How Does the Mail Get From the Post Office to the Mailbox?
Patch spent a morning inside the North Reading post office and out on the street with the letter carriers.
When you get home in the afternoon, a pile of mail typically is waiting for you in your mailbox.
But have you ever wondered how it got there?
U.S. Postal Service employees in North Reading start long before that delivery reaches the mailbox, sorting through mail at the Park Street post office and getting ready for hundreds of deliveries.
“The employees here in North Reading are excellent,” said Jim Murphy, the officer in charge of the North Reading post office. “They are committed to their customers.”
North Reading has 14 letter carriers, 10 of whom handle traditional city routes, driving the ubiquitous white mail truck. Four other carriers handle rural routes, which, ironically, cover the Main Street area, one of the most urban areas in town.
Those routes are holdovers from the days when North Reading only had rural delivery, said Peter LeBlanc, one of the rural carriers. LeBlanc said rural carriers also work out of their own cars, as opposed to driving standard U.S. Postal Service trucks.
“Rural carriers are carryovers from the Pony Express,” he said.
Before any carrier takes to the street, they have to sort mail for their routes. Carriers stand in front of rows of mail slots in a large room at the post office, sorting out their deliveries early each morning.
A majority of the mail is now sorted automatically. Letter-sized envelopes come to the post office from the Middlesex/Essex Processing and Distribution Center on Main Street presorted and organized by address. Magazines soon will be presorted as well, Murphy said.
Technology has had a major affect on the post office’s operations.
“Twenty-five years ago, they sorted all this mail,” Murphy said, pointing to rows of letters and stacks of other envelopes and assorted pieces.
The benefit to automated sorting is that carriers will spend less time in the office sorting mail and more time out making deliveries, Murphy said. Right now, carriers typically spend two hours in the office sorting mail for their routes before leaving between 9:30-10:30 a.m. for six hours of deliveries.
The hustle and bustle in the back room of the post office quiets down once the letter carriers hit their routes. That typically leaves Murphy, a customer service supervisor and a window clerk in the office.
There is one full-time window clerk and three part-time clerks, Murphy said. Ten years ago, the office had 10 clerks, but the traffic volume has dropped significantly due to people purchasing stamps and other goods online, Muprhy said.
However, the reduction in clerks can often lead to some long lines during peak periods, such as the lunch hour, Murphy said.
Out on the street, North Reading’s 14 letter carriers handle an average of 450 deliveries per route, Murphy said. Most of those deliveries involve carriers pulling their trucks up to a mailbox on the side of the road, but some routes, such as a neighborhood off Washington Street, require a bit of walking.
On one frigid, early March morning, with temperatures only topping out in the low 20s, carrier Steve Dugan walked briskly down Wright Street as he went from house to house. Dugan, who has had the same route for nearly eight years, was bundled up against the cold, but he would prefer that type of weather any day.
“When it’s 90 degrees, there’s nothing you can do,” Dugan said. “I always tell people I’d prefer to work in Alaska than Florida.”
But regardless of the weather, Dugan dutifully walked his route, making certain that each stop along the way had its delivery for the day, waiting for people to arrive home.