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A day in the life of . . . a rural mail carrier
July 16, 2012

By Kristi Hiivala

COKATO, MN – In the second article of the eight-week series, “A Day in the Life of . . .,” the Enterprise Dispatch takes a look at one of the person’s responsible for ensuring timely and accurate mail delivery.

Sending and receiving mail through the post office is a dependable way for people to communicate, even when more and more things are becoming digital as technology allows.

One of the individuals in our area responsible for making sure mail is delivered is Mark Forsman, of Dassel. Mark has been delivering the mail for 27 years.

He is one of several people who regularly delivers the mail around Dassel and Cokato. Each rural carrier has a specific route that they deliver the mail to Monday through Saturday. This allows the rural carriers to get to know the individuals and companies in the area they serve in a way that perhaps other professions don’t allow.

Cokato Postmaster Jill Waataja described all of the rural carriers as diligent, hardworking people. “These individuals care about their job and the people they serve,” Waataja explained. “They will go the extra mile to provide great service.”

As with all jobs, there are good and bad aspects to the occupation of delivering mail. Sometimes it is a challenge to drive on Minnesota roads – with winter snow and ice and summer mud and severe weather. As for a positive aspect of the job, Mark described “getting to be outside, seeing the countryside” as a definite perk to being a rural carrier.

The three Cokato rural carriers have a large area to service and deliver mail to each day. The two carriers that deliver in the countryside routinely cover over 100 miles per day in their vehicle. The carrier delivering in town handles over 700 stops.

The kind of vehicle they drive is important too. Because of the need to drive from the opposite side of the car (since mailboxes are located on the right-hand side of the road, rural carriers must drive from the front passenger seat rather than the front driver’s seat), a car with a bench seat in front is a necessity. This allows a tub of mail to sit next to the carrier while delivery is being made.

As someone with over a quarter-century of experience, Forsman explained that his favorite kind of car to deliver mail from is a Chevy Lumina. “In addition to the bench seat, Chevy Luminas generally have a good engine and are reliable,” he said.

Early each morning, the mail is delivered via truck from the Twin Cities to Dassel to be sorted in delivery order of each route, after being run through machines that reads the zip codes on letters and sorts them by routes. Any letter that is received with an address that cannot be read by a machine must be sorted by hand by the rural carriers.

Keeping track of mail to be held for customers on vacation, or mail to be forwarded to a new address is also a job that the rural carriers do. The use of color-coded clips in the sorting area helps keep track of the constant changes on a route.

Forsman said he thought the most interesting part of his job that people may not realize is the volume of mail that is sorted each day.

Rural carriers begin their day by receiving flats of presorted envelopes and then sort magazines, parcels, and unrecognizable letters into a shelving system that allows for a slot for each house or business on a route.

After all of the mail has been sorted on the route, the mail is placed into tubs in opposite order, so that when being delivered, the mail can be put into correct mailboxes in a relatively efficient manner.

The national media refers to the busiest mailing day of the year, which usually occurs on a Monday a week before Christmas. The winter season is definitely the busiest time for rural carriers, while the summer tends to be the most quiet.

Dealing with bad roads is not the only negative thing that rural carriers have to think about. As is noted in so many television shows in a comical sense, dogs can be a dangerous part of the job. Or, as in one story from Forsman, pecking turkeys can be the cause of some angst as well.

“He likes to share the story of the turkeys pecking at his car door to the kindergartners when they come into the post office for a tour,” explained Waataja. “The kindergartners get big eyes as they listen. But they also learn that pets of any nature can be territorial and our carriers must be careful.”

In addition to delivering mail to customers on a route, rural carriers can also sell stamps or pick up packages, with money provided up front for postage, from individual houses or businesses.

Opening the mailbox to find mail delivered is part of many people’s daily routine. It’s due in large part to the dependable and friendly rural mail carriers like Mark, that help make it an experience that Dassel and Cokato residents can appreciate.

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