Rural Free Delivery has 100th birthday

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/12/96.

Rural Free Delivery celebrated its 100th birthday in October. It is a service unlike any other in America. It brings people from all over the nation together and has had a profound effect on American history, culture and life. Rural carriers, or post offices on wheels, as they are often called, offer stamps, money orders, delivery and pick up of all classes of mail, including parcels and other services that many rural customers would have to drive long distances to obtain.

Rural free delivery provides service six days a week, more than 100,000 dedicated men and women drive 2.8 million miles delivering mail on 57,000 routes to 25 million customers all across the United States.

Paynesville has four rural carriers. Roger Brossard has been with the post office 22 years, Mike Flanders, 16 years, Roger Glenz, 13 years, and Larry Wendroth, 3 1/2 years. Brossard said he took over Lee Sauers route, Glenz took over Jerry Linns route. Among the early rural route carriers were Fred Sanborn, Ed and Duane Bluhm, Albert Foreman, Albert Kruger, Lee Sauer, Jerry Linn and Jack Bugbee. All the carriers started as substitutes and moved into full-time positions.

Bugbee worked as a mail carrier 26 years before retiring in 1986. It was the best job I ever had, he said. It was a wonderful experience which left me with fabulous memories. The patrons on the route were great. I still meet them on the street and reminisce.

Bugbee started as a substitute for Lee Sauer and took over Duane Bluhms route when he retired. His route covered most of the north shore of Lake Koronis, the south shore and extended south of Lake Koronis. Occasionally Id meet the drivers from Eden Valley, Atwater, Grove City or New London where the routes intersected, he added.

Bugbees route was 65 miles of dirt and gravel. Today that figure is probably reverse with more paved roads. It is an interesting thing to see how the roads have improved since I was driving the route, he said. Bugbee recalls stopping at Birch Beach Store to buy gas and penny candy. He would often give the candy to the kids he met on the route. It was fun to see the kids grow up who lived on the route, he said. I would also honk my horn and wave from my convertible at the men working in the fields.

Brossard has one of the longest routes today while Wendroth has the shortest. Brossard drives about 104 miles every day from Paynesville to Roscoe, St. Martin, Pierz Lake, Cyrilla Beach and back to Paynesville. Flanders drives about 87 miles per day, Glenz, 87 miles and Wendroth may drive the shortest route, 20 miles, but he also claims to deliver the most mail.

There is more mail now than when I started 22 years ago, Brossard said. When I started, there were only 228 mail boxes, today that number has grown to 356 boxes, he said. His day starts at 6:45 a.m. when he sorts the mail at the post office. About 9 a.m. the drivers leave the post office and head out into the countryside. Brossard said he used to be able to finish his route by 1 p.m. but with the added stops over the years it is closer to 3:30 p.m. today.

Brossard said one of the hardest parts of the job to get accustomed to was driving the same miles over and over again. After a while you get used to the roads. I really liked meeting the people on the route as they would meet me at their mailbox for their mail or try to catch me to mail a letter, he said.

When asked about winter driving, Brossard said he has been stuck more than he would like to think. The post office is more lenient than it used to be. If mailboxes are not plowed out, we are not obligated to deliver their mail, he added. In many cases, if the roads are bad, the homeowner doesnt expect us to deliver their mail. Brossard added it takes him about five hours to deliver the mail in the winter months. Sleet is one of the more nerve wracking weather conditions. You never know when you pull over if you will get going again, he said. The men felt there was only one day last winter they were not able to deliver the mail due to snow.

Besides winter weather, another hazard for the mailman is mans best friend, the dog. I have had dogs ruin about four tires and bite me several times. The post office says if any dog on the route gives us any trouble, we can tell the owner to restrain the dog or they wont get their mail, Brossard said. Brossard explained dogs come up beside the car and grab their arm as they extend it out the window to deliver the mail. Im always leary when I pull up to a place to deliver a package when I see a dog looking into the car window, he said.

Another hazard or nuisance of being a mail carrier is the dust during the summer months. The men agreed the road dust in the summer was worse than snow. This summer was really bad, they said. It seeps in the doors, onto the dash and gauges and into the upholstery.

All the mail carriers agree that during the summer months, they deliver the least mail and the volume starts growing in September. December and January are two of the biggest months. December is a big month because of Christmas and January because that is when all the sweepstakes entries are mailed, the IRS forms and summer garden catalogs start arriving. Each mail carrier averages 2,000 pieces of mail per day.

The mail carriers appreciated when the mail routes were changed and addresses were required on all mail, not route numbers. Sometimes we would receive mail for Box 212 A, 212B 212x. The street and house numbers have really simplified sorting the mail, they said.

The Paynesville mail carriers salutes the county and state for rebuilding roads and keeping the roads open in the winter months. By the time we leave town on our routes, the plows are usually on the roads, they said.

The other mail carriers joked with Brossard about his car problems. Each mail carrier is responsible for providing their own vehicle. Since last year he has gone through three transmissions and recorded 18 flat tires. He said his record is 26 flat tires in one year.

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