News & Press
Refuse to Lose
Donna Boynton, Telegram & Gazette – January 09, 2011MILLBURY — Rachael K. Arsenault wants to turn heads as a Dirty Girl.
The 20-year-old Shrewsbury resident is one of a handful of women who will be driving a fleet of commercial trash trucks for Dirty Girl Disposal. But more than that, when she drives by in a white truck with a purple container, she wants people to know she is doing more than hauling trash — she is taking a step to change her life, inspire others and change the face of a male-dominated industry.
“When we drive by in commercial trucks with Dirty Girl Disposal, we'll turn heads,” Ms. Arsenault said.
Dirty Girl Disposal was started a little more than a year ago by Katherine Fairbanks, who also owns Millbury Rubbish Removal.
The purpose of Dirty Girl Disposal is to haul trash, but the mission is to empower and employ women who have little education, skills or self confidence and who are working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job that doesn't meet the rent.
“I want those women who may be wallowing in self-doubt, who are wallowing in I-don't-knows. I think I can give them a message. I think I can give them skills,” Ms. Fairbanks said last week, from her Millbury Rubbish Removal office on River Street. “I have been there. I've climbed my way out. I can give these women help. I cannot only teach them how to drive a truck, but give them self-esteem. Rosie the Riveter did it in the factories, and I want to do it in truck driving.”
Ms. Fairbanks is looking for four women to round her first class of six women she will train to drive and use the trucks, pay the permitting and licensing fees for their CDL Class B license, and employ by summer. Ms. Fairbanks had been in contact with the state office of Transitional Assistance, seeking referrals.
Because she does not run a driving school, Ms. Fairbanks can only train those she will employ. She will train them with the help of Tri-State CDL Training Center in Springfield, and she will have mechanics teaching the women the different parts of the truck — from the slack adjuster to the leaf spring.
For her part, Ms. Fairbanks is pouring her profits — her paycheck — from Millbury Rubbish Removal into Dirty Girl Disposal.
Ms. Arsenault is one of the first women selected by Ms. Fairbanks. A store clerk for the past five years, Ms. Arsenault has always wanted to follow in her father's and grandfather's footsteps — to be a firefighter.
“They have always told me you need to prove yourself every single day to men, because if you don't they will chew you up and spit you out,” Ms. Arsenault said, adding that she plans to continue to work as a store clerk until her position at Dirty Girl Disposal takes off.
“I want to be part of the new face in female-owned corporations usually geared toward men, and inspire others to take that step forward. Right now, I don't feel fulfilled in any way. I'd rather take a step forward, set a new goal for myself and inspire others to take a step toward change.”
Dirty Girl Disposal has created a 2011 calendar, and from every $10 calendar sale, $3 will be put aside to pay for licensing, permitting and other fees associated with training the company's female employees. According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, there are 58,254 active class B licenses in the state, of those 11,385 are held by women. Class B licenses include school bus drivers.
Ms. Fairbanks hopes she has fashioned Dirty Girls Disposal to be a national model, and plans to expand her business beyond Millbury. Her goal is to have her first class on the road and employed at Dirty Girl Disposal by June, with three trucks and 30 containers. Dirty Girl Disposal drivers will focus on loading and off-loading containers primarily, but may be called for other jobs such as cleaning out a foreclosed home.
Ms. Fairbanks, who holds degrees in education and nursing, has been in the business of waste hauling for more than 20 years. She bought Millbury Rubbish Removal in 1990 with her then-husband Joel Carlson and after their divorce has been running the business since 2005 with the help of her three adult children — Rachel, 20; Megan, 26; and Jared Carlson, 23.
But the past decade has been full of personal and professional challenges for Ms. Fairbanks.
When Ms. Fairbanks began running Millbury Rubbish Removal, a lengthy court battle played out over the business ownership. The company at that time was struggling in the highly competitive local trash hauling market, and Ms. Fairbanks, too, was struggling.
“In that first year, I went through several men truck drivers — they quit, they were incompetent, they didn't show up, they got into accidents,” Ms. Fairbanks said. “I had never overseen the truck-driving part of the business. Every time I would lose one of my drivers, my father would jump in the truck until I hired someone new. But each of those new drivers was a ‘firecracker hire.' I needed to learn how to drive a truck so I wouldn't be a hostage to bad hiring decisions.”
Ms. Fairbanks got her CDL license in 2006, and began driving a rear-load packer collecting residential trash and becoming one of the first female truck-driving trash haulers in the area.
“There's something empowering about being at a stoplight, and looking around, and realizing you are up here, driving this big truck,” Ms. Fairbanks said.
In summer 2006, Ms. Fairbanks was collecting residential trash in Sutton with one of her daughters when a light moment actually became the seed for a broader business idea. “I was driving and my daughter was riding on the back, throwing trash into the truck. When we finished we stunk to high heaven. We couldn't have been filthier. I said, ‘Wow, we are dirty girls,' and that thought just stuck in the back of my mind,” Ms. Fairbanks said.
However, in January 2007, as the court battle for business ownership lingered on, Ms. Fairbanks was ready give up, but her brother, Norman C. Fairbanks Jr. , encouraged her to pursue ownership and promised to help her.
On March 9, 2007, her brother was killed in a car accident.
“He never got to see the court decision awarding me the company,” Ms. Fairbanks said. “I didn't want the business, and yet it kept getting thrown back at me. I couldn't get away from it.”
That fall, Ms. Fairbanks, with her business still struggling and devastated by her brother's death, went to live with a cousin in the south of France, leaving the business with her three children, then ages 22, 19 and 17.
When she returned three months later, she threw herself into the business, which began to improve.
Then in 2009 at a business meeting Seattle, Ms. Fairbanks voiced an idea to a group of strangers about forming a business of women truck drivers hauling trash.
“It was embraced by everyone in the room,” Ms. Fairbanks said, adding that when she got back the first thing she did was trademark the name “Dirty Girl Disposal.” She had her white truck detailed and ordered purple containers.
While her male counterparts may name their trucks, Ms. Fairbanks names her containers after famously strong women. Each name has some significance, but none more so than Norma Jeane, and not because it is the birth name of starlet Marilyn Monroe. Her children used to playfully call her brother Norman, “Norma,” and Ms. Fairbanks's middle name is Jean. That is her way of honoring the brother who encouraged her, and each time this container is used, 10 percent of the revenues will go into the Norman C. Fairbanks Jr. Memorial Account, from which an annual scholarship is given to a student pursing a trade.
“I've created this to be a national model. When people see the block word ‘Dirty' followed by the script ‘Girl' I want them to say ‘Oh yeah, that's the women trucking company that hauls trash,' ” Ms. Fairbanks said.