City Seeks Resolution to Sweeper Saga

Calais’s 2000 Vacall vacuum sweeper/basin cleaner is in rough condition after years of steady wear and subsequent patching. The City is pursuing the option of rebuilding the machine after not being successful in finding a replacement. (Photo courtesy of Skeet Seelye)

By Lura Jackson


It isn’t easy to keep the streets of a small Northeastern community clear of steadily accumulating debris, but it’s a task that the Calais Public Works Department is well suited for – provided it has the proper tools. One of the key tools in keeping the streets clear is the aptly-named sweeper. Calais’s sweeper has been struggling lately, necessitating a decision on whether to keep it and refurbish it or replace it altogether.

The sweeper has many uses, according to Public Works Director Skeet Seelye. Throughout the warmer months, it is used to sweep all of the city’s streets and parking lots to clean them of dirt and trash as well as to vacuum out the more than 300 basins located around the municipality. During spring cleanup, the sweeper collects any remaining sand left by the processes of the sidewalk machine, loader, and dump truck. It cleans the streets after International Festival, and in the fall it cleans up leaves to prevent them from blocking drains and causing flooding.

Per Seelye, the city’s current machine is a 2000 Vacall vacuum sweeper/basin cleaner. “It has been a decent machine, but the time has come to take it to a dealer to have it completely rebuilt or replace it,” Seelye said. He explained that the machine has had many parts patched or rebuilt due to the constant sandblasting they experience, but it is going to need more than that now.

“We’re starting to have to put a lot of money into it,” City Manager Mike Ellis said.

The city began a search effort to locate a replacement and thought it had found a strong possibility at one point, Ellis said. “We thought we had a really good option, but come to find out it was really hard to get parts for it. So that option kind of went down the drain.”

It was a Johnson model, a common model for a sweeper, but it was designed by a group that is now out of business, Ellis explained. The city hired an inspector to go and look at it, and he produced a “very detailed report” that included parts in need of replacement. Seelye called around to price the replacement parts and soon discovered that it was very difficult to locate any of them at all. “So I’m glad we followed up with that and didn’t just go for it. It was a good deal, and now we know why it was a good deal,” Ellis said.

Without a viable replacement option, the city is now trying to determine if the current machine can be saved. “We have an appointment at the dealer where we purchased it in Connecticut so they can do a thorough inspection and give us a rebuild price,” Seelye said.