NEW PORT RICHEY
One Saturday in 1949, two sisters saw J.H. Parker hauling his trash to the dump on Pine Hill Road. Take ours too, they told him, and we'll give you a quarter. He obliged and collected. Then another neighbor asked him to take his trash, too. Then another and another. He earned a quarter each time. Eventually, no one even needed to ask. If Parker drove down the street and saw a garbage can with a quarter taped to it, he picked up the trash — and the coins, which he deposited in the front pocket of his overalls.
And so it was that the county's oldest garbage company was born.
This year, the company he started, known now as J.D. Parker & Sons, turns 60 years old. It has weathered all kinds of changes since the days of collecting quarters on trash cans: from new environmental regulations to a buyout of most of its customers to the arrival of industry big boys — and even a shootout in the early 1970s.
J.H. Parker's son, J.D., now 67, said the company is his family's legacy.
"Our name is on the side of the truck," said Parker, whose friends call him Dave, "so we take pride in that."
Filling in for dad
J.D. Parker has been working with garbage since he was a kid. His dad, J.H., for years worked full time at H.P. Hood in Dunedin, so sometimes he couldn't get all the trash hauled to the dump before work.
That's where J.D. and his mother came in. She drove the pickup truck, which J.H. had equipped with sideboards. J.D. got the pitchfork.
Back then, Parker said, they burned their trash at the dump before they went home. He remembers an old man named Baker who lived at the dump, scavenging and keeping an eye on the fire.
Around the same time, other men started picking up trash. J.D. Parker remembers one named Townsend who picked up trash in Elfers, another named Hatcher who picked it up in Hudson. Later on, he said, a fellow even took the backseat out of an old Pontiac to pick up trash.
A few years into his endeavor, J.H. Parker gave up his job at Hood to focus on the garbage company. In 1958, he bought a Dodge truck for $13,600, thought to be the only garbage truck at the time in the county, said his son.
By the early 1970s, the company, then called J.H. Parker, grew to 20 trucks and 50 employees. J.H. had two offices in New Port Richey, one for commercial accounts and one for residential.
Taking over for dad
But J.H.'s health began to decline. Of the six children, J.D. Parker, a 1960 Gulf High School graduate, was most interested in taking over after serving a three-year stint in the Navy and working in maintenance at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport.
J.D. Parker got rid of the commercial accounts to focus on the residential side.
Around that time, things got a little wild in the trash company world in Pasco, with accusations of sabotage and rumors of the Mafia coming south to strong-arm local haulers.
One day in 1973, Parker recalled, two mysterious men in suits walked into his office. They had a briefcase full of money — and an offer to buy the company.
"I knew they weren't from here," Parker recalled. "The way they were dressed, it was like the president of the United States."
Parker refused the offer, a response he believes prompted what happened at his home one night after.
On that night, he said, a man wearing a black hood over his face and holding a gun broke a front window at his home in Golden Acres while he, his pregnant wife and son were inside. Parker grabbed his pistol, opened the front door and fired.
"I just stuck the gun around the corner," he said. "I guess in the foyer that pistol sounded like a cannon."
The unknown gunman fled, and no arrests were made, leaving Parker only with memories and theories of that time.
'Knowing your limits'
But the challenges were usually more complicated — and less dangerous. Deciding he didn't want the company to be too big, Parker pulled back even more in the mid 1970s and ended up selling most of his residential accounts, except for Jasmine Lakes, to a Boston-based waste management company.
After a drawn-out legal dispute over the sale, he started building up the company again, partly through word of mouth from Jasmine Lakes customers.
"If you don't really want to get out, you keep a little bit," he said, explaining his holding onto that one large neighborhood.
Now the company runs 10 trucks and has just more than 10,000 customers throughout west Pasco. He doesn't plan to get much bigger.
"You gotta know your limits," he said.
J.D. Parker & Sons has been aided in part by Pasco County's open hauler system, which gives the best mom-and-pops a chance to duke it out with the larger corporations.
Still, it's a tough industry, and over the years, Parker has seen nearly a hundred small trash businesses come and go, unable to pull a profit.
Present and future
Certainly, there's nothing corporate about his company, which is housed in an unpretentious building behind a pile of boats on U.S. 19.
Three beagles — Daisy, Abby and Gordy — stay on the premises, howling at strangers and wagging their tails when the trucks roll up.
His wife, Donna, runs the office. And the wiry 144-pound Parker still drives trucks and throws trash.
Then there are the "sons" in the company name: Dave, 39, and Jamey, 36.
They'll take over once their dad gets around to retiring in a couple of years, and they're already looking at new ways of doing things, including their recyclables pickup. Like their father, they started as youngsters working in the business.
"I drove a garbage truck before I drove a car," said Dave. "It's hard work, but … I've been doing it all my life."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.