“Bet There Was Some Postage Due On That Package”

Bob Lawrence with son Kevin Lawrence in 1972

 

 

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY POSTAL CAREER

 

I was working for the McCormick-Armstrong Co. in Wichita, Kansas in the fall of 1965, making $1.35 per hour, and living at home in Winfield, Kansas with my parents when I saw an ad in the "Winfield Daily Courier" stating that the civil service examination was to be given on Nov. 23, 1965 in Wichita for the purpose of establishing a register from which future vacancies of substitute in the clerk and letter carrier crafts in the Winfield post office were to be filled.  These jobs started at $2.64 per hour and only residents of Winfield were eligible to take the test.  When the examination day came, I called in sick to work, drove to Wichita, and took the test.

It took a minimum grade of 70 out of a possible 100 points to pass the test although some applicants were eligible to receive as much as 20 additional points referred to as veteran's preference.  Thus, it might be possible for an applicant to score as much as 120 points on a 100-point test.  I was not eligible for any of the bonus points.  In December of 1965, I was notified that I had passed the test with a score of 77.4 and I would be ranked with other applicants who had also passed the test.  As job opportunities in these crafts came open in the Winfield office, they were to be offered to those whose names were at the top of the list.  Should they decline the appointment, the next person on the list would be offered the job.

I quit my job in Wichita in January of 1966 and moved with my parents to Arkansas City, Kansas a month later.  To remain eligible to be appointed to a job in the Winfield post office, I turned in a change of address for myself to my grandfather Brashear's home at 1703 John Street in Winfield.  In Arkansas City, I enrolled in Cowley County Community College and went to work for the Ranney-Davis Wholesale Grocery Co. just a block from the college.  The job paid $1.30 per hour and they allowed me a very flexible work schedule to fit around my classes.  I was to show up for work whenever I could, stay for as much of the workday as I could, and clock out whenever I needed to fit my class schedule.

On February 6, 1967, I received a letter from the Winfield post office offering me an appointment as a temporary indefinite substitute postal clerk in the Winfield post office.  I accepted the appointment, erroneously thinking that the word indefinite might mean that I might be able to keep the job long term and that by accepting this appointment and getting my foot in the door, I might somehow be able to move ahead of others on the list that might have turned down this particular job opportunity.  I went to the Winfield post office and was interviewed by then Assistant Postmaster Kenny Becker who then took me out to try my hand at driving a mail truck.  When we returned to the post office, he said I had done well driving and then introduced me to Superintendent of Mails Merl Daggett who took me on a short tour of the facility.  They told me that I had the job effective March 11, 1967 but that the job would be part time and I probably would not be scheduled to actually go to work for a few days after that.  Even so, I would need to be available on short notice to work any hours of any day that they might need me.

I withdrew from the spring semester classes at Cowley County Community College although not before listening to lectures from each of my professors on how I was making the biggest mistake of my life.  Ranney-Davis allowed me to keep my flexible work schedule so that when the post office might call, I could leave whenever I might need to, to accommodate them.  They even gave me a raise to $1.40 per hour.

It snowed Friday night, March 10th and we woke up to about 3 inches on the ground Saturday morning.  The phone rang at my parent's home in Arkansas City and it was the Winfield post office wanting to know if I would like to report there later that morning to carry a mail route.

Veteran carrier Dale "Strawberry" Henderson had cased the mail that morning, bundled it out with black rubber bands (inch wide strips cut from automobile inner tubes), and put the mail for all but the first "swing" of the route (those stops between the office and the first relay box) on a truck to be placed in relay boxes around the route.  When I arrived, Merl Daggett handed me a relay box key and a satchel with that first swing in it and pointed out the window to a house across the street.  He told me that was my first stop and I was to follow the addresses on the mail after that.  When I ran out of mail, I was to look around for a relay box.  When I could not find any more relay boxes, I would be done so I could return to the post office.  That was the extent of my job training.

I put the satchel on my shoulder and walked out the door.  Years later, I was to learn that I had put the satchel on my right shoulder and thus had worked the mail left-handed.  Doctors have advised me to alternate shoulders when I carry claiming it would be better for my back but, although I am right handed, since I started out carrying mail left handed, it seems unnatural to me to do it any other way so I have continued to carry exclusively left handed throughout my career.

When I delivered the last letter in my satchel that morning, I looked around for one of those familiar drab green relay boxes that once stood on many street corners.  There was one across the street and Strawberry was standing there leaning against it.  He was off duty but had stopped by just to see how I was getting along.  He took my key, loaded my satchel from the relay box, pointed out my next house, and we went our separate ways.

In mid-afternoon, Kenny Becker drove up and let Substitute Carrier Loren Wade out of his car.  Loren told me that he was to finish the route and Kenny would drive me back to the post office.  Kenny said he wanted to be sure I did not have too big a day walking out in the snow so he was going to let me go home.  Thus ended the first day of my postal career.

A position for a career substitute city letter carrier opened up in the Winfield post office that spring.  The position went to a man who had a higher test score but who had declined the temporary appointment that I had accepted.  My having a "foot in the door" had counted for nothing.

In early May, I was notified that the hiring register had been depleted so the civil service exam was going to be given again.  Anyone on the old register who had not yet received a career appointment and who wished to be considered for future career appointments would have to take the exam again.  A new register would be established based on the results of the later test.  The rules had also changed so that an applicant no longer had to be a resident of the city for which he was testing.  When I took this test on May 19, 1967, I was given a list of Kansas towns.  I was to place a check mark beside those where I wished to be considered for upcoming vacancies in the clerk and city letter carrier crafts.  I marked all the towns on the list and wrote across the top that I would consider a career appointment to any post office anywhere in the United States.  On June 13, 1967, I was notified that my score on the latest test was 82.7.

I got to perform a variety of clerk jobs that summer including sorting incoming mail to the city and rural routes and into the post office boxes that lined the post office walls.  I carried each of the seven city routes in Winfield a number of times, delivered parcel post, special deliveries, and drove the evening collection route picking up mail from the various collection boxes along the streets around town.  Upon returning to the office, I had to "face" all the mail I had collected (turn it all the same direction) and run it through a stamp-canceling machine.

In September 1967, Kenny Becker advised me that I must make what would be, for him, a very difficult decision.  I could continue working at the Winfield post office until after Christmas 1967, but my temporary indefinite appointment would expire then and he would have to terminate my employment.  On the other hand, there was a career appointment available as a substitute city letter carrier in Wichita and I could have that if I wanted it.  It paid the same and there was no guaranteed number of work hours but career appointment meant that it would not expire.  Kenny said he did not think he could ever leave Winfield so he did not know what decision he would make were he in my shoes but it was my decision to make.  I told him it was an easy decision for me.  I wanted the career appointment.  He said he would submit the necessary paper work for me and make sure my resignation from the Winfield office took effect on the day before I would report to Wichita.  That would mean there would be no "break in service" so that the seven months I worked in Winfield would count toward future step pay raises and toward my eventual retirement from the postal service.  Kenny advised me to act as though I knew nothing about how to perform the job.  He told me to let them train me how they want me to do things in Wichita and to forget how they do things in Winfield.

I received a letter on October 1, 1967 instructing me to arrive at 8:20 a.m. on October 10, 1967 so I would be ready to report at 8:30 a.m. to the postmaster's office, room 110, Main Wichita post office, 401 North Market Street in order to be sworn in and begin orientation and training for my new job.  I arrived about 8 a.m. that morning to find two other men, Jimmie L. Mulliken and Brian M. Sullivan already waiting to report with me.

We walked into room 110 at 8:30 a.m. sharp and were ushered into the postmaster's private office.  After several minutes, Assistant Postmaster Max McReynolds came in and told us that Postmaster E. C. Baily was out of town so he would be giving us the oath of office.  He had us raise our right hands:

 

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter."

 

After administering the oath of office, he took us on a short tour of the facility and then took us to a classroom in the basement to begin our training.  We ate lunch together that day at the YWCA across from the post office.  When we were dismissed that evening, the three of us walked across the street to a uniform shop and each purchased a postal "bus driver" cap.  We had to wear that cap anytime we were on duty and outdoors and we did not get any other uniform items until our 90-day probationary period was up.  We three new hires spent eight hours a day in training for the next two weeks learning every facet of the job of a city letter carrier and I have always felt the training we received during that time was thorough.

Jimmie and Brian had received higher scores on the test than I had so their names were placed above mine on the seniority list.  Jimmie did not like the job and resigned after several months.  Brian learned that a police officer in Washington, D.C. could retire after only 18 years service so he applied, was accepted, and resigned from the post office, having stayed just a couple of years.  (Both men would eventually return to postal employment in other states and both eventually retired from the postal service.)

After my training, I was assigned to the carrier section in the basement of Wichita's main post office for a few days before being reassigned to Chisholm Station, 1100 West 31st Street South.  I worked at Chisholm Station until January of 1970 when I was promoted to Unassigned Regular Letter Carrier and again transferred to the carrier section in the basement of the main office.  I worked there until July of 1970 when I was declared the successful bidder on route 1711 back at Chisholm Station.

In the fall of 1971, I went home and told my wife that I had found a garage for sale on my mail route and it also had a house in the front yard.  We purchased the house at 4508 South Oak Street and moved there on Columbus Day, 1971.  I carried route 1711 until July of 1974 when the route was dissolved and divided up among surrounding routes.  Before the effective date of the dissolution, I was declared the successful bidder on route 1703 also in Chisholm Station.  In the fall of 1976, route 1711 was reestablished as a regular route.  I was declared the successful bidder on it and was assigned back onto it in November of 1976.  I continued to carry route 1711 until October 6, 1990 when I was declared the successful bidder and assigned to route 901 at Delano Station, 626 South Tyler Road.  I had carried route 0901 many times while working as a substitute at Chisholm Station in the late 1960s.

In October of 2001, I was declared the successful bidder of route 909 in Delano Station and carried that route until my retirement from the postal service on March 1, 2009.

 

 

 

THE TRAIN

 

As best I can recall, it was the late 1960s and I was driving a mail truck on a collection route one evening out of the main downtown Wichita post office.  I had "robbed" a collection box near the intersection of Pawnee St. and Southeast Blvd. and was driving north on Southeast Blvd. which runs parallel to some railroad tracks.  A train was also going north and I knew that, if I could stay beside the train and match its speed, all of the traffic signals ahead of me on Southeast Blvd. would turn to flashing yellow for me and red for all the cross streets.  The train was traveling about 35 M.P.H. and I was able to stay about even with its engine.  I periodically glanced at the train to be sure I was not getting too far ahead.  It was one of those glances that I noticed the engine had struck a white car on a cross street and was pushing it sideways down the track.  The train was slowing but not rapidly.  I slowed down with it and stopped when it did.  I ran over to the car but there was no one in it.  It had been crushed to about half its original width and there was a bag of groceries on the front seat that appeared to have just tipped over.  The train crew had stayed in the engine but hollered down to me asking if there was anyone in the car.  I told them there was not.  They said the police were on the way so I went back to my mail truck and returned to the post office.

On my way home from work that evening, I heard on the radio that the car had been stuck on the tracks in traffic.  Seeing that her car was about to be struck by the train, the lady who had been driving had gotten out of the car and tried to run.  When the train struck the car, the lady had was not far enough away and she was struck and killed by the car as it was pushed down the tracks.  I had not seen a thing until I noticed the car being pushed down the tracks and I was a quarter of a mile away from the victim when I ran over to the car.

 

 

 

“OH WELL, IT’S ONLY THE POSTMAN”

 

I was delivering packages to customers on my route on a Sunday morning just before Christmas one year in the early 1970s.  When I knocked on one door, a lady cracked it open a little and I told her I had a package for her.  She opened the door clutching her nightgown together in front of her.   She struggled a little to take the package with one hand and hold the nightgown with the other.  Then she said something like "Oh well, it's only the postman" and let go of her nightgown to grasp the package with both hands.  The nightgown fell open revealing from head to toe that she was wearing nothing under it.  She did not seem concerned about the exposure as she backed into the house with her package.  I did not say anything but did beat a hasty retreat back to my mail truck.

 

 

 

“ARE YOU SURE YOUR MOTHER IS HOME?”

 

While carrying mail in a residential neighborhood in the early 1970s, I came across a young boy laying in a yard wedged precariously under his bicycle.  He had gotten the leg of his jeans caught in the chain of his bicycle and had fallen off landing under the bicycle.  I tried to free his pant’s leg but the chain was too tight and I could see I would need a wrench to loosen the chain before I could free the lad.

I asked him if his mother was home.  He said she was so I went up to the front door and knocked.  No one answered so I again asked the boy if he was sure his mother was home.  Again, he told me she was.  I opened the front door and yelled inside but there was still no response so I stuck my head in and looked around.  I couldn’t see anyone so I stepped inside and again shouted for the boy’s mother.

It was a small house so I went into the kitchen and looked out a window into the backyard.  After shouting several more times, I decided that no one was there so I returned to the front yard and again asked the boy if he was sure his mother was home.  He assured me that she was but then told me that he lived next door.

 

 

 

“IT WON’T BITE”

 

I had just stepped up onto a porch one day when a small bird-dog came around the corner of the house.  Without making a sound, it walked up onto the porch, bit me on the back of my leg, and ran out into the yard.

I knocked on the door and asked the lady who answered if the dog standing in the yard was hers.  She said it was but that it would not bite.  I told her that I did not think that was true as I pointed out the hole in my pants leg and the blood dripping onto her porch.  She replied that the dog had not bitten anyone before.

As far as I can tell, none of the numerous dogs that have bitten me over the years had ever bitten anyone else before.  That knowledge did not do a thing to lessen my pain.

 

 

 

A FAMILIER FACE

 

I was carrying mail on south Gold Street one day when a young family in a car drove by and stopped.  The man driving was exuberant about how nice it was to see me again.  He said he had grown up in a house on that block but his family had moved to Arizona some 14 years or so earlier.  Of course, he was grown now and this was the first time he had returned to the old neighborhood.  He was delighting in showing his family where he had grown up.  As expected, he had noticed many things that had changed but then he had seen me, the same postman he had remembered from his youth.  He thought it was so nice to see a familiar face and at least know that something had stayed the same all that time.  I did not remember the man in particular but did remember his parents, that they had once lived in that house, and that they had moved their family to Arizona all those years earlier.

 

 

 

ONE SURPRISED DOG

 

There was one house on my route where a German shepherd would jump against the inside of the picture window in the front room each day as I passed by.  It was apparent that no one was home there and I just hoped that he did not come through the window.  One day, my fear became reality as the dog came crashing right through that window and landed in a flowerbed right in front of the house.  It seemed to scare the dog as much as it did me though as he just got up and slinked around the side of the house and out of sight.  He did not pay any attention to me once he was outside the house.

That was the second time that a dog had come through a window after me.  The first was several years earlier.  That dog would jump up against a bedroom window as I passed by and one day he too, came right through it.  Again, this dog was also so surprised to be outside the house that he did not pay any further attention to me.

 

 

 

MET SOME INTERESTING PEOPLE AND BEEN SOME INTERESTING PLACES

 

Delivering Express Mail one night took me to the east Wichita home of custom car builder and showman Darryl Starbird.  At the invitation of his wife, I stepped into the living room while she signed for the delivery.

A voluptuous exotic dancer once resided on my route and would occasionally meet me at the mailbox to visit.  Only a couple of months after she had moved in, I awoke one morning on my day off and was laying in bed listening to the news on the radio.  They reported that this dancer had been killed during the night in a car wreck in west Wichita.

The offices of prominent entrepreneur Phil Ruffin were a regular stop on my route.  He is the man who came up with the popular concept of self-service gasoline stations.  Among his other enterprises are the New Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, NV; the Crystal Palace Casino in the Bahamas; and Wichita Greyhound Park.  I once asked him if he was related to the prominent Ruffin family in early Virginia and he told me he was but did not elaborate.  On one occasion, I delivered a letter that he had to sign for so I was directed into his spacious office.  He was on the phone but motioned for me to approach his desk where he signed for the letter while continuing his conversation on the phone.

Former professional boxer Ned Hallacy resided on my route.  I would see him out most days jogging around the neighborhood.

Former professional racing drivers Roger Mears and Rick Mears once lived in a house on my route although they had moved to California before I started delivering that route.

Former professional wrestler, Golden Gloves boxer, and racecar driver, Charlie Lutkie, resided on my first mail route.

Former professional racing driver, A. J. Shepherd, who raced in the 1961 Indianapolis "500" resided on my route.

While carrying other mail routes on overtime in Wichita, I delivered the mail of local radio personality Mike "Ol' Mike" Oatman and that of local TV news anchor Greg Gammer.

 

 

 

A CHRISTMAS FEAST

 

It was early in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1998, and I had just made a delivery to the mailbox of a plumbing company on my route.  As I walked away, the door of the business opened.  A man stuck his head out and asked me if I would like to have something to eat.  Never one to turn down free food, I said "sure" and he invited me to come in.

It was a small office but there were nicely arranged platters of food all around the office, on shelves, on desks, everywhere there was space, there was a fancily decorated platter of food.  There was another man and woman in the office and soon one was handing me a plate and utensils while another was filling a glass of something to drink.  I was reluctant to "dig in" at first as it was obvious that I was the first to be served from any of the platters.  It was then that one of the men told me what had happened.

They had seen an advertisement for these Christmas platters of food in a catalog earlier in the year and thought it would be something nice to do for their customers.  They had ordered all of this food and then sent out invitations to their customers to attend their "Christmas Open House" for lunch that day but, not a single person had come by.  Therefore, since I was there that afternoon, they had invited me to partake as it seemed a shame to let the food go to waste.

It all seemed so familiar.  A feast prepared for others who had not come.  The host going out into the street and inviting whomever he found there to be his guest.  One of Jesus’ parables had come to life for a letter carrier that afternoon as I felt that I was actually living Matthew 22:1-10.

 

 

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