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North Huntingdon resident devotes 24 years to picking up litter along Route 30

| Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Tom Kalina, 91, of North Huntingdon, poses next to his PennDOT Adopt-A-Highway sign along Route 30 near Kenny Ross Mazda on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. Kalina has been participating in the program for the past 24 years, picking up trash along a two-mile on both sides of the highway.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Tom Kalina, 91, of North Huntingdon, poses next to his PennDOT Adopt-A-Highway sign along Route 30 near Kenny Ross Mazda on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. Kalina has been participating in the program for the past 24 years, picking up trash along a two-mile on both sides of the highway.

Edward “Tom” Kalina has done a lot of walking in his 91 years.

His journey began in his teen years at the prestigious Edgewood Country Club in Wilkins, caddying for 90 cents; continued as a young Marine traversing the Mariana Islands and Okinawa while fighting the Japanese during World War II; and now along a section of Route 30 in North Huntingdon, filling 8,000 bags with litter.

The North Huntingdon resident is a pro at picking up after litterbugs, doing more than his share over the past 24 years as a participant in PennDOT's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

It is his disdain for litter that drove him to volunteer to clean up the mess he saw scattered along a 2-mile stretch of U.S. Route 30, from Carpenter Lane to Robbins Station Road.

Kalina said he cannot figure out why people trash their environment.

“I hate litter — cigarette butts, beer cans. It bothered me when I saw litter. When people see the litter, they think it is a dumping ground,” he said.

PennDOT has recognized his efforts with his name on two Adopt-A-Highway signs on Route 30 — one along the eastbound and westbound lanes on Route 30. Added to the signs is the phrase, “Help Stay Clean.”

“We're excited that he does this,” said Valerie Peterson, a spokeswoman for PennDOT's district office in Uniontown, which manages the local program. “It's an easy way to give back to the community because all it costs is time.”

PennDOT provides the bags and collects them after they are filled.

A way of life

Growing up in Turtle Creek during the Great Depression, walking was a way of life for Kalina.

He lived in a slice of Western Pennsylvania that was a microcosm of the nation's industrial might. Thousands were employed by the Turtle Creek Valley's manufacturers, from U.S. Steel Corp.'s Edgar Thomson mill in Braddock to Westinghouse Electric Co.'s giant East Pittsburgh plant, where Kalina's father worked. Further east was Westinghouse Air Brake Co. plant in Wilmerding and Pennsylvania Railroad's huge rail yard was sprawled across Pitcairn, a stop on the Main Line connecting Pittsburgh with Philadelphia.

“When there was lunch hour, you had to walk on the street” because the sidewalks were crowded with workers, Kalina recalled.

To earn money, he would caddy at the country club, earning a then-princely sum of 90 cents for carrying a golfer's clubs around the 18-hole course. A good tipper would toss in a quarter and Kalina was happy with it, especially since admission to a theater was only a dime.

He graduated from Turtle Creek High School in 1942 and with his buddy enlisted in the Marines.

After the war, he married his wife, Margaret, in 1945. And like millions of other ex-servicemen, he searched for a job.

“I had a job in my back pocket” at Westinghouse Electric where his father worked, but Kalina wanted to work on the railroad. He was hired at U.S. Steel's Union Railroad.

Just nine months later, he became a conductor, steering the trains that served the steelmaker's mills in Homestead, Rankin, Braddock, Duquesne, McKeesport, Clairton and West Mifflin.

“That's when they were booming,” Kalina remembered.

He was paid $1.33 an hour.

“That was a good wage back then. If you made $1 an hour, you had a pretty good job,” he said.

A slower pace

Through the years, Kalina and his wife traveled to 56 countries around the world. He joined the PennDOT program after she died in 1992.

Initially, he hit a glitch because he was not part of a team. His niece, Peggy Simpson, contacted PennDOT and was able to resolve the matter, allowing him to go it alone.

When he started, both sides of the busy highway were polluted with trash, Kalina said, mostly beer cans and cigarette butts.

“When I started, I could not take two steps without taking a bag full” of litter, Kalina said.

After years of collecting garbage, only four “bad” spots remain along that part of Route 30 — stretches with no homes and along the fence at Spitz Auto Parts junkyard, Kalina said.

“When I see nothing there, (litterers) see it as a place to throw junk. They just throw the stuff out” of their passing vehicles, Kalina said.

One concession he's had to make is to reduce how much walking he does while collecting trash because of a knee injury decades ago while he worked on the railroad. Now he drives his car to the litter, then bags it.

“I'm just walking where the problem areas are,” Kalina said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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