Labor Day Tradition is a Big Job for Michigan PROs

The Mackinac Bridge Walk is an annual event that’s a big draw for Michigan residents – and a huge project for Stenberg Bros.
Labor Day Tradition is a Big Job for Michigan PROs
Mark Stenberg secures a Satellite unit in place with tie-downs.

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Like so many employees in the portable restroom industry, workers at Stenberg Bros. Inc. labor on Labor Day weekend. But unlike their industry colleagues, they’re busy handling a one-of-a-kind special event: An annual walk over the nearly 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge that connects mainland Michigan to the state’s Upper Peninsula.

The walk across the bridge – the world’s fifth-longest suspension bridge and the longest one in the Western hemisphere – has been held on Labor Day since 1959. The event typically attracts between 40,000 and 80,000 participants; they walk from the north end to the south end, using the east half of the bridge, which is closed to vehicular traffic until the walk is completed. The bridge, which opened in 1957, is 199 feet tall at its highest point. Shuttle buses take mainland participants over the bridge to either the starting point or back to the north end after the walk, says Mark Stenberg, head of the company’s portable restroom operations.

“It’s a big deal,” Stenberg says of the event. “But we’ve been doing it on and off for decades, so we’ve pretty much got it down to a science.”

Stenberg Bros. puts out 105 units made by Satellite Industries, PolyPortables and Five Peaks, none of them on the bridge. To prepare for the event, which is about a 155-mile drive from Bark River, two drivers deliver about half of the restrooms on the Tuesday before the walk, using Kenworth and Sterling semi-tractors hauling semi-trailers that each hold 26 to 28 restrooms. The drivers drop off the trailers on secured property owned by the Mackinac Bridge Authority, then head back home. On Wednesday they drop off two more trailers filled with the remaining restrooms, then drive back home again.

On Saturday, company employees drive two semi-tractors and two pump trucks built out by Imperial Industries Inc. – each with 1,600-gallon tanks – down to the bridge. In all, the event requires about six employees; they stay overnight on Saturday and Sunday nights.

On Saturday morning, employees set up the restrooms in clusters – two groups on the north end of the bridge and three on the south end. Sunday is a free day. As the walk starts at 7 a.m. Monday, employees monitor each cluster of restrooms, cleaning units continually and restocking them with bathroom tissue as needed. “It’s overwhelming at times,” Stenberg says. “Those people just walked five miles with no restrooms on the bridge, so a lot of them really have to go (to the bathroom).

“When the last walker finishes, we start pumping out the restrooms and we don’t stop until we’re ready to go home,” Stenberg says. Drivers are allowed to dump waste into a treatment-facility lagoon located in St. Ignace, on the north end of the bridge. Each truck makes two trips to the facility, hauling a total of about 4,000 gallons of waste.

“We usually get done about five hours after the last walkers finish,” he says. “They want to open (vehicular) traffic again as fast as possible, and they don’t want those restrooms sitting there overnight.”

After the event, the group caravans home, taking with them two of the four semi-trailers. But the job isn’t finished until a few days later, when a semi driver makes two trips back to the bridge to pick up the two remaining trailers. For Stenberg Bros., this is labor week, not Labor Day.

Check out a full profile on Stenberg Bros. in the August issue of PRO.


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