Become a Part-Time Rural Mail Carrier

article image
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
A part time position as a rural mail carrier is something to consider if you're making a transition to self-sufficient country living.

Working for the U.S. Postal Service–with its tightly
structured rules, regulations, and schedules–might
seem to be the most unlikely way possible to escape “the
system.” But wait! Part-time postal work could turn
out to be exactly the sort of I’m-still-my-own-boss
employment that you’ve been looking for! It requires no
investment or expensive training, nor any special skills
(other than common sense and a little physical dexterity)
… and you might even be able to choose the number of
days you’ll work per week!

Naturally, such lenient qualifications aren’t applicable to
all positions in the Postal Service, but they do apply to
my job: I’m a substitute rural carrier. In other words, I
deliver the mail when the regular postman or -woman is
sick, goes on vacation, or has a day off — events which
occur about 50 times a year on my route, or almost one day
a week. My schedule, then, provides some cash income plus
the time I need to get our farm going!

A Full Schedule

On the days that I work for Uncle Sam, I’m as busy as the
devil at a revival meeting! First, I get up at 4 a.m. to do
the daily chores that are too heavy for my wife and
children to handle. Then I drive 27 miles into town,
arriving at the post office about 6 a.m. Right away, I pick
up my mail from the bins where most of it has already been
sorted, according to routes, by the clerks. (They’ve been
on the job since 2 a.m.!) My first task is to “case” the
letters by placing them–in the order that the mailboxes
come up on my circuit–in pigeon-holes in a seven-foot-tall
cabinet.

Getting the mail in order takes me anywhere from two to
three hours. When the chief clerk calls out “all up,” I
collect the last batch for my route, case it, and
then–somewhere between 9:00 and 9:45–pull all the mail from
the cabinet and tie it into bundles so it will stay in
order while I’m out on the road.

Depending upon the size of the day’s load my deliveries
will require up to three hours to complete, so I’m
almost always back at the post office shortly after 12:30.
There, I case up all the mail that arrived while I was out
on the route … and that’s it for the day! No hassles,
no wasted time: I come in, do the work, and leave as soon
as it’s finished.

And the pay isn’t bad, either! Actually, the salary differs
slightly for each route, based on the mileage and the
number of mailboxes involved. For an average 40- to 50-mile
rural route, a regular carrier will earn about $18,000 a
year (plus overtime when the workload requires more than 40
hours a week). Part-time pay is proportionate to that
amount. When I include the mileage allowance for the use of
my car while delivering the mail, I figure I make the tidy
sum of between $60 and $70 per day.

Other Benefits

In addition to the extra cash and the flexible schedule
possible with part-time work, there are other, more
intangible benefits with Postal Service employment.
Delivering the mail on a rural route is a great way to meet
some mighty interesting folks (not to mention the fact that
it provides an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful
countryside you’ll likely pass through while making your
rounds).

By virtue of the job, the letter carrier seems to be
everyone’s friend, too. Children regularly meet me to pick
up their family’s mail, and older folks stop me to
chat about their newest grandchild. Furthermore, whenever a
gardening or a construction problem crops up on my own
homestead, I’ve got 400 “neighbors” to consult with. For
instance, if I want to know what to do about tomato blight,
I simply stop at the house along my route that has five
acres of healthy tomatoes out back and ask!

There are also a few surprise “bonuses” that come with the
job: Just the other day one old man gave me a valuable
40-minute lesson in predicting the weather from natural
phenomena … while a retired gentleman who likes to bake
routinely leaves huge, fragrant loaves of bread in the box
for me.

Signing On

Unfortunately, getting a position as a part-time rural mail
carrier isn’t as easy as is carrying out the duties once
you’ve got the job. Since the Postal Service is part of the
federal bureaucracy, its hiring process involves a good bit
of red tape.

First of all, every post office in the country maintains
its own register of qualified applicants. All
vacancies in the carrier lineup are filled from that list.
To have your name placed on a register, you must take a
special Civil Service written exam which is
administered only when the old list is exhausted (and that
could mean a long wait, depending on the turnover of
personnel in your area).

To further complicate matters, an aspiring mail carrier is
required to take the test at each post office where he or
she would like employment. (In addition, if you aren’t
hired within a year, you’ll have to complete the same exam
again!) Once a station’s register is made up, consideration
for any available jobs is given in order of highest test
scores. The top three candidates compete for each
opening. Then–when the existing roster is almost
exhausted–another testing session will be held and a
new ranking list drawn up from the test scores.

The system is generally without bias, although veterans do
have an edge over other candidates, since five points are
automatically added to their test scores. (Disabled
veterans receive an extra ten points.)

Of course, it’s possible–but unlikely–that you could be in
the running many times and never hired. Actually, it’s much
more probable that you’ll be considered several times
before you’re hired … and there’s even a chance that
you’ll land a job the first time you’re interviewed!

So, if you want to break out of the full time employment rut
and bypass the system, why not do it by taking a job with
one of the oldest branches of the federal establishment?
Sure, it may sound paradoxical, but substitute postal work
offers extra cash, on-the-job freedom, and enough spare
time to pursue your own choice of lifestyle. All you have
to do is go back to the land … by mail!