Dirty Jobs: When it’s time for heavy lifting
By DIANNE REBER HART / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Leszlie Boutell and Simon Purshouse know how to get down and get dirty, especially on the job.
They own Good Riddance Hauling, a Sonoma Valley business that removes household junk, construction debris, yard waste and just about anything else cluttering homes and work places.
Wearing company T-shirts playfully inviting, “Let Us Touch Your Junk,” the couple head out for jobs large and small, getting downright dirty cleaning up after others.
“We’ve been covered head to toe with some of those jobs,” says Boutell, 52, who has been mistaken as an “Avon lady” cosmetics saleswoman by at least one client.
More manicured than macho, Boutell does as much physical work as Purshouse, 43, or their crew of two part-time guys. With thick work gloves and steel-toe safety boots, she’ll wrangle a tangle of overgrowth, confront years of clutter or haul out hefty household appliances.
“It’s our workout,” she says.
The couple established Good Riddance Hauling in the summer of 2009, “right in the middle of the recession,” Purshouse says. Both worked in real estate but wanted a business that could withstand the down economy.
Their company premise was spot-on: “Everybody has junk,” says Boutell.
Typical calls are for “C and D” – construction and debris removal. They’ve hauled away junk from yards, basements, barns and garages and cleared out apartments and houses after evictions, foreclosures, moves and home sales.
They’ve been called out after garage sales and divorces and for secret operations when one otherwise happy spouse wants to unload the other’s clutter while he or she is out of town.
Twice they’ve been escorted by sheriff’s deputies when occupants were forced by law to clean up their properties. They declined one of those jobs, a home in rural Napa Valley stuffed chest-high with clutter, accessible by narrow pathways woven throughout the house. Outside, 20 cars were scattered “all full of stuff,” says Purshouse.
That wasn’t even their most offensive project. Good Riddance Hauling accepted one job from a landlord who’d evicted a tenant. Inside the garage was a huge pile of cat litter – feces and all – that the tenant had been dumping seemingly forever.
“That was the worst job I ever did,” says Purshouse, who used snow shovels to clear the waste. “I hate the smell of that.”
Boutell can handle most anything but admits that dirty, dusty, cluttered work sites come equipped with cobwebs and creepy crawlers, from black widow spiders to bugs and beyond. If a snake or rodent appears, she’s outta there.
“If there’s a tiny mouse, the whole neighborhood knows something has gone wrong,” she says.
Boutell recalls a day of brush removal when Purshouse was using a pitchfork to gather thorny branches and overgrowth. Just as she looked up from her work, she noticed something moving.
“There is this fat snake kind of laced in the pitchfork and it’s wiggling around,” she says.
Purshouse had unknowingly impaled the snake, giving Boutell a nightmarish moment that still makes her cringe.
Some of their jobs involve removing perfectly good items that others can use. They’ve cleared bikes, clothing, computer equipment, books, magazines, tools, TVs, artificial Christmas trees and ornaments, furniture, appliances, paint, mattresses and much more – stockpiles accumulating in garages and sheds in even the nicest of neighborhoods.
“You’d be surprised,” says Purshouse. “The front of the house looks OK and then you go in …”
The couple donate regularly to charitable thrift stores and also sell some of their finds at a local consignment shop.
They figure they clear out enough usable furniture each month to fully furnish an apartment – with a barbecue for everyone.
“If we had a dime for every barbecue, I don’t think we’d have to work,” Purshouse says.
Not every hauling job is routine. A warehouse assignment had them clearing out 4,500 abandoned bathroom scales that were produced as gag gifts unable to calibrate weights.
Each was wrapped in cardboard, plastic and cellophane – and each had to be unwrapped for recycling, a two-day job tackling 13,500 pounds of scales.
The couple are careful to use proper equipment and procedures when hauling, saying a few best practices (and a hydraulic lift) can save time and prevent injuries.
“There’s such a method to our madness because we do it so efficiently,” says Boutell.
The emotional toll is harder to anticipate. They’ve found trashed houses left behind by angry homeowners in the foreclosure crisis, intact households when there’s been a death or departure to a care facility, abandoned rental properties littered with children’s toys and personal items and storage units piled high with forgotten possessions.
“There’s energy in houses that you can kind of feel,” Boutell says. “You can tell when there’s something not quite right about it.”
The couple do their best to support the green movement. They sort through as much as possible from each job, delivering various recyclable items to different collection stations – metal to Vallejo, concrete, rock and porcelain toilets to Soils Plus just outside Sonoma for crushing into asphalt – keeping as much from the landfill as possible.
“A lot of logistics go into it,” says Boutell. “A lot of people think it’s just junk.”
They provide clients with a flat bid that considers transportation and disposal fees, weight, volume and work hours. For most people saddled with too much stuff, price isn’t an issue.
“It’s worth it for most people,” Purshouse says. “Most people are just blown away that we were able to do the job.”
For more information about Good Riddance Hauling, call 935-0530 or visit goodriddancehauling.com.