With the stress of April 15 finally behind him, Robert Swann, a CPA and tax analyst/programmer at Intuit’s Plano office, can get back to his side project – excavating an old car from Rowlett Creek at Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve.
“I live next to Oak Point, and I was walking [on the soft trails] at the park for the very first time last summer,” Swann said. “I thought, 'what a great park.' Then I saw a car in the creek and wondered what it was doing there. It piqued my interest not only because I didn’t want it there, but because I wanted to know [why it was there].”
Soon after his discovery, Swann began taking the car, likely a green 1970 Gremlin, apart one piece at a time. He said he estimates he had about 320 pounds of car parts on his patio before taking them to Encore Recyclers in Garland.
“I tried to see if there was any use for these parts, but there wasn’t,” he said of his decision to recycle them. “I wanted to get them out of the garbage stream and recycled. I’m still taking the car apart, but now I’m down to the engine, which I’ve gotten up on dry land. As soon as I get it dismantled, I’m hoping it won’t be as heavy.”
Swann said the green body chassis remains half-submerged upside down in the creek, where it will remain until he can get someone to help him recover it. The vehicle’s VIN number, and possibly the answer to the mystery he intends on solving, lie somewhere underneath.
“It’s just an intriguing story,” he said. “I find when people ask me why do I do this, the only analogy is someone that does jigsaw puzzles – I’m just doing this in reverse. My objective is to finish the jigsaw puzzle. I find it very enjoyable. It’s a release to me; it’s very relaxing to hear the water trickling down the creek all the time [while I work].”
As his company’s green chairman, Swann organized a group of 12 Intuit employees to participate in a cleanup at Oak Point on March 20. This cleanup led to the engine’s excavation and the donation of four tires to a Plano Transfer Station for recycling.
Swann has been drawn to maintaining the natural beauty of rivers ever since his first canoe trip down the Guadalupe River as a teenager.
“It’s second nature for me to want it clean because I know how much it’s [worth],” he said. “I grew up with returnable water bottles. I didn’t grow up with all this trash. It’s really easy just to throw it on the ground and into the sewer now. I wonder if I’m fighting upstream and if I’m ever going to get anywhere, but then I see younger people picking up trash. The youth of our nation seems to have a problem with it too.”
An annual attendee of Plano’s Learn 2 Live Green event, which took place last Saturday, Swann said he believes a lack of education leads people to litter.
“Some people have always used a creek as a place to dump things, especially in the rural areas,” he said. “They just take it to the creek and push it over. They don’t know there are other ways of getting rid of that trash. If only they understood that this is their drinking water. It costs them in the long run.”
During the Oak Point cleanup, Swann and his team pulled out many items, including a washing machine, that may have been there for decades.
Autumn Dillon, environmental education coordinator with the city of Plano, said Swann has been a dream cleanup volunteer and is always eager to help out.
“At first I couldn’t believe that someone would dedicate their time and energy to something so tedious, but he was very determined,” Dillon said. “Robert is an amazing volunteer because of the selflessness of his actions. He didn’t venture into the creek for community service hours or public recognition; he saw a problem, knew a way to help and carried out the task. He didn’t wait for someone else to fix the problem, he took action.”
Dillon said although she was first told about the car a few years ago from a volunteer group, due to the location and size of the car, it was impossible to pull it out using a crane. With the help of a come along cable puller, Swann is removing the car piece by piece.
“We’re not going to get very far hundreds of years from now if we continue to abuse and pollute our resources,” Swann said. “Hopefully the respect for the earth will be a higher priority in people’s lives than it is right now. There’s the aesthetics, where you don’t want to see trash, but you’re actually polluting the water, air and land. It gets down to the water tables. Sooner or later we’re going to have to pay for cleaning that up either with our money or degraded lifestyles.”
Among other cleanups, Swann leads an annual Denton Creek cleanup; last year his team uncovered a 32-inch Trinitron television. He said through community interaction, he has learned of more cars dumped in local creeks, something he intends on exploring in the future.