Garbio: Seven Godly Lessons from the Dutch Mafia


– By Cleo Lampos

Garbio.  That’s the name they gave to the Dutchmen who hauledChicago’s refuse to the dumps at the beginning of the 1900’s.  Over a century ago, immigrants from Holland gravitated to the lowly job of garbage collector.  Through diligent work, Garbio transformed trash removal into the multimillion dollar industry that exists today. Garbio are the stuff from which legends are made.  But the story of the Garbio is typical of the hardworking entrepreneurial spirit of the entire Dutch Chicago community who centered their lives around church, family and work.  From the thousands of Garbio who transported trash with horse and wagon or drove a Dempster Dumpster, seven Godly lessons emerged.

Lesson number one.  “Hard work always pays off, mere talk puts no bread on the table.”  Proverbs 14:23.  The Garbio, aka sanitation engineers, knew at the end of a good day’s work that they never cheated anyone to make an honest living.  They provided a service that people wanted and needed.  The City of Chicago depended on their diligence for the health of its citizens.  The Dutch immigrant wanted to be his own boss, and the scavenger business presented an opportunity he couldn’t resist.

Lesson number two.  “Laugh and the world laughs with you.  Cry and you cry alone.”  The daily grind of back breaking work compelled the Garbio to develop a sense of humor to face obstacles and insults.  When overhearing a remark about their profession, they grinned and drawled, “Your garbage is my bread and butter.”  After a long day, the men gathered on the stoops of their homes to laugh and trade stories.  The emotional load they shared through laughter always grew lighter.

Lesson number three.  “Six days shall you labor, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to God.”  Ten Commandments.  The rhythm of six work days and one day for rest for the body was observed by these wooden shoes.  During the weekday, most refuge haulers toiled for the paycheck.  In addition they found time to work for the Kingdom as Cadet leaders, Elders or school board members.  Sunday was observed as a day for spiritual refreshment before starting another long week of physical toil.

Lesson number four.  “By this all men will know you are my disciples because you have love for one another”.  John 13:35.  In times of illness or death, these Dutchmen pitched in to help one another just as they had done on their farms inHolland.  When church or family needed jobs, they hired from within.  It was this tight community spirit that earned the Chicago Cinder and Scavenger Truck Owners Association the nickname – the Dutch Mafia.

Lesson number five.”There is no temptation given you but is common to man.”  I Corinthians 10:13.  The Garbio faced temptation on every route that they worked.  A shot and a beer in a tavern.  Hookers with beckoning eyes.  Corrupt cops.  Slippery money.  Smutty magazines.  But after work, the Dutchmen fled to their churches, their neighborhoods, their schools and their families.  They needed to connect again to an overcoming faith.

 Lesson number six.  “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without”- Everyone’s Mom.  When the frugal Dutchmen arrived at stops, it always amazed them that our society could waste so much.  High class restaurants producing large containers of uneaten expensive food.  Upper income apartment dwellers cleaning closets of last year’s fashions.  Produce stores tossing out vegetables.  Department stores clearing out inventory.  As the trash haulers labored, they became society’s first environmentalists.  They recycled bits of brass, aluminum and copper at distant salvage yards.  They reused building materials from construction crews.  Some newlywed Garbio furnished their apartments with the unique décor called Early American Landfill.

Lesson number seven.  “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.”  Hebrews 13:2.  Garbio are known all overChicago as friendly men who will help the people they meet on their routes if it is possible. Whether encountering prostitutes and pimps in the inner city, the wealthy uptown dwellers or the homeless in the suburbs, Garbio flash their welcoming smiles with warm greetings to all.  For some, it is the most positive meeting they will have all day. For the Garbio, it is just another day at work.

Have you given your garbage man a hug? Have you told him how much you appreciate his diligence in hauling away your trash? Do you appreciate his daily battle with rats and his knowledge that injury rides his sideboard? The man behind the wheel of the dumpster is a Garbio earning an honest living while keeping our neighborhoods clean and disease free. He is an everyday hero.


The history of the Dutch immigrant’s take over of the disposal industry is documented in the book Garbio:Stories of Chicago, its garbage and the Dutchmen who picked it up.(Chapbook Press)  The author, Larry VanderLeest, grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago, and drove the garbage trucks before becoming a teacher. He is the great-grandson of immigrants and still loves the escapades of the Garbio.


 After reading VanderLeest’s book, I discovered seven principles that typified the Garbio philosophy of life. If there are more details or stories about Garbios, please contact me at    

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