For six years, Bob Sweet has methodically sought out and cleaned the city’s rustiest old fire hydrants — for free.
He’s scraped and repainted 221 hydrants so far, including every single one in the Stockade and the GE Realty Plot.
He did the entire Stockade just before a Walkabout of the historic district one year, so that the neighborhood would look good on the big day.
Others he did simply because he saw them on a drive.
“I just drive around, and if I see one that looks bad, I do it,” he said.
But this is not a flighty operation. He keeps a list of the exact location of each rusty hydrant, along with notations on whether it’s in a shady or sunny spot. Then he checks the weather — the unshaded hydrants are done on cloudy days — and decides which hydrants are close enough to each other to be done in one day.
Once a week, he heads out to his appointed workload, working from 8:30 a.m. to noon. If his children call him and invite him to a morning event, he’ll tell them no if it’s a hydrant day.
This is serious business.
It all started when he saw an ad in The Daily Gazette, asking volunteers to pick up free paint from City Hall and keep old hydrants from deteriorating.
He thought, why not?
“I’m retired now. I can do something. I’ve had a good life. I want to give back,” he said.
He carries a wire brush to scrape off rust and loose paint, and bulk wire to repair broken chains. He buys his own spray Rust-Oleum to repaint the chains. The city provides cans of paint for the hydrants themselves.
He started in 2008. In all that time, not one neighbor has offered to help him.
“Sometimes a nice neighbor comes out and we have a nice conversation,” he said.
But now he’s hoping someone will step forward.
“I’m looking for someone. I think it’s about time to retire,” he said.