Pieces of my family history are “news” in the Grand Rapids Press. This snippet published in 1950 is an interview with my grandfather, Kenneth Bennett. Both he and my grandmother were rural delivery mail route carriers. My earliest memories of him involve the many cars he owned and I was fascinated how he could drive from the middle of the front seat. After finding this article, I have a brand new respect for what he did for a living.

Kenneth Bennett

PREPARES FOR THE OPEN ROAD – Grand Rapids Press Photographer

PREPARES FOR THE OPEN ROAD – the still common notion that the job of carrying mail to farm folk is hardly more than a pleasant ride through the countryside is all wrong, according to Kenneth Bennett, who runs an RFD route out of postal station A on Bridge-st. For him it’s a 50-mile string of starts and stops, a potential 450 of them, six days a week, with a load of mail that may run to 800 pounds. Even from the middle of the seat, which is the way rural carriers drive, the long reaching to the mail boxes is hard on spines and shoulders.

Rural Mail Carriers Vexed by Sore Backs

If you see a car coming down a highway with the driver right of center on the front seat, you probably are looking at a rural letter carrier going about his business of getting the mail through.

For the peculiar way of doing of the rural letter carrier there is an obvious explanation for those who are curious. Automobiles have left hand drives by American convention. Rural mail boxes are on the right side of the road by governmental regulations. Sitting conventionally behind the wheel at the left side, a carrier would have to have arms at least five feet long in reach through the window on the right side to get at all those boxes.

Dislikes Right Hand Drive.

Actually, according to Kenneth Bennett of 947 Pine-av., NW, who operates a rural route out of postal station A on Bridge-st., NW, and is vice president of the Michigan Rural Letter Carriers, automobiles with right hand drives are made especially for rural carriers, but have found little acceptance. The steering wheel interferes with the handling of mail and furthermore the carriers would have to take heavy loss on resale of the cars. So the cars remain conventional, even if the use of them is “off center.” A rocking seat has been invented to ease the leaning out of the right windows, but Bennett said he wasn’t sold on that either.

The result of the contortion required to get at the mall boxes is a fairly serious occupational hazard, Bennett observes. Spines develop trouble and so do shoulders and have to be “favored.” One rural mail carrier can spot another rural mail carrier as easily as one bowlegged cowboy spots another bowlegged cowboy, says he.

Blesses Self-Shifting.

The automatic transmission of today’s automobile proved a blessing to the rural mailman. Bennett demonstrates how working the accelerator and the brake with the left foot keeps him in fairly up-right position as compared with the manual transmission in which both feet had to function to contort the whole body into a “pretzel.”

Bennett said he drives 50 miles daily on his route six days a week except for the three vacation weeks a year and has 450 stops on his route. That, in Bennett’s opinion, should put an end to the notion that the job of delivering the mail in the country is a pleasant snap. Add getting up for work at 6 a. m. and add also the rugged days in winter when roads become blocked, says Bennett, and nothing is left of the “snap” notion.

Bennett had his car in a garage Friday afternoon for a small ticking sound that came and went. It proved not serious at all, but was typical of the tradition that the mail must go through.

“When I step into the car in the morning it has to start and it has to keep going all day.” said Bennett. “The department asks that and wants no excuses.”

Bennett said the common practice is for rural mail carriers to turn in their cars in for a new one every year. That way, he explained, it never is necessary to buy a new set of tires or to have repair bills pile up. At 8 cents a mile, which Uncle Sam allows, the chances of profit on the deal are not good, not at the present price of gasoline and odd repairs, Bennett makes clear.

“Have to Like People.”

Bennett likes his work. It is almost a mission with him.

“You have to like people and you have to like giving service” says he. “If you don’t like people and to do things for people, don’t try to become a rural letter carrier.”

A rural letter carrier under the rules cannot leave his car which actually is a traveling post office that sells stamps, issues money orders and insures mail and does almost all the things a regular postal station does.

There is one hazard against which the rural mail carrier constantly is on guard. If he weren’t the mail wouldn’t go through. That hazard is the retired or leisure-type fellow with time to talk. Once he gets his elbow on the sill of the car window the carrier is in trouble.

“They lean pretty hard and if you start the car you have them rolling in the ditch and-that wouldn’t be good,” said Bennett.

Page 26                       The Grand Rapids Press                     Saturday, July 22, 1950