When I go to the post office in Columbia Crossroads to mail a package, I get more than just the regular mail service. Before Postal Clerk Connie Plouse gives me my tracking number slip, she adds something to it. She writes the name of the person receiving the package, the date and the amount of shipping on the back of the tracking slip. This may not seem like anything special, but when I am mailing more than one package, it’s nice to know which tracking number goes with which person’s package.
“Everybody likes me doing it because no one has ever done it before,” said Plouse. “They always thank me for doing it.”
July 1 is National Postal Workers Appreciation Day. Over the years, living on a rural mail route, I’ve had a lot to thank our mail carriers for.
During the winter of 1993, a manila envelope that was torn open was delivered to my mailbox. A note on it said that it had arrived at the Columbia Crossroads Post Office already torn. It had contained a folder with a manuscript in it. I had sent it out for review and I was waiting for it to be returned. I was upset to think it was lost somewhere in New York City or in the hands of the wrong person.
That night it started snowing. And it snowed hard all night. By the next day, the roads were impassable. Not even the plows could get through. I couldn’t help but wonder where my lost story was, when the phone rang. It was our mail carrier, Gary Pierce.
“I have the folder that was in your envelope,” said Pierce. “It fell out of the torn envelope when I picked it up with the rest of your mail yesterday. It was in the back of my Jeep behind the seat. I’ll deliver it as soon as I can get through.”
Gary Pierce, you made my day, I thought to myself! I was so grateful to know that my manuscript was in safe hands and not on the streets of New York. I have always been grateful for that kind act. He didn’t have to call. He could have waited and just delivered it, but as I remember the road was closed for several days before any vehicles could get through.
“I tried to do for everyone like I would have liked to be treated,” said Pierce.
Pierce got his start on that mail route subbing for Greg Fay and became a full time rural mail carrier when Dilmon Dunbar retired.
Those three mail carriers that worked out of Columbia Crossroads have some very interesting stories to share.
Fay started working with Dunbar, subbing for him.
“When I first got into the postal service, Dilmon asked me if I wanted to sub for him,” explained Fay.
That was in the mid 1980’s. At that time Fay was also milking cows with his dad on their farm.
“They liked us farm guys for subs because we were always available,” said Fay. “They knew where to find us.”
Fay remembers one day when he and his dad were filling the silo. His dad started yelling, “Hey! Dilmon’s here!”
Dilmon said, “Don’t even take your truck. Take my truck.”
The mail was waiting in Dunbar’s truck and off Fay went.
“I didn’t even change my clothes! I didn’t even smell good!” said Fay. “I finished his route and got home in time to do chores.”
Fay started full time in the fall of 1988. He was assigned to Rural Route 2 out of Columbia Crossroads.
He remembers right after starting his own route; right above Columbia Crossroads on a dirt road he happened to look down into a cleared power line right of way. He saw a huge bear. It walked up to the electric pole and started scratching its back on it. Fay watched that bear continue to scratch for at least two minutes before it continued on its way.
“I don’t know who left first – him or me,” said Fay.
Fay worked as a full time mail carrier for 25 years before he retired.
“There were only two times we didn’t go out, or at least attempt because of the snow,” said Fay.
One of those times, Fay remembers that he and Pierce sorted their mail, went out and started driving.
“It was awful,” said Fay. “We didn’t get very far. We could only do the main roads.”
They spent two hours trying to deliver mail. Finally the postmaster tracked them down (no cell phones remember) by calling a customer on Fay’s route. That customer left a note in their mailbox with the flag up that read, “We’re calling it a day, come back.”
It was snowing so hard the plows couldn’t get through.
“Gary and I helped each other put chains on our trucks so we could get home,” said Fay. “When I got home, I found that I had lost a chain. I was one short and I never found it. But I was home safe.”
Fay remembers the wear and tear on the vehicles. In all the years as a rural mail carrier, driving some of the worst roads in the county, he went through at least seven or eight vehicles.
“A bunch of Chevy Blazers, Ram Chargers and even my die-hard 1977 International Scout,” said Fay.
Dunbar also remembers there were several snowstorms when he got pulled out of snowdrifts up on Coryland. It was usually a farmer and his tractor that pulled him out.
Dunbar started subbing for Bob Greenough on RD 2 all the way down to Wetona in 1964. At that time the Columbia Crossroads Post Office was in the store in Crossroads. Then they built the new post office.
Dunbar remembers that there were three routes at that time.
“They eliminated RD 1 and put 2 and 3 together,” said Dunbar. “I have no idea why.”
Dunbar remembers that at Christmas time there was so much mail stacked up. As a sub he went in about two hours a day just to sort mail after the carriers had left.
Once a year everyone received those really thick department store catalogs. They arrived at the post office in stacks. Each one had the customer’s name and address on it. Dunbar said they would take out a few each day, but couldn’t do any more than that in with all the other mail.
“That was a sad sight when you walked in and saw all those catalogs sitting there,” said Dunbar. “Piles and piles!”
According to Dunbar, as a rural mail carrier you kept track of your customers and their routines. That was a good thing, especially for those elderly customers living alone.
At one customer’s home, Dunbar noticed his daily paper was still in the box. He went to the door, heard the radio, but no one answered. Dunbar went to the neighbor’s to have him check on the man.
It happened again. During the warm months, a customer always sat on a rock by his mailbox waiting for Dunbar to deliver. He always asked Dunbar, “What’s the news?”
One day, the customer wasn’t on his rock and he hadn’t picked up his paper. Again Dunbar went to his house and got no response. So, again he went to the neighbor’s who checked on him.
Dunbar worked with three women at the post office. They were all named Linda. When he arrived to sort mail, he said, “Good morning, Linda!” and that greeted all of them at once.
“It was a great place to work,” said Dunbar. “And the people I worked with were the best.”
“Both Dilmon and Gary taught me a lot,” said Fay. “They both have great values of life.”
“One nice thing about working at Crossroads was we all went the extra mile when needed,” added Pierce.
Old habits die-hard; I still see Dilmon Dunbar driving along my road, checking as he passes a group of mailboxes to make sure there aren’t any papers in the news boxes.