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Snowey Tobin, at work and feeding some feathered friends on London's Westminster Bridge in March, 1964.
Snowey Tobin, at work and feeding some feathered friends on London's Westminster Bridge in March, 1964. (Bob Milnes / ©Stars and Stripes)
Snowey Tobin, at work and feeding some feathered friends on London's Westminster Bridge in March, 1964.
Snowey Tobin, at work and feeding some feathered friends on London's Westminster Bridge in March, 1964. (Bob Milnes / ©Stars and Stripes)

YOU CAN GO BACK to Roman times in Britain and never find a street cleaner more celebrated than the current dean of London's pavement orderlies, 60-year-old Snowey Tobin.

If there ever was a broom at the top, it's Tobin's. He has been in the brushing-up business for 27 years, and in that time has made a clean sweep of the most famous squares and thoroughfares in the world — from New York to Moscow.

The greatest challenge, as Tobin sees it, is in East Berlin.

"It's just a heap of rubble," snorted Tobin as he tidied up around Westminster Bridge. "I'd like to organize a cleaning party for a job like that. What a challenge! "

Among his other trips — besides Berlin, New York City, and Moscow — Tobin has also been to Paris, where he broomed the Champs Elysees — "traffic all over the blinkin' place; there was no control."

In New York City, Times Square got the Tobin treatment; in Moscow it was Red Square.

Tobin saved 17 years for his American trip. Sweeping up Times Square was the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition. Mayor Robert Wagner, when granting permission for the project, extended Tobin a "hearty welcome."

In Moscow, irate citizens — unaware of the English stranger's purely esthetic motives — began chasing him for what they interpreted as a not-very-subtle hint that the place needed cleaning up.

Tobin sized up Red Square as a sweeping snap because "there's no traffic."

His only disappointment in New York came when he realized for the first time that "Times Square isn't a square."

"But he consoled himself with the nighttime view from the top of the Empire State Building — "It must be the most beautiful in the world; nothing like it."

He also had high praise for New York's system of numbered streets — "You can't get lost."

Snowey said the only trouble he ever had with customs officials was in Canada: "They saw all those stamps in my passport and thought I was a spy, I guess. They went all through by baggage."

In London, Tobin (whose nickname of Snowey dates back to childhood; he won't divulge his Christian names) covers four miles daily for the Borough of Lambeth, including Westminster Bridge, which spans the Thames in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, the tower of Big Ben, and New Scotland Yard.

WITH such a colorful and historic beat, Tobin has to be a "walking encyclopedia; I answer more tourist questions than a bobby."

To carry out all his travels, Tobin has saved assiduously through the years. He is separated from his wife, and his three children are grown. He denied that there's gold in them thar gutters — outside of an occasional coin — for street cleaners.

(Archaeologists have stated that since no ancient coins were found in their excavation of the Roman forum at Cirencester, Gloucestershire, "it must be assumed the forum was swept and washed at frequent intervals ...")

As you can imagine, some of Tobin's best friends are litterbugs. They keep him in business. But still he sincerely feels that "nobody's a litterbug on purpose; they're all unconscious offenders."

Only 5-4 and 110 pounds, square-sweeping Tobin keeps in shape ("otherwise the old job would kill you") with a rigorous schedule of square-dancing, including jamborees at the American air bases at South and West Ruislip.

"My one love is square-dancing," he declared.

He called the Twist "just an emotion that doesn't do us old people any good."

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