his crews. “I want them to see this. We’re constantly performing restorations. Right now we have an old backhoe torn apart. It’s in pieces all over the garage. We’re in the repair business. We have to be – we have no money.”
I witnessed this on a tour of the DPW yard inclusive of a garage built during the Great Depression. In true DPW form, the building was a cross between Yankee ingenuity and reclamation art. It’s not obvious but upon close inspection one sees a stone structure built of recycled granite paving stones called Belgium Blocks. In the lot outside the main garage was a 1959 Austin-Western road grader – still in service. The heavy gear was purchased new 54 years ago by one of Collin’s predecessors. Also, a 1962 snow plow, a 1974 dump truck and a beat up fleet of city cars and police cruisers – all in various stages of being use and restoration. In the parallel world of antique automobiles, relics like these are called “drivers” – classic cars driven daily.
Since my visit, Collins has sent photos of his infrastructural challenges: broken brick lined sewer pipes, clogged drainage pipes, flooded streets, sink holes and rugged roads. This man, the chief custodian of the people’s works of Beverly, is too proud to turn away work. “Sure I could refute jobs destined for our department. But, if I do, there’s an excellent chance that the tasks come back to me because another agency didn’t know – didn’t care – to do it right. And then we’d be fixing problems made worse.”