The gooiest: Don Peter uses a machine to remove gum from a sidewalk along Marion on Thursday.%uFEFFJ. GEIL/Staff Photographer

When there’s something strange on the bottom of your shoe, who can you call? Gum buster!

Pedestrians traversing Oak Park may have occasionally stepped into a pile of bubble gum that rudely was deposited on the pavement, rather than the nearest trash bin. But while the village may not be able to stop anti-social gum spitters, it is trying to change the disgusting outcome of said spitting. How? With the latest incarnation of a machine designed to make the sticky substance disappear.

Village hall recently partnered with the Downtown Oak Park Business Association to buy a new “gum buster.” The contraption includes a vacuum cleaner, power generator and wire brush, which all combine to blast gum off the sidewalk.

Maintenance man extraordinaire Donald Peter, or “Downtown Don,” started using the new machine about two weeks ago. As an employee of DTOP, he uses the contraption twice a year to clean up the area loosely bordered by Ontario, North Boulevard, Harlem and Forest. On a Thursday morning last week, he showed Wednesday Journal how it works.

“It kind of looks like R2-D2, doesn’t it?” he said with a chuckle.

The gum buster shoots out steam to soften the gum, then sprays a solvent that turns it to liquid. The wire bristles and vacuum finish it off by sucking the gum into a small shop vac, says Peter.

Oak Park had another gum buster that it bought about eight years ago. The machine was worn down and barely worked, according to Downtown Don, and it didn’t have some of the helpful features of the newer model. For example, the old gum buster had no generator, and so had to be awkwardly plugged into outlets along village sidewalks.

The village kicked in TIF dollars to split the cost of the $7,200 machine. But it can only be used within Oak Park’s downtown TIF district, unless the village figures out a way that it can be rented out for use in other local shopping areas, said Public Works Director John Wielebncicki. Not to mention, village hall doesn’t currently have the manpower to gum-bust the entire village, “I’d love to if we had the resources,” he said.

“It’s a big part of our maintenance here, and the black spots the gum leaves detract, so we feel it’s worth the investment of time and money to get rid of them,” said Pat Zubak, executive director of Downtown Oak Park.

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