The blue and white trucks of Armatrout Sanitation have been a part of this community and the area for decades. Early mornings meant William “Blue” Armatrout and his crews were picking up garbage from homes and businesses.
On April 1, Armatrout retired. The business, excluding any property, was sold to Republic Services. However, it was not an easy decision for him since the business started in 1937.
“I’ve done it all my life,” Armatrout said. “They will do things a lot different than we did, but that’s big business.”
Armatrout Sanitation was a true family business from beginning to the end. Young Bill is a Willard native and a 1969 graduate of Willard High School. His life has been dedicated to his community.
The company, he pointed out, actually started by delivering groceries. Bill Sr. and his wife, Ann, bought the Central Delivery System.
“They delivered groceries for 17 stores in Willard,” Armatrout recalled.
World War II would have an affect on the Armatrout family business. When rationing began, stores began closing, he pointed out.
Bill Sr. decided took out an application to be the garbage collector for the city. He was awarded the contract. Armatrout Sanitation started with a stake truck with barrels in the back.
“Their big thing was cleaning out ashes from people’s furnaces,” Armatrout said. “Everybody burned coal. They carried buckets down to the basement.”
His family also bought a farm on Ohio 99. Armatrout said his father fed garbage that had been separated to the hogs.
“We ran one truck that was garbage,” he explained. “The other truck was trash.”
The business, Armatrout noted, kept getting bigger. His father kept up by buying more trucks and hiring more help.
“My help that I have right now have been wonderful,” Armatrout pointed out. “Scott Wilson has been with me for 39 years. Dave Gurney has been with me 35 years. My dad hired them.
“Gene White’s been with me over 20 years,” he added. “Wayne Atwell’s been with me 22 years. I have a part-time mechanic. Dwight Roll has been with me five years.”
His workers have given him decades of service. Armatrout said he had one rule when dealing with employees.
“It was steady work,” he said. “I was good to them. My dad told me never yell at them. He said there’s ways if you are unhappy that you can tell them. I never yelled at any of the help.”
Bill Sr. passed away in 1983. Blue had already taken over the business three years before because his dad was sick. His mother ran the company for a while.
The decision to take over the business was one that Armatrout and his wife, Ruth, both had to make.
In May, Armatrout will celebrate 50 years as a Willard firefighter. It is as much a part of him as the business.
His mother was the one who signed up a young Bill as a fireman when the voting was done at the fire station. There was a need for someone who could drive a semi tank truck and his mom decided Bill should fill that need. He has never been sorry for being a firefighter.
“It’s helped the town,” he pointed out. “It’s helped me. I like helping this town and helping people in bad times. I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff.”
When the tornado hit Willard on May 10, 1973, a young Blue Armatrout responded as a firefighter. He was actually at the fire station when it hit.
“There were three of us,” he recalled. “We watched it come across the old railroad reservoir. I ran upstairs and told them to blow the siren. A tornado just went across the street.”
When a police officer went to pull the siren into action, it didn’t work. The town never really got any warning.”
“Then, the lights went out,” Armatrout said. “Nobody every heard the fire siren.”
Armatrout said he was in the first pumper out of the barn. They went out in front of RR Donnelleys.
“First thing we saw was these demolition derby cars coming at us,” he remembered. “These wrecked cars were at Donnelleys and were all torn up.
Total devastation was everywhere. Armatrout said he and other firefighters were looking through the remains of buildings trying to find people.
“At Coble Village,” he recalled, “I had a lady take her last breath in my arms.”
Fifty years as a firefighter has cost Armatrout much. The commitment, he noted, is “what you put into it.”
Armatrout said there’s been some fatal fires. “You always remember them.”
Sometimes as he and Ruth are driving, Armatrout will say there was a bad accident at a certain location. She asked him how he remembered that. He said it sticks in your mind.
Firefighting is not just a job.
“There’s a lot of training,” he pointed out. “And hours. And lost suppers. Lost appointments. Lost family time. The pay’s not great, but I got a pension out of it.”
Letting go of the business his father and mother started is bittersweet for Armatrout. His customers are his friends, people he has known all of his life.
“I hope Republic takes care of my customers,” he said. “That means a lot to me. I’ve had some customers that my dad had. Two generations.”
Those trucks will not be going down streets and alleys in the early hours anymore. Armatrout said he wants people to remember him this way.
“A Willard boy,” he said. “Born in Willard hospital. I was raised two block up the street. I’ve lived all of my life here. I can’t see ever moving away from here.