Two weeks into their stay down south, the Living Lands & Waters crew already has removed 118,000 pounds of garbage from waterways in and around Memphis.

The East Moline-based nonprofit environmental organization is hosting its annual alternative spring break trips for college students this month, and founder Chad Pregracke called to say he is having a blast.

“This is one of the best times I’ve ever had in Memphis,” he said by phone Friday. “We’re crushing it down here.”

In addition to the help they received from students, the crew got a hand this week from fellow Quad-Citian Mike Wolfe, the co-star and creator of “American Pickers," Pregracke said.

Before their trip, Quad-City Times photographer Andy Abeyta and I spent some time with the team as they prepped their equipment — and themselves — for another year on the water.

When I introduced the story idea to Pregracke's wife, Tammy Becker, she warned me how difficult it can be to keep up with her high-energy husband.

"Wear your running shoes," she said. 

Whether he is catching up with his crew in their shop or getting his hands dirty in the field, Pregracke's passion for conservation is contagious, making it easy for those around him to follow suit.

"I really want to be known not only for doing environmental work, but just individually as hard-working Americans," Pregracke said. "That’s truly what we are."

Read more about Pregracke, his crew and their lives before a season of river cleanups, in this week's Big Story in the Sunday edition of the Quad-City Times and online Saturday at


Jack Cullen is a reporter uncovering different sides of life in the Quad-City area.