Tales from the Rural Route

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The postal service employees of Charlotte, Iowa, know serving a rural community can be somewhat unusual.

“I know working in the country can sometimes mean making some unusual deliveries,” says Mark Eskildsen, who has been with the United States Postal Service since 1984. “I’ve delivered chickens, bees, even crickets. This means being extra careful and keeping the packages warm.”

But even with well-protected packages, getting live chicks to rural route customers can be difficult at times.

“I have an 83-mile route,” Eskildsen says. “Sixty-seven of those miles are on gravel roads. They can be rough, or even mushy. The worst time I ever had was in 1993, when many area gravel roads were eroded and impassable. When it was possible, residents picked up their mail at the post office.”

The Postal Service provides a stipend for using his own vehicle for mail delivery, Eskildsen says. “But with the wear and tear on the car, sometimes the stipend isn’t enough.”

Eskildsen’s route includes 270 rural mailboxes and averages 6.25 hours per day to complete.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I like that I personally know more than 90 percent of the people on my route.”

Positive postmaster

Postmaster Carolyn Lee has similar positive feelings about the unusual aspects of rural postal service.

“I guess many postmasters probably don’t have to deal with poultry on a regular basis,” Lee says. “But in a rural post office, the postmaster has to be familiar with all aspects of the operation.”

Lee says the Charlotte post office, for example, doesn’t have a separate person to handle rental boxes or someone to perform maintenance.

“We just have two fulltime employees,” she said. “Mark and myself.”

Lee will celebrate her 30th year with the USPS on July 1. A surgical technician prior to taking her postal service exam, Lee’s first postal service assignment was part-time with the Goose Lake Post Office. Several area postal positions followed before she became the Lost Nation postmaster in 1991 and the Charlotte postmaster in 1993.

“My mother was also a rural postmaster,” Lee says. “So I knew a bit about the job before I actually became one. For a brief period, we were rural postmasters at the same time.”

Lee says there are benefits to being a rural postmaster.

“One aspect of rural postal service is that one has more flexibility to help the customer,” Lee says. “In a larger post office, you might have a long line of customers, so the time available to spend with each is more limited. But in a rural office, if an elderly customer is having difficulty wrapping a package, you have more opportunity to help.”

Unique job

Peggy Carstensen is Charlotte’s relief postmaster.

“I work when Carolyn is off or on vacation,” Carstensen says. “I normally work every Saturday morning.”

Like Eskildsen and Lee, Carstensen enjoys the unique nature of rural postal service.

“I’ll never forget the first time I looked at a package and it ‘chirped’ at me,” she says. “Of course, it turned out it contained baby chickens.”

The mother of four, Carstensen was born and currently lives just outside of Charlotte.

“I’ve been with the postal service four and a half years,” Carstensen says. “I was overwhelmed when I first started. But what has surprised me most was learning about all the local people I did not know as a native and how so many are connected to one another. I guess that’s why the favorite part of my job is at Christmas time when I get to hand out so many packages and Christmas cards.”

Each Charlotte postal employee stresses their enjoyment of interacting with area residents.

“There are a lot of lovely people who visit us,” Lee says. “And there’s often a diversity of things to talk about. Sometimes I feel like Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts with my psychiatrist shingle out. Some days that shingle could be for a doctor, on another day I could be an accountant. But I like to be able to do the little things for our customers. If an elderly woman stops by regularly, and I don’t see her for a few days, I make sure to check on her. I like the feeling of knowing people and being able to call them by their first name.”

For Carolyn Lee, being a postmaster is a lot “more than just putting a stamp on a letter.”

“I’m comfortable here,” she says. “I love my job.”