Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My First Job with the Feds

During my high school junior and senior years my best friend Phil and I worked nights at the Post Office Mail Terminal for two weeks during the Xmas rush. All the mail was brought in via Union Pacific railroad to the major train terminal in town. Post office employees were right there to start sorting the mail as soon as it left the train cars. I was lucky that Phil had access to a car because after we worked through the night we were able to get to class on time the next morning thanks to his transportation. We then had a full day of school. When we got out of school we were able to get a few hours sleep before leaving for work. By the end of the two weeks we were walking zombies from lack of sleep.

First the mail was sorted by state. The loose letters came in a large bin. I would grab a hand full of letters and start to pigeonhole them by state. As soon as a pigeonhole was filled, the letters were bundled up with brown fiber cord and placed in other bins labeled by state. Then these state bins were moved to separate pigeonhole racks labeled for each state. All the major cities in that state had its own pigeonhole, with a big slot at the lower right of the rack to catch every other place in the state.
First the mail was sorted by state. The loose letters came in a large bin. I would grab a hand full of letters and start to pigeonhole them by state. As soon as a pigeonhole was filled, the letters were bundled up with brown fiber cord and placed in other bins labeled by state. Then these state bins were moved to separate pigeonhole racks labeled for each state. All the major cities in that state had its own pigeonhole, with a big slot at the lower right of the rack to catch every other place in the state.

When I begin to sort mail for any rack I was assigned to, the sorting started slowly. I would have to search and find the proper hole to put a letter. But gradually, I would remember the proper slot location on the rack. And after a while, I could place a letter properly without having to look at the rack with some of the cities.

Once in a while they needed someone to help sort packages and I did 2-3 nights. Most of the older permanent employees sorted packages so this was probably a sign that it was a better job. Anyway, I thought it was. I got to toss, throw, and underhand packages, big and small into various large mail sacks. The packages would come down a conveyor belt cold because they hadn’t time to warm up from outside. The job involved a little walking which was much better than standing all night in front of a pigeonhole rack.
When I worked a rack, I saved all the brown fiber string from the opened bundles. I would make a mat with them for standing on, providing a cushion against the cold, hard cement floor. The further along the shift, the more I had built up the cushioning providing more and more comfort to my feet. Standing all night was tiring.

In the early 50’s, people sent a lot of Christmas cards. Adults sent cards to all there sisters and brothers, parents, grandparents, people at work, neighbors, what have you. All that mail was sorted by hand. The cost of a first class stamp was 3 cents. Postcards were a penny. It was way before the post office issued special Xmas issues; there were no zip codes, no return address stickers, and no letter sorting machines. A mailmen would deliver big bunches of mail to each house. Their big brown leather bags worn over a shoulder were crammed with various colored envelopes. Once opened, the cards frequently became part of the Xmas d├ęcor with the best of the lot displayed most prominently.

The night of the 23rd of December was my last day to work. Then I stayed awake all the next day. When Xmas Eve came I was able to snuggle myself into bed for a good nights sleep with visions of, well, a good night’s sleep.

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