Dirty Jobs

Have you ever driven past a backed-up sewer? It stinks. Imagine smelling that odor while in the sewer — 12 feet underground. And, while you’re down there, a snake crosses your path. Travis Hildebrandt doesn’t imagine. His job at the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility means he lives it.

Here, inspired by the hit TV show Dirty Jobs, we salute the workers in Evansville with jobs that may be downright dirty (think mold removal) or make us squeamish (think hair removal). Without them, our lives wouldn’t be so

Breaking the Mold

Chris Waddell, Operations Manager, Paul Davis Restoration of Evansville

On a job site for Paul Davis Restoration of Evansville, Chris Waddell once discovered that a client’s garbage disposal had been draining improperly. In the crawl space were floor joists covered in mold. Sunlight streamed in through a vent, illuminating red, blue, and green mold growing several inches thick.

The scene was straight from science fiction, but Waddell swears he isn’t squeamish. “As a guy,” he says with a laugh, “I didn’t care what I played in when I was little.”

Waddell, who joined the company 13 years ago, grew up with the oft-dirty work of fighting back the elements. In 1985, his father started the Evansville franchise of Paul Davis Restoration, which provides cleanup and restoration for fire, smoke, water, wind, and mold damage.

Waddell claims he never has experienced physical or mental harm from mold exposure, but that likely is due to the rigorous safety measures. Paul Davis Restoration professionals often discover mold when they’re called in for a different problem, and as soon as they spot fungal growth, they suit up in a face respirator, Tyvek suit, gloves, and boots, then surround the area with plastic sheeting to avoid contaminating other rooms.

On warm days, working (and sweating) in a full-body synthetic suit isn’t the most pleasant experience, Waddell admits. Still, “we love it,” he says. “Our job is instant gratification. We get to take a situation and make it right again.”[pagebreak]

Body Language

Margorie Ashworth, Cosmetologist and Skin Care Technician, Impulse Hair Studio & Day Spa

Disclaimer: We’re not calling day spas dirty. Sewage and mold are dirty, but human bodies can be, too — especially when coupled with a menu of cleverly titled waxing services such as the J-Lo (“flip over, honey”) and Buns of Steel (“the J-Lo for men”). That’s why Margorie Ashworth’s job as a skin care technician at Impulse Hair Studio & Day Spa in Newburgh isn’t for the timid.

For Ashworth, the ability to get up close and personal comes from her own experiences. As a woman with skin that’s sensitive to razors, “the fact that I always was addressing sensitive skin issues made me more interested in what was going on with other people’s skin,” she says.

Despite the potential ick factor, jobs such as bikini waxes and ear hair trims require major concentration. When she first entered the field 16 years ago, “I was more interested (than grossed out) because everyone’s skin is different,” Ashworth says. “You have to look at it in a more clinical fashion.”

During each appointment, Ashworth begins by cleaning her hands with antimicrobial wipes in front of the client (“I need to show them they can trust me,” she says), then talking the person through the process. “When they see that they are involved, they’re much better about it,” she says. “I never really have had problems with anyone being embarrassed or worried … I try to keep them as calm as possible.”[pagebreak]

Butchers on the Block

Mike Baehl and Chris Baumgart, Managers, Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe

A butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker walk into a bar. That’s the setup for a joke, but inside the Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe on the North Side, it’s all business.

The fact that managers and brothers Mike Baehl and Chris Baumgart allow Evansville Business to tour the facility is a testament to their cleanliness. And maybe this atmosphere is the reason the brothers show off their neighborhood butcher shop, launched by their father in 1983, with pride. In the freezer, the floor is spotless. Large pieces of cow — attached to cool, steel hooks — hang from the ceiling. Nearby, an industrial-sized grinder waits for fat trimmings to make sausage, and that sausage waits to be encased in a hog’s small intestine, held in a plastic cup for now. Outside, three tables with circular saws denote where the butchers act like surgeons with precise cuts for beef, pork, and cooked meat. The sight of the shop is much different for a meat eater used to buying beef and pork in tight, small plastic packages, says Baehl, but the brothers’ meat — examined by a health inspector daily — comes from local producers.

It’s unlike 2008’s documentary, Food Inc., in which the film’s director, Robert Kenner, is denied access to shoot inside the slaughterhouse of one of the world’s largest producers of poultry, beef, and pork. Sure, a number of reasons could exist for the leaders’ refusal, but an anonymous employee agreed to attach a hidden camera on his shirt. The images from inside the building demanded the viewer consider how a big steak makes it from the farm to the table.

Inside the Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe is a different story. An Emge toy truck tops a shelf, a red wagon wheel embellishes a warm brown wall, and a ceramic figurine displays two cows embraced in a dipping hug and a kiss. A glass case shining with side dishes contains “Grandpa’s Potato Salad” and “Oreo Delight.” The interior feels like grandma’s kitchen.[pagebreak]

Animal Magnetism

Danny and Michelle Knight, Owners, Artworks Taxidermy

In 1986, Danny Knight caught a 5-pound brown trout in South Dakota. The Air Force civil engineer took the fish to a taxidermist for mounting. The life-like features of the mounted animals displayed in the taxidermist’s showroom fascinated Knight. Taxidermy required skillful, surgeon-esque scalpel movements to tuck skin into smiles, frowns, grimaces, and more. Sure, “there are taxidermists who just stuff (an animal),” says Knight, “and then it’s just a head on the wall. But if you look at an animal, there’s so much expression in his eyes, his ears.” Taxidermy was like an art, and Knight was attracted to the skill. He became an apprentice for the taxidermist.

Knight, an Evansville native who returned home in 1988, now is a full-time taxidermist mounting local fauna (think deer or turkeys) or the worldly variety (think lions and giraffes). His wife Michele, a former nurse, also takes to taxidermy. “The way we can be married and work together: I don’t touch anything with hair,” she says, “and he doesn’t touch anything with feathers.”

Their work is to show animals in poses with anatomical perfection, so if, for example, a lion looks ready to pounce, his muscles better look contracted. To accomplish such feats, Knight uses Styrofoam forms with varying animal shapes. The catalogue listing of forms seems almost endless — crouching deer, leaping bobcats, howling coyote — but Knight’s work begins with the animal skins. Knight shaves tidbits of meat (about a handful) off animals with a circular saw. Though taxidermy doesn’t require animal innards, this is the part those with weak stomachs find difficult. “If I get 10 or 15 hides out to saw,” Knight says, “it stinks.”

Knight pickles the skin in a vat of salt and acid. From there, he places it in a tanning solution, which gives the skin a leathery feel. Then, Knight moves the skin over the Styrofoam form. He glues it to the form with a series of complex tucks and folds to create curves essential for making expressive animals. The end result for Knight often is an award-winning piece seen in state and national competitions.[pagebreak]

Snake Charmer

Travis Hildebrandt, Collection System Manager, Evansville Water and Sewer Utility

For more than a decade, Travis Hildebrandt’s position as collection system manager of the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility has aided to maintain and repair our city’s 800 miles of gravity sewer lines — a system designed to drain naturally through elevation without requiring a pump lift station. The job occasionally sends him 12 feet below manhole covers to check pipe deficiencies, cave-ins, and cracks — and work among snakes and rats. The sewer’s warm atmosphere in cold months makes an ideal nesting place for rodents, and with every possibility of encountering a snake, Hildebrandt says, “It’s not so much the smell that bothers me. It’s the unknown.”

That real concern (Hildebrandt has encountered numerous snakes, and in Florida, sewer crews worry about meeting alligators) is why a remote-controlled, two-foot-long tractor is the preferred method to view sewer problems. Hildebrandt and his crew use a control panel inside a van to direct the tractor (six inches in diameter) through 24-inch pipes. It’s a “heavy, sophisticated kids’ toy with a remote control,” Hildebrandt says. Should technical problems arise with the tractor, Hildebrandt dons a monitor to detect dangerous gases and hooks himself to a cable on a crank above ground to descend into the sewer.

If Hildebrandt does have to head to the sewer during this impending dry season, he could be greeted by more than a snake — there’s also the terrible stench. Dry spells mean pipes don’t receive the regular rainwater needed to cleanse the sewer system, and that means an increase of odor. Though citizens may notice the smell, Hildebrandt isn’t bothered by it, especially after becoming a father. “I think any parent can work in a sewer department,” he says, “because it’s not as bad as smelling baby poop.”

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