After four years in the U.S. Army, Bill Harpold returned to his native Belpre, eventually going to work for the city's water and sewer department in October 1985.
"It's been a challenge at times," said Harpold, 52. "I was in the military so it kind of (gave) me a heads-up on working with government."
Now the foreman of the water and sewer maintenance crew, Harpold said he enjoys working in a small town, finding the public generally "easy to get along with." The city's aging water and sewer system isn't always as cooperative, meaning the crew can face something new almost every day, he said with a laugh.
Q: If there is such a thing, what's a typical day like for you?
A: Out of the department, we do all the meter reading. There are three guys in the department, so we're kind of shorthanded really. We take care of the lift stations, sewer infill. Once we get it, we pump it on into the sewer treatment plant. ... Repair water leaks if we have any water leaks. We install new services.
Q: Do you generally touch on all those areas in a single day?
A: It's give and take. On some days we do a lot more (of one or the other). Right now we're doing a project up on Rockland Avenue where we're changing service from an old 2-inch line to a 6-inch line.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the water department this time of year, as spring goes into summer?
A: A lot of the ground shifting. ... We didn't have the real bad winter this year, but with the ground shifting, it's creating a few leaks for us.
Of course, the rains and everything, that gets the trees growing again, so we end up with a few more sewer lines backing up with root infiltration.
Q: A number of city water departments struggle with aging infrastructure. Is that the case in Belpre, and how is it being addressed?
A: Yeah, that is a major, major issue. A lot of our 2-inch-lines ... have been in since the late '40s, early '50s, so we're trying to set money aside a little at a time to change some of that out.
Sewer lines, right now we're doing a camera system, been doing it for a couple years now, trying to see where our areas are that need repair. Right now, until money gets freed up ... we're just basically doing small sections that we can do in-house.
Q: How often do you find yourself dealing with leaks, and how do you repair them?
A: We have had ... probably around (20) leaks so far this year. We've had as many as one every other day in the past couple of years.
Basically what we'll do is we'll just dig down on them. With the systems we have, sometimes the valves don't really operate too well, so we'll go in on a live line and wrap a repair clamp around it ... so we don't have too many of the residents without water.
Q: What has been the biggest change in your job in recent years?
A: Probably the biggest thing is going from handheld reading, actually going out, touching the water meters, to the electronic reading.
Q: Does that make it more efficient?
A: Yeah, it's a little more accurate sometimes, especially in the wintertime, but it frees up some time, too. ... Everything is put in a computer system and all he has to do is drive up and down the street. It's a radio signal.
We read in quarters. So every week we do a fourth of the town. Now instead of taking two days to read a quarter it takes about three-quarters of the day.
Evan Bevins conducted this interview.