Addison County Horses Pull Their Own Weight…in Garbage


Draft Trash Middlebury Facebook

Draft Trash horses work to pick up about 1800 pounds of trash per day.


In Middlebury, Vermont, two men, a team of horses and a carriage are reversing the trend of globalization currently overtaking the country.

The Draft Trash Company was founded in 1997 by Patrick Palmer of Bristol, Vermont. Operating like any other private trash removal company, Draft Trash is individually contracted by its customers to remove trash from the ends of their driveways. The trash is carried away in a long, low trailer pulled by a team of gray-and-white Percheron horses. In Bristol, the idea gained popularity, and nearly 20 years later, Palmer and his horses now service more than 200 customers.

“He got the idea 20 years ago from a magazine article about a guy who used horses for a trash route in Washington,” said Nick Hammond, Palmer’s partner in Draft Trash’s Middlebury operations, which began in 2015.

About three years ago, changes in Vermont recycling codes prompted Middlebury to drop its contract with Casella, a local trash hauler who had been hired to service residents of the town. “I saw this as an opportunity,” Palmer said. This was his chance to expand business into Middlebury’s larger and busier market. After going door-to-door for several Saturdays to publicize the business, Palmer felt confident that there would be sufficient demand from the Middlebury area, and he made the decision to officially begin operations. He partnered up with Hammond, a carpenter and farmer from a few miles outside of town, and together they started Draft Trash Middlebury, which now services nearly 200 customers in the Middlebury area.

The company has each customer pay $6 for a sticker sold at the Otter Creek Bakery or Martin’s Hardware & Building Supply and put the sticker on a trash bag at the end of their driveway. The horse and carriage pick up the trash on Monday or Tuesday, depending on where one lives in town.

“We divide the town in half by Route 7 … [and] do a Monday and a Tuesday morning every other week in Middlebury. [The] first day we picked up like 20 bags of trash. Now we’re up to … about, oh, 75 or 80 bags of trash a day. … It works out to be about 1800 pounds of trash a day,” Hammond said.

The growth and success of Draft Trash Middlebury in the last three years is due in large part to the popularity of the animals. The substitution of a couple of Percheron horses for garbage trucks, which are often noisy, often draws appreciation from locals and visitors alike. “We always stop for all the kids to come out and pet the horses,” Palmer said. “We’ve never done [a route] without somebody taking a picture someplace.”

The business also represents an environmentally friendly approach to an often environmentally costly business. Compared to a garbage truck’s average 2.8 miles per gallon, the horse-drawn operations have considerably less impact on the environment over their 25-mile route.

Given the environmental advantages of the business, Palmer also approached the college as a potential customer.

“When I first started in Middlebury I tried to get into Middlebury College because I thought that because they’re really environmentally conscious, they’d be willing to do it, … [but] they felt that their way was efficient, and they didn’t want to [make] any changes,” he said.

Although the economic and environmental gains of the business are valuable, Hammond explained that his enthusiasm for his job is based on his love for the animals as much as anything else.
“I think it’s great because it is an environmental thing and it kind of saves fuel and is cool, but also it allows me to use the horses because I love them. … I try to find as many ways as possible to use them,” he said.

The consistent work and engagement is beneficial for the horses. “[The horses] weigh close to 2,000 pounds, and they’re designed to be using their muscles for a long time. … If they don’t, they start to break down,” he said. “The trash wagon, when it’s full, weighs close to 8,000 pounds, and the two horses pull like it’s nothing. We’re some of the very few who use them on a consistent basis to do what they’re designed to do.”

Palmer, now 70, plans to leave Draft Trash Middlebury’s operations fully in the hands of Hammond as soon as he can find a full-time replacement for himself. Palmer will then continue on for another five years, focusing on Bristol, before retiring from the business after 25 years.

In and around Middlebury, Hammond hopes to continue operations as long as he can. “I think it adds to the town,” he said. “It’s a good reminder to people not how things used to be, but of a different pace of life.”