People in Sweeping Making a Difference
McKinley Page, Sweeper Connoisseur Par Excellence
McKinley "Kenny" Page was born to be an actor. In fact, he has been starring in his own "life movie" since the age of three or four years old. That's when, while playing outdoors with a friend, he heard a sound that would forever change his life.
"I was sitting in a sandbox making mud pies with my friend, Janice," recalls Page. "We lived in Newark, New Jersey at the time. I heard a sound from several blocks away that totally caught my attention. Without saying a word I jumped up, ran to the gate and watched in total fascination as a gray and yellow street sweeper passed by, made a U-turn, then went back down the opposite side of the street in front of me.
"I loved everything about it! I loved the moving brushes, the shape, the color, the grills. I just sat there watching that machine 'til it drove out of sight. Looking back, I was clearly caught in some kind of fantasy."
The machine that caught Kenny's rapt attention was an Elgin Street King broom sweeper, circa 1958. Although he tried to explain to his parents what he had seen, they were mystified. They couldn't figure out what kind of machine he would have seen that fit his description. But Kenny never forgot. Unlike many kids, Page's fascination didn't move on to vehicles like dump trucks or fire engines...ever.
"A couple of years later, when I was about six, I asked my mom if she would buy me a toy street sweeper," said Page. "I was absolutely devastated when she couldn't find one. That's about the time I started school, too, and I hated going to school on certain days because I knew I would miss the sweeper going by. I actually failed fourth grade in large part, I think, because I spent my time looking outside, thinking about sweepers. At the time, the machines being used were the Elgin machines as well as the old yellow Wayne sweepers."
Even though, as a small child, Kenny didn't ever get a toy sweeper to play with, he more than made up for that in later years. When he was 13, Page says he would frequently walk a long distance from his house to a metal scrap yard that had a number of old, yellow and white Elgin sweepers in it. They were from different townships in New Jersey, including Belleville and Jersey City, he recalls. The sweepers moldering in the yard dated as far back as the 40s, 50s and 60s.
"One cold day," remembers Page, "it was January 2nd and it was 0-degrees outside. I still walked over to the scrap yard and climbed the fence. I didn't realize, as I dropped down on the other side, that a frozen pond had accumulated on the other side. When I touched down, my weight broke the ice and I fell feet first into the water. I was only able to pull myself out because there were some weeds I could grab onto. In moments, though, my pants were frozen stiff. I remember I had to walk all the way home like Frankenstein because I couldn't bend my legs."
Although he went back to see the sweepers many more times, after that it was always when the weather was warm. He got a camera so he could take pictures of them and those were the days when taking pictures meant carrying a bulky Kodak Instamatic camera that used real film that needed to be developed, not a simple thing for a 13-year-old to keep up with. To this day, Page says, he has lots of photos of those old sweepers on his wall, ones he took back then and has kept around ever since.
Around that time, Page wrote to Elgin Sweeper Company and included the drawings he'd made of his favorite Elgin models. In return, he received a personal reply from Jack Bryson, who he recalls as Elgin's president at the time. Bryson sent Kenny something amazing: a toy Elgin Street King made by the Nylint Toy Company in the early 1950s.
Perhaps inspired by receiving this generous gift as a kid, Page has since collected a number of toy sweepers. These include other Street Kings, Wayne sweeper models – even an Elgin wind-up sweeper that dates back to the 30s or 40s. Unlike the one shown in the photo, it's in mint condition and still in the original box. Today, 46 years later, Kenny's sweeper toy collection totals about 75 different models.
Also when he was 13-years-old, the supervisor for the City of Newark contacted the Star Ledger newspaper. He told them he knew about a kid who was so nuts about the city's sweepers that he would follow them around as they swept the streets. The year was 1971, and it was the first article that featured Page and his fascination for the Street King sweepers. Ten years later, the paper ran another article on Page and a very special Elgin Street King. Here's how the latter article occurred:
Page was working in a New Jersey Hospital in 1981 and, on the way home after work one day, he missed his turnoff. He drove to the next exit in order to turn around and, making a U-turn, saw something so incredible he couldn't believe his eyes: There, behind a fence, was an old yellow Elgin Street King sweeper, the exact kind he loved the most.
"I parked the car and climbed the fence just so I could see the sweeper close-up," recalls Page. "I was about 22 years old and still had all of my original fascination for those big machines." For the first time in his adult life, Page was standing next to a sweeper that he hoped might be for sale and, from its condition, at a price he might be able to afford.
Investigation revealed the sweeper was owned by George Cavelli, a captain in the police department of Ridgefield, New Jersey. And, yes, he'd be willing to sell the sweeper for $700. Initially, Page asked a number of people if they would loan him money; however, he had no success when they learned what he wanted to spend it on. Determined to do whatever it took to come up with that $700, Page started working three jobs: with UPS, a part-time job at the post office, and some extra work he did for his father.
Ultimately, Page bought the sweeper – as is, of course. Fortunately, since the sweeper was not in running condition, his father owned a piece of property large enough that Kenny could have it towed there.
The old Elgin Street King ultimately cost another $5600 to get into proper running condition. One of the many challenges was having all the hydraulic lines repaired and the hydraulic pumps replaced. Even at that price the parts were not easy to obtain. The response Page repeatedly heard from suppliers and mechanics was that they were amazed that a Street King was still on the road.
Once he got his new ride ready to roll, Page did what anyone in his position would have done – he started driving it. At first, he slowly tested out the sweeper by driving around the large yard that his parents owned. However, Kenny recalls, he didn't know how to maneuver the sweeper since he'd never driven a vehicle with rear-wheel steering (like a forklift), which is how the Street King operated. Nonetheless, it wasn't long until he ventured out onto the street.
"I learned how to drive it, to sweep with it; I even made my own brooms for it," he reminisced. As one might imagine, the machine created quite a stir when Page drove it around Ridgefield and especially when he drove it the short distance to Newark. One reason: Page's sweeper was yellow but the Newark city sweepers were blue. This soon caught the eye of two officers in a police car.
Initially, the policemen asked if he was with the city street department. Blithely, Page responded that he was "helping them out." At that point, one of the officers asked for his driver's license and insurance card. Gulp... He had his license but had left his insurance card in his car, which was about 4 miles away. That's when Page ended up in the back of the police car answering more questions.
Then, at one point, the officers came to the realization that Page was independently driving his sweeper around town sweeping streets. The two officers looked at each other, then back at Page, paused, and then one told him to "Go back to what you're doing, but just be careful. And the next time you go out, make sure you have your insurance card with you." Although it's been over 35 years since that incident, Kenny says that he has remained friends with one of the officers, Patrick Donnelly, throughout those many years.
Even though he was still working two jobs, Page found time to locate neglected streets in Newark that needed sweeping. He would sweep them in his spare time. "I really enjoyed doing that," said Page. "I was re-creating the enjoyment that I had in the 60s." Because he was actually helping the city's sweeping program, city officials had no problem with having Page's collected debris dumped in with the rest of what their sweepers picked up and gave him designated areas to dump his debris.
"As a kid, I used to follow sweepers around the streets as they worked. After I got my sweeper running, some of the same sweeper operators were still on the job and were astounded that the kid who had been so interested in sweepers had bought his own Street King and was now sweeping because he wanted to. In addition to Newark, I operated my sweeper in the nearby city of Orange. One day, I fell in behind an Elgin Pelican sweeper and the operator turned out to be someone I had followed around as a kid. This was about 1983 and he, too, was astounded that I had an operational 1962 Street King."
Today, more than 30 years later, Page still owns his 1962 Street King. In addition, he owns a 1960 Elgin White Wing and a 1964 Elgin Pelican.
One day when Page was in his late 20s, he reminded his mother that she'd said there weren't any kind of sweeper toys available anywhere – yet recently he had located one. Her response set him aback as well as on an entirely new course: "If you want a model of a sweeper," she told him, "why don't you build one yourself? That way, you can make it exactly the way you want it to be."
Taking his mom's advice, Page decided he would do exactly that – build his own scale model of the sweeper. The first model he tackled was a vintage Wayne sweeper model. "When I first started," remembers Page, "I found it very frustrating. Not long after I started on the model I got frustrated and threw what I'd made into the wastebasket. About two hours later I dug it back out and started working on it again. I must have done that three or four times, but then at some point I really got going with it."
Page didn't just build a stationary model, either. He outfitted his new Wayne sweeper with a motor to power a broom that actually worked. To even his surprise, the result actually looked like a toy Wayne sweeper. Liking what he had produced, Kenny made another and then another, getting better results each time. Ultimately, he made five Street Kings, in a variety of colors, for the City of Newark. Each of the sweeper models ran, the hoppers opened up, the side doors opened up and they each had a steering wheel and ran on their own.
Since then, Page has made a number of toy replica Wayne sweepers. He has also made remote-controlled Athey Mobil sweepers with conveyor belts, rear brooms and double gutter brooms. All of these were low dump sweepers, so he made them so the hoppers tilted over to dump.
Kenny has even branched out into making air sweepers, crafting models of a TYMCO 600 as well as one of the company's 210 models. "For a number of years," said Page, "I worked for a sweeping company where I drove either a TYMCO or a Mobil sweeper. Since I learned how to operate the TYMCOs, it was just natural that I would make models of them. There is no question, though, that Elgin's Street King will always be the most special sweeper to me."
Page's first national news coverage came during his stint at driving a Mobil sweeper. CNN learned about the guy with the sweeper fascination who also built models of them and decided to produce a story about him. The Associated Press also wrote a story and a New York television channel did a 30-minute feature on him. Several other local television channels have also featured Page throughout the years.
I first heard about Kenny Page when he contacted me in 1999, sending me photos of sweeper models he'd built. That's how the general sweeping community first learned about him, through the article I wrote as editor of my American Sweeper magazine, which was America's first magazine devoted to power sweeping.
In the accompanying podcast you can hear more about the early escapades of Page; how he would wangle rides with both city and county sweeping employees in their sweepers and what would happen when a manager showed up. He even went so far as to follow city sweepers in his 1969 Rambler so he could tape record the sounds of their operation.
Kenny Page's multifaceted career has also included stints at acting. In 2005, Kenny saw an ad in the local newspaper advertising for movie extras. Even though the last time he had done any acting was in the fourth grade and he didn't know anything about the movie, he was intrigued enough to show up. As part of his audition, which included a whole room full of people, the director asked everyone to dance. "While the rest of the people danced casually," recalls Page, "I started doing the 'Curly Shuffle.' You know, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. The director called me to the side and said 'I want you to be in my office tomorrow.'
"I told him that I didn't know if I could make it, since I had to go to work the next day to drive a street sweeper for the City of Newark. I must say I didn't really take his words seriously. Before I left, the casting director came up to me and said I really needed to do whatever the director had told me to do. Even then I still didn't really think he meant it.
"The next day, I went to work like always. I remember I was sweeping down Railroad Avenue when I got a call that I had been contacted by the production office. The director's assistant's message was that they were expecting me to be there at 1 o'clock. I think that's the first time I realized the director's requst was real. Then, about 11:30, there was another call from the production office and they said 'Mr. Page, we want you to know that we're waiting for you to come here at 1 o'clock.'
"I went back to the shop, parked my sweeper and told my supervisor I was really, really sorry but I had an important engagement. Then, I went home and got cleaned up so that I could make it to the production office by one. During my audition with the director, I told him about my fascination with street sweepers and that I had a video with some of my accomplishments. That definitely caught him by surprise!
"The director then told me he had a couple of parts he would like for me to play in the film and asked me if I would be interested. To be honest, I was kind of wishy-washy about the whole thing; then, I thought I should take the chance and I said yes. That's when he introduced me to the crew. Before then, I had no idea what the movie was about. I also had no idea that I would ultimately get to work with Jack Black, Mia Farrow, Sigourney Weaver and Danny Glover, as well as a few other notable actors.
"A few days later I received the script, which was sent FedEx and was 4 inches thick, kind of like a telephone book. Of course I had to read the whole thing. The movie was called 'Be Kind, Rewind.' The director took 12 takes of me at one time, as he kept deciding to change it, and change it, and change it again. Ultimately, he told me I did a fine job."
Since then, Kenny Page has been in eight independent films in addition to 'Be Kind, Rewind,' and has written, produced and directed his own independent film. Ultimately, he would like to develop a film project based around his own life and his fascination with sweepers.
Kenny continues to make sweeper models and has sent a TYMCO 600 to the TYMCO organization and a model of a 2003 Elgin Pelican to the Elgin Sweeper Company. All those involved have been astounded at the detail he incorporates into his models.
"I've known Monica Shute of the Elgin Company since 1972," Page told me. "Until this day we still talk back and forth. "She's been with the Elgin organization since 1967 and will be retiring next year. Since she's about to retire, I just made her a 1967 motorized Elgin Pelican as a retirement present. It even has moving brushes. Although she knows what she's getting, she hasn't seen it yet but has told me she can't wait to see it."
Growing up, Page did some studying that taught him about the blind, during which he learned how difficult it is to deal with that disability. He learned that the key to working with anyone who is blind is to have lots of patience and to give it lots of time. One particular person he befriended was Jessica, a young woman who had two children and needed help with otherwise simple chores, like paying bills, writing checks and food shopping. Kenny spent a period of time helping her with those challenges, as well as driving her to doctors' appointments and more.
Of course, he also taught her what a street sweeper was, doing so by having her feel one of his models while he explained how they worked. It was a revelation to her because, though she said she had often heard them driving by as she was growing up, she had never had any idea what it was that was making that particular, distinctive, sound.
Kenny also made friends with a deaf woman named Sonya. Their initial connection involved acting: She had always wanted to be an actress but was unable to do so because of her deafness. Kenny, who is a member of the Writer's Guild, wrote a story about her and her unfulfilled dreams. He also introduced her to his passion for sweeping, taking her to see his trio of street sweepers and took her for rides in his vintage machines. Sonya was so fascinated that she asked to be taught how to operate a sweeper, so Kenny taught her to drive his 1964 Elgin Pelican.
"Just because you have a disability doesn't mean that you can't do something, or that your dream or other life fascination can't be fulfilled," Kenny told me. "Even though she can't hear, Sonya loves seeing the brushes move and watching the material getting picked up off the ground by the sweeper. So, I made her a toy model Pelican sweeper of her very own painted in her colors, which are purple and white. It has a beacon light on top and she loves pushing it along the floor. She was very thrilled about it all. Both Sonya and her husband are deaf. I'm so touched that she calls me her 'true friend' and that we're still friends today."
As I approach the conclusion of this article, I must say that I find the life of McKinley Page to be one that has filled me with inspiration. When I read some of the other articles that have been written about him, it became obvious that other writers have felt the same way. One author, for example, cites the well-known quote by Martin Luther King Jr. about sweeping streets as Michelangelo painted or as Beethoven composed music. If you're not familiar with the quote, you can find it in the right side column of the WorldSweeper.com home page. That particular author who cited the quote concluded that McKinley Page is the sort of person Dr. King was thinking about when he spoke those words. I concur.
Following his passion, McKinley Page even swept the streets of Newark, New Jersey, simply because they needed sweeping and he found enjoyment in the doing of it. Unlike so many humans, Kenny appears to have led a life of authenticity. He has followed his dreams – even though portions of it have been outside the box and then some. For example, how many of you 'sweeper people' reading this can say they lost their first girlfriend because their stronger love was for a machine – a street sweeper...
That first girlfriend probably made the right decision to move on those many years ago, since Page's passion for street sweepers has continued unabated from the time he was three or four years old to today, around 56 years later.
"Vintage sweepers are my passion, they are my pastime and they are something I'm quite sure I will never get over," said Page. "I don't care about the new models; for me there's nothing there. However, street sweepers from the mid-50s to the late 60s were truly beautiful machines. They're the ones that fascinate me. Those machines will never come back, although they live on in a small way in the models I've made of them."
When asked how he'd like to sum up our interview, here's what McKinley told me: "You may not realize it, Ranger, but you have a lot of followers who, like me, are fascinated by sweepers and this industry. And the last time I looked, I have about 2500 people who follow me on social media, even though I don't do much there. They like my work, my fascination.
"What I would like to leave everyone with is this: If you have a dream, follow it! I don't care how foolish it may seem or sound to others, follow it. Whatever it is, if you want to be a carpenter or you want to be a bookkeeper, don't let anybody stop you. Follow it! It's your passion, your Dream."
Use this link to listen to an approximately 45-minute audio interview with McKinley Page where he discusses his life story that is so connected with power sweeping.
If you would like to contact McKinley Page, you may do so by calling him at 912.324.9034 or sending an email to MrPage53@yahoo.com.
On behalf of the WorldSweeper organization, we are proud to commend someone connected to the power sweeping industry who clearly has been making a difference.
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