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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 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 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.

Mary March 24, 2011 at 12:37 PM
I'm so glad you did this article. People really don't realize how much work goes into getting their mail to them. They take for granted that they can mail a letter anywhere in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii, for only 44cents and it gets there in a few days. That has always amazed me!! These carriers by in large do a terrrific job and should be commended by their customers. Good for all of you, keep up the good work. Some of us still appreciate what you do!
Maryann Murray March 24, 2011 at 10:27 PM
This was a great article. I absolutely love our mail lady. She keeps treats in her truck for the kids on our street and my doggies.
Steve H March 24, 2011 at 11:21 PM
Kudos to the folks at the North Reading Post Office, both in the office itself and on the delivery routes. I've experienced many post offices and the people who work in North Reading are as friendly and efficient as any I've ever seen. These are the kind of jobs that we often take for granted, just assuming that our mail is going to arrive and not giving much thought as to how it actually gets there. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this and a hearty "JOB WELL DONE" to all of our carriers!
suzy March 25, 2011 at 02:15 AM
“Rural carriers are carryovers from the Pony Express,” he said. Shame on you Mr. Murphy, that statement right there demeans rural carriers. Making it seem that they are somehow less than a city carrier. Just because management doesn't make their bonus off of rural carriers is no reason to demean them. Rural carriers carry more mail in a day than any city carrier! We do not curtail tail to make it in 8 hours. We have a set amount of hours we get paid for whether it takes 4 or 10. Shame, shame!
Out of Towner March 28, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Your "nice" mail lady is violating Postal policy by feeding dogs! She is also putting her co-workers at risk. When your dog doesn't have a treat and bites the sub carrier, how will you feel? I tell my carriers if they want feed animals on their, go to work at the humane society.
John March 28, 2011 at 09:51 PM
To Suzy, most rural carriers deliver mail from inside their vehicle, alot easier than walking from house to house. The decision to curtail mail is not made by the carrier but by the supervisor. I do agree that rural carriers have little to do with the Pony Express which barely lasted 2 years. To Out of Towner, I couldn't agree more. I remember as a sub constantly having to put up with a dog who would try to get his nose into my pocket looking for his daily treat, at least he was friendly.

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