On the job
Hard work keeps Kent Quarles rolling throughout Tonganoxie area
At 68, Kent Quarles doesn't have plans to retire.
The owner and operator of Quarles Trash Service, he does his work in the Tonganoxie area the way he's done it for 30-some years.
That means driving his large truck about 110 miles a day, five days a week, on all kinds of roads, in all kinds of weather. And, it means at every stop Quarles gets out of his truck, and physically hoists the trash into the truck.
Though the work is the same as it's always been, Quarles readily admits, with a grin, that he doesn't get as early a start as he used to.
In his younger years, he'd be up and rolling by 5 a.m. Now, though he still rises at 4:30 a.m., he's apt to stay home until about 9 a.m.
And he said that full-time retirement, at least now, is not an option.
"I can't quit," said Quarles, who touts the benefits of hard work. "If I quit I'd be lost. I bet I'd go down right quick if I quit now."
Recently, Quarles was asked to speak to a group of high school students, as part of an English class project where members of the community talk about their lives.
THS teacher Rick Heuer, who's known Quarles for about 20 years, asked Quarles to visit the class.
"I just always admired him for the person that he is," Heuer said, "his character, the things he stands for. I thought that he would be an excellent example for our students."
Heuer said he appreciates the fact that Quarles greets people with a smile and seems to have a positive attitude.
"You just talk to him on the street and I can always tell what an upstanding person he is," Heuer said.
And, after Quarles spoke to the students, Heuer said it was obvious they paid attention to what he had to say.
"That was as well as they've ever listened to anybody," Heuer said. "They were interested."
One student, Darron Robertson, called Quarles an "inspiring speaker."
"The most important thing that he said was, no matter what happens in your life you should always love yourself," Robertson said.
Quarles talked to the students about relationships.
"I was impressed that he said that a man should never mistreat a lady," Robertson said.
And Quarles talked to the students about the importance of taking pride in their work.
"Mr. Quarles said that there was a difference between a good trash man and a bad trash man -- and that he was a good trash man," Robertson said. "I think that our country would be a better place if we continued to live by the rules and lifestyle that Mr. Quarles lived by."
Quarles and one of his older brothers, Percy Quarles, moved to Tonganoxie in 1950.
The youngest of six children, Quarles had gone through the sixth grade in Kansas City, Mo. His parents, who owned a moving business in the city, bought an 80-acre farm just south of Tonganoxie and sent Percy and Kent out to run it.
The rural lifestyle was vastly different from Kent Quarles' earlier years.
"It was like going from daylight to dark," Quarles said.
He was accustomed to modern conveniences -- electricity, telephone, running water. At the farm these didn't exist.
He was used to attending school in a class with 30 or more others his age. The one-room Honey Creek School, about a mile from the Quarles farm, had a dozen students in grades one through eight.
The brothers lived in a small century-old stone house.
Each day, Quarles carried water to the house from the well, the distance of a long city-block -- uphill.
He went to school, helped his brother on the farm and adjusted to country life.
"It was all different to me," Quarles said. "... I don't regret it though."
Quarles said, though at the time his parents didn't give him a choice, the move from the city to the farm strengthened him.
"I think it's a good idea for a lot of individuals to experience," Quarles said. "If anything should ever arrive you know you'll be able to handle it a lot better. The main thing is, you don't want to get used to nothing. If you get used to everything, you'll be in a world of hurt."
For instance, Quarles, who still lives on the farm, doesn't worry when the power goes out. He knows he can survive without electricity.
"The lights went out last night," Quarles said recently. "It didn't bother me one bit. I went on and took my bath by candlelight."
New line of work
In 1957 Quarles graduated from Tonganoxie High School. He worked on area farms until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961. His service duty took him to Berlin where he worked as a personnel carrier driver.
Two years after being drafted, he was back in Tonganoxie, helping on farms again. In the late 1960s, someone asked if he would haul a load of trash.
Quarles agreed. Word spread and within a couple of years Quarles quit his farm job and began hauling trash full time.
In his half-century in Tonganoxie, Quarles has stayed close to home.
He still lives in the house he and his brother moved into back in 1950. Though initially, Quarles said, the farmhouse was small and primitive, the family later updated the home and enlarged it. And still later, Quarles and his late wife, Lenore, would raise their six children in the old stone house.
Four of their children, Debbie Holloway, Scott Quarles, Keith Quarles and Teresa Quarles, live in Tonganoxie. Jacqueline Cole lives in Lawrence, and a son, John Quarles, was killed six years ago in a vehicle accident.
Quarles, who is a past member of the Tonganoxie school board, is now married to Louise Quarles, who drives a school bus in Bonner Springs.
While he's adapted to modernization at the farm -- running water, electricity and telephone -- he's still old-fashioned in some ways. For instance, even though Quarles' wife urges him to get a cellular telephone, he refuses.
The phones would just lead to more interruptions, he said, adding, "I don't like to be bothered when I work."
Though his work driving trash trucks has been no-frills, Quarles hasn't complained. Instead, he's adapted.
When his trucks, which were manufactured in 1972 and 1977, require maintenance, Quarles does as much of the work as he can.
He does much of the trash pickup himself, with some help from his son, Scott.
He packs his lunch every day and eats it while working. Because he might not be at a place where he can wash his hands before eating, Quarles has learned to eat a sandwich while holding it in a bag. Bananas are handy because he holds onto the peel and doesn't have to touch the part he eats. Apples too, are convenient travel food because, Quarles said, he can eat them with two fingers, holding them at the top and the bottom.
And each day, when his truck is filled to the brim, he hauls the load to Hamm Quarries, some 18 miles away, to dispose of it.
Taking his time
Though Quarles has no plans to retire, he admits that lately there have been some days when he hasn't been all that crazy about heading off to work.
He smiles, waves a hand in the air.
"But I just go on," Quarles said.
He said it's always been important to him, and that it should be important to everyone, to find a balance between doing a good job and not letting a job take over his life.
"A job is a job," Quarles said. "You don't let the job job you, you job the job. Don't let the job take advantage of you, you take advantage of the job -- do your job, do your work and then go on home."
Quarles said he's been grateful for his good customers. And, he paces himself so he doesn't get worn out.
"I just take my time," Quarles said. "I don't get in a big hurry."
And at the end of the day, there's a reward.
He refers to the hillside home where he's lived for more than a half-century as his "valley."
"I go back to the valley where it's peace and quiet," Quarles said, smiling.